American Libraries Columns

2000–2001 ALA President

Nancy Kranich

American Libraries Columns


Libraries Help to Build a Civil Society
( American Libraries, June/July 2001)

"For the first two-thirds of the twentieth century a powerful tide bore Americans into ever deeper engagement in the life of their communities, but a few decades ago-silently, without warning-that tide reversed and we were overtaken by a treacherous rip current. Without at first noticing, we have been pulled apart from one another and from our communities over the last third of the century."—Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

Americans are more disconnected from each other and from the institutions of civic life than ever before. Over the last 30 years, many citizens have stopped voting, have curtailed their work with political parties and service organizations, and have attended fewer community meetings and political events. They've even diminished pleasurable get-togethers, with fewer people entertaining friends at home. Americans are also less public spirited, donating smaller amounts to charities. It is unlikely that our civic culture will be reclaimed without a sustained, broad-based social movement to restore civic virtue and democratic participation in our society.

Leading this movement is Harvard University professor Robert D. Putnam, author of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (Simon and Schuster, 2000). He will discuss the decline of social capital-the networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit-and explore its effects on American society and democracy as the featured speaker at the ALA Annual Conference President's Program in San Francisco (p. 88).

As librarians, we should share Putnam's concerns about the erosion of social capital in our communities. We can play a role in finding new means to connect citizens and boost civic participation. Libraries uphold and strengthen some of the most fundamental democratic ideals of our society, not only making information freely available to all citizens, but also fostering the development of a civil society. Libraries build social capital and encourage civic engagement by developing community partnerships, facilitating local dialogue, and disseminating local data. Research has shown that increased social capital stimulates higher productivity, reduces depression, lowers disease rates, reduces crime, increases test scores, and spurs more responsive government. When libraries focus on these social-capital-building activities, they rekindle civic engagement, promote greater citizen participation, and encourage increased involvement in community problem-solving and decision-making. Such efforts are likely to garner greater community support and position libraries as essential community-based institutions.

Throughout the country, libraries are undertaking a vast array of innovative, creative approaches that build social capital in their communities. Libraries are convening groups to consider local issues and teach civic skills—building community information literacy partnerships, hosting community-wide reading clubs, creating digital neighborhood directories that link residents and services, and partnering with local museums and public broadcasting stations. These expanded library services increase social capital—the glue that holds people together.

To address concerns about public participation in our democratic society, Putnam convened a diverse group of thinkers and doers who over a three-year period developed new strategies for civic revitalization. The group meeting, known as the Saguaro Seminar, recently issued a report, "Better Together" (www.bettertogether.org), which describes why the decline of civic engagement in America matters and explores new strategies for civic renewal. The group developed a Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, a "community physical" that measures how connected respondents are to family, friends, neighbors, and civic institutions. Saguaro will now partner with networks of local institutions to experiment with building social capital. Libraries are ideally suited to participate in this effort.

Putnam's ALA appearance is likely to spark local library projects to increase social capital. Our challenge in this Information Age is to find new ways to engage citizens to participate in our democracy and renew our communities. Working closely with a rich and diverse array of citizens, libraries can help their communities rekindle civil society and expand public participation in our democracy.

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Libraries, Democracy, and Online Access
( American Libraries, May 2001)

When Republican Jeffrey Pollock ran for Congress last fall, he supported federally mandated Internet blocking software in schools and libraries. After discovering that his campaign Web site was blocked because it contained words such as rape and incest, he joined with librarians and civil liberties groups to overturn a new law, the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). It mandates the use of blocking software on public library and school computers if they are to receive e-rate discounts or federal LSTA and ESEA Title III grants (see p. 20). ALA and others filed suit March 20 to overturn this legislation on the grounds that it is unconstitutional because it restricts access to legal and useful online information.

Thanks to the e-rate and other programs, 95% of America’s public libraries are now online, serving as the sole log-on point for 25% of the population. Libraries not only provide online access, they also instruct people how to use the Internet effectively, efficiently, and safely. Many identify great sites for children and adults. Close to half schedule classes that teach computer applications and information literacy, often focusing on families, allowing parents to learn about the Internet with their children.

Parents have a legitimate concern about their children’s Internet use. Librarians share that concern and have dedicated their careers to ensuring that both adults and children have an enriching and safe experience online. The vast majority of library patrons use the Internet and other library materials responsibly, guided by library policies that address appropriate use and invoke disciplinary action for violators. Nearly two-thirds of libraries require parental permission before children can use the Internet. Experience tells us the best way to protect children is determined at the local level where community members work together to construct solutions for their particular needs.

Filters and protecting children

Filters may do more harm than good; they sweep too broadly, failing to block many sites considered indecent while restricting access to legitimate resources. Filters have been known to block such home pages as the Super Bowl XXX, the Mars Exploration site (marsexpl), the Quakers, Mother Jones magazine, the National Rifle Association, the Democratic Party, and Beanie Babies. While providing a false sense of security, filters lead parents to believe that their children are protected when they are not. Additionally, filtering software companies refuse to reveal the criteria they use for blocking. Filters simply do not take the place of responsible use, informed by community-based Internet access policies, user-education programs, links to great sites, and safety guidelines.

A Congressional commission recently recommended ( AL, Feb., p. 14) against any government-imposed mandatory use of blocking technologies; so have representatives of several filtering companies. Studies have repeatedly pointed out flaws in blocking software. The Consumer Reports March 2001 issue reinforced earlier findings that filters are blunt instruments at best, permitting the viewing of many inappropriate sites while blocking too much legitimate content ( AL, Apr., p. 23-24).

Since 1997, when the Supreme Court unanimously struck down the Communications Decency Act, lower court judges have consistently ruled against the use of blocking software in public libraries, contending that it fails the First Amendment test of the least-restrictive alternative.

Forcing libraries to choose between funding and censorship means millions of library users will lose, particularly those in the most poverty-stricken areas of the country. The CIPA lawsuit has sparked an unprecedented need for articulate spokespeople who understand the issues and are eager to communicate our important message. We have scheduled more advocacy training to address these issues at the upcoming Annual Conference, and we plan to release an updated Libraries and the Internet Tool Kit.

I urge ALA members to get involved with and speak out in support of the public’s right to know in their local communities. Together, we can make clear just how libraries can best protect children and the First Amendment in our twenty-first-century democracy.

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Why Libraries Are More Popular Than Ever
( American Libraries, April 2001)

Why do we still need libraries? Reporters constantly ask me this question. School superintendents ask why books are needed when the Internet offers children everything necessary to complete school assignments. College administrators question why the library still needs more book and serial funds. And city council members wonder why local libraries need an addition when so much is now available online. All librarians must be prepared to answer these questions to counter the misperception that the Internet can take the place of a local library.

The plain fact is that libraries are more popular than ever. Pollsters estimate that as many as 81% of Americans use libraries every year. During the last election, voters nationwide pledged overwhelming support to building and refurbishing neighborhood libraries. In the past six years, communities have spent more than $3 billion to update libraries while boosting the number of reference librarians by 56%. Studies have found that the quality of a school library has a major impact on reading test scores and literacy. Nearly every library offers free access to the Internet; libraries are the number-one points of access for Internet use by those without connectivity at work or home. Libraries are enjoying a renaissance, even as super bookstores and the Internet abound. Perhaps a better question to ask is why the nation’s 115,000 public, school, academic, and special libraries are gaining in popularity.

Communities need librarians

We must continuously and persuasively remind the media and policymakers about the importance of libraries to their communities. Libraries are the only place where information is freely available for everyone. Libraries provide communities with discovery tools and materials on every subject from all perspectives in a full range of formats and languages. Users can readily identify and link to these resources from home, work, or their local libraries and then read, borrow, and copy them. Libraries also archive and preserve older titles. Best of all, professional librarians provide personalized help and training-in some cases 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

More than ever our communities need librarians to teach the information literacy skills essential for success in the 21st century. Even those already proficient with using information are overwhelmed by the proliferation and difficulty of sorting through it all. To successfully cope, librarians teach citizens to identify, evaluate, and use information efficiently and effectively. Librarians are helping to build information-smart communities so that all Americans can thrive in the digital age.

Libraries and librarians are essential to our economic well-being, to global understanding, to the advancement of learning, to meeting the challenge of information overload, to public participation in the democratic process, and to closing the digital divide. Americans love libraries. But libraries cannot live on love alone. While libraries are more popular and relevant than ever, they still do not command the necessary public attention or sufficient funds to serve all the needs of information-hungry communities. Limited budgets must now cover expensive electronic, as well as print, resources and tools.

As the information revolution changes the way we live, learn, work, and govern, we cannot allow our communities to simply assume that libraries will continue to offer a safe haven for all the world’s ideas and viewpoints. Together, we must speak out about the essential role of libraries and librarians. We must also let our communities know that the stakes are high and the future uncertain for the public’s right to know. Active support for libraries is more important than ever if the American ideals embedded in the First Amendment are to remain the beacon of our way of life well into the new millennium. As we celebrate National Library Week and School Library Media Month, we must not take for granted the long-term vigor of our most valuable free-speech institution—the American library.

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Celebrate Freedom of Information Day, March 16
( American Libraries, March 2001)

A popular government without popular information or means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power that knowledge gives. —James Madison

The 250th birthday of James Madison will be celebrated on March 16, Freedom of Information Day. What an ideal opportunity to focus public attention on the contributions of our forefathers who recognized the importance of information to a democratic society and the public’s right to know. Librarians fight hard to protect, defend, strengthen, and promote the public’s information rights every day.

Democracy requires a free flow of information—it cannot operate without it. But access to information is a right only in the abstract. It is up to librarians to ensure that this abstract concept becomes concrete, and to continuously communicate the importance of access to information to our democracy.

If libraries are to serve as information-access gateways in our communities, then librarians must pick up the gauntlet and assert that role. Librarians must serve as the public’s ally in the Information Age. That means that librarians must act as trailblazers in promoting access to information, and serve as watchdogs in protecting the public’s information rights.

Now, more than ever, librarians face serious threats to public access and the free flow of ideas. Quality library services are not guaranteed in this age of widespread Internet access, censorship, financial exigencies, demographic shifts, skyrocketing materials costs, privatization of public information and institutions, and a widening gap between information haves and have nots.

Libraries are more essential than ever—essential to our economic well-being, to the improvement of learning, to meeting the challenge of information overload, to public participation in the democratic process, and to closing the digital divide. Yet, no matter how essential the mission of libraries or how many people use library reading rooms, libraries continue the struggle to make the public aware. At stake is not only the basic and fundamental role of libraries, but also the American public’s access to information and knowledge.

Libraries and librarians must protect and promote the right to know if it is to remain strong. No other group or institution is so essential in assuring equal, ready, and equitable public access to information. Libraries are located in every community, and they provide access for all in a politically neutral environment. Librarians understand the fragility of information access, and the threats presented by the digital age. But unless librarians make the right to know happen by speaking out for the public interest, the rights of users will never become a reality.

This year, ALA hails the public’s information rights by commemorating James Madison’s birthday with journalists, public interest groups, and public officials at the Freedom Forum in Washington, D.C. This occasion honors, celebrates, and recognizes a champion of the public’s right to know by bestowing the James Madison Award.

The award recipient will join the ranks of former winners. They include former Vice President Albert Gore; Senators Patrick Leahy, Wendell Ford, and Ted Stevens; Congressmen Don Edwards, Bill Thomas, Charlie Rose, and Henry Waxman; Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary; Deputy Commerce Secretary Larry Irving; the National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council; the Government Printing Office; the Environmental Protection Agency; the Library of Congress’ Thomas system; philanthropist George Soros; and journalists Nina Totenberg, Brian Lamb, and Scott Armstrong.

I urge each of you to celebrate Freedom of Information Day. Schedule a forum, exhibit, speaker, news conference, award ceremony, or other activity to bring attention to this important anniversary. Invite the press. Remind them that journalists established Freedom of Information Day more than 20 years ago.

Freedom of Information Day gives us a perfect opportunity to demonstrate that knowledge will forever govern ignorance. Let the bells of liberty sound to celebrate James Madison’s 250th birthday.

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Join ALA’s Campaign for America’s Libraries
( American Libraries, February 2001)

Americans love their libraries. More than 81% used libraries last year. In the most recent election, citizens voted overwhelmingly to support bond issues to build and improve libraries, particularly neighborhood branches, and 95% of public libraries now offer free Internet access to the public, sparking new audiences for the library’s electronic and print services. Thanks to the tireless advocacy of librarians and library users, funding from government, foundations, corporations, and individuals has increased. Nevertheless, while libraries in America have enjoyed a renaissance over the last decade, we still face enormous hurdles to providing quality library services in every community. Our libraries cannot live on love alone.

As we enter the new millennium, it is more critical than ever that we capture the public’s attention. In 1999, ALA contracted with BSMG Worldwide, a New York-based public-relations firm, to develop a major public awareness campaign. BSMG’s first step was to assess public perception of libraries. Not surprisingly, they found that libraries are popular and well liked, accepted often without strong feelings or real understanding. Libraries are everywhere, rooted in nearly every school, campus, and community, but they are most visible when under siege. They noted that libraries are unique, playing a role of no other institution in our democracy, but not always able to communicate that uniqueness. And, on the negative side, they found that consumers see libraries as somewhat archaic, their resources limited and dated, and their facilities intimidating and difficult to navigate.

The goal of ALA’s exciting five-year Campaign for America’s Libraries is to capture the public’s imagination by fostering a new understanding of the value of libraries and librarians to our democracy. The campaign will build upon a strong foundation of public support and a long history of successful communications efforts. ALA’s goal is to present a positive, consistent set of messages over a multiyear period, underscoring that:

  1. Libraries are unique. They are one-stop shops. In person. Online. Where else can you have access to nearly anything on the Web or in print as well as personal service and assistance in finding it? The ultimate search engine is @ your library.
  2. Libraries are changing and dynamic places. Librarians are technosavvy, in the forefront of the Information Age. In a world that’s information rich, they are information smart, and help ensure a society where everyone is information literate. You’ll find the right answer @ your library.
  3. Libraries are part of the American dream. They are a place for education and for selfhelp. They are centers for civic discourse. They offer opportunity for all. Democracy reigns @ your library.

I am thrilled to be the president of ALA at this historic moment for libraries and librarians. Working together, we must seize this opportunity to speak loudly and clearly to generate more funding, to increase use, to attract talented people to the profession, and to influence public policy. ALA has hired a staff to coordinate the overall campaign and develop mini-campaigns focused on public, academic, school, and specialized libraries. More detailed information about the campaign is available on the ALA Web site: www.ala.org/@yourlibrary/.

As your president, I ask you to actively participate in this new public education campaign by:

  • using the trademarked campaign brand, @ Your Library, on your publicity materials and integrating it into new and existing programs;
  • displaying and using ALA Graphics @ Your Library promotional items in your library and beyond;
  • advocating for your library by adapting ALA’s campaign messages for your own use; and
  • collecting and sharing with ALA the best practices used in your local campaign efforts.

The Campaign for America’s Libraries is an unprecedented opportunity for our diverse profession. To be successful, all types of libraries and librarians must participate. I urge each and every one of you to become actively involved in the Campaign for America’s Libraries. Adopt and use the @ Your Library brand and join in the nationwide National Library Week campaign launch April 1-7. Working together, we can and will make a difference.

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Libraries: Ensuring Information Equity in the Digital Age
( American Libraries, January 2001)

The true dawn of the Information Age was in the 1930s when Congress passed the Communications Act of 1934, calling for universal service to ensure equitable access to communications technologies. Libraries were busier than ever; many were open seven days a week, including holidays. We are now seeing the dawn of a digital age. And, just as they did in the 1930s, libraries still need to provide equal opportunity to all Americans. Librarians have a unique role in leveling the playing field and bridging the widening gap between the information haves and have-nots.

Libraries are more essential than ever. They are essential to our economic well-being, to the advancement of learning, to coping with information overload, and to closing the digital divide. With the development of the Internet, there is new hope for rekindling the democratic principles put forth by our founding fathers in the Constitution-new hope that everyone will have the opportunity to participate in our information society. Even if a household cannot afford or chooses not to connect to the Internet from home, people can log on at their local library. Thanks to the universal service provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, nearly every community is now connected, thus ensuring everyone an on-ramp to the information superhighway.

ALA priority action area

Nevertheless, the latest research indicates that many low-income, minority, disabled, rural, and inner-city groups are falling behind in their ownership of computers and access to telecommunications networks. No matter whose data is used to describe the “digital divide” between rich and poor, between black and white, between urban and rural, between English- and Spanish-speaking, between old and young, between immigrants and Native Americans, we can be certain that there is and promises to remain differential access to the Internet. Libraries play a special role, not just in providing access, but also in ensuring that the public can find content of interest and apply the skills necessary to utilize information successfully.

Access to an abundance of information does not necessarily mean access to a diversity of sources. Cyberspace is sparse when it comes to local information, particularly for rural residents and those living below the poverty level. Internet sites are designed for people with average or advanced literacy levels. Content about the uniqueness of the cultures of ethnic and racial minorities is hard to find. Many Americans want practical information about their communities written at a basic-literacy level that includes content for non-English speakers and racial and ethnic cultural information. They depend on the Internet for self-improvement, whether for online courses, job search, or other information; they seek information that helps them with their day-to-day problems and enables them to participate as members of their democratic community.

Not surprisingly, the complexity of finding, evaluating, and utilizing information in the electronic age has become a major challenge for the 60% of the workforce that engages in some information-related activity. Librarians are needed more than ever to ensure that the public has the information literacy skills it needs to live, work, learn, and govern in the digital age. Libraries offer not only access to computers and networks, but also the content, training, and expertise crucial to ensure widespread participation in our information society.

ALA has identified equity as a priority action area for the next five years. While we have advocated for federal policies to promote universal service and developed a research agenda, we still need to articulate how local libraries can ensure equity in the digital age. What do we mean by equity in an information age? How we can promote public participation? What steps should libraries take to ensure equality? And what should we include in ALA’s equity agenda? My Midwinter President’s Program [see p. 70–72] will focus on these questions. I urge you to join me at this program to help ALA determine how libraries will ensure equity in the digital age.

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Building Information-Smart Communities
( American Libraries, December 2000)

During the past decade our nation has focused on maximizing the availability of new information technologies. But, if we are to cross the digital divide and prosper as a society, we must expand that vision. We librarians know that simply having a computer and an Internet connection is not enough, and it is time for us to focus on helping to build information-smart communities—communities that have not only the access but also the content and skills to thrive in the Information Age. Information-smart communities need skilled librarians and good libraries to ensure that everyone in their community has equal opportunity to participate in our democratic society. They need their libraries to offer a broad array of information resources for businesses, families, schools, government, and community groups so that they can succeed and prosper in an Information Age.

Drowning in print

With more than a million books published each year—over 100,000 titles in the United States alone, and another 100,000 items produced by the federal government—we are drowning in print. Add to this close to 3 billion home pages available through the World Wide Web, which is growing at the rate of 5 million new pages daily. More information and faster access do not necessarily mean better. In fact, they may mean access to more bad information-more opportunities for errors, exploitation, and fraud. Getting information is easy. Getting the right information at the right time can be both difficult and costly.

Good decisions depend on good information. Good decision-makers are information-smart—they know how to find, evaluate, and use information in all forms. They know how to find quality information that will help them through family, medical, or job crises. They know how to separate the wheat from the chaff, the true from the untrue, the fact from the rumor. They know when they need data and what data they need to plan and work successfully. They know that real information power is having the right information when you need it.

How can librarians help build information-smart communities? How can we equip communities to compete in an information-rich global economy, which employs 60% of its workforce in some information-related activity? We can begin by building partnerships with businesses, educators, community leaders and organizations, and library advocates. To do this, we must convince our communities that it is critical to become information-smart, and that libraries and librarians are key to this process. Here are some of the key advocacy messages my Presidential Committees on Advocacy and Information Literacy have developed this year:

  • In a society that is information-rich, librarians are information-smart. Librarians are the ultimate search engines. They can save you time and money by helping to find the best, most current information available, whether it’s a Web site, book, or pamphlet.
  • Librarians are techno-savvy, on the forefront of the Information Age. They were among the first to recognize the importance of new information technology and to make it available to the public. Today they are working to build information-literate communities.
  • In school and university libraries, librarians play a key role in teaching students the information-literacy skills they will need to succeed in school, on the job, and throughout their lives. A growing number of public libraries also offer classes for business people, seniors, parents, and other out-of-school adults to help them become information-savvy.

@ your library

Business, education, government, and community leaders must recognize that good decisions depend on good information. Decision-makers of all ages must develop savvy information skills if they are to prosper in the new global information economy. Libraries and librarians are critical to this effort. Our goal, as we position our libraries and our profession for the 21st century, must be to advocate for information-smart citizens and communities. In today’s information jungle, we have a unique and unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate the value of libraries and librarians. Being information-smart means knowing when you need help and where to get it. The place to start is @ your library.

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Libraries as Civic Spaces
( American Libraries, November 2000)
Civil society “needs a habitation; it must become a real place that offers the abstract idea of a public voice, a palpable geography somewhere other than in the twin atlases of government and markets.”— Benjamin Barber, Jihad vs. McWorld (Random House, 1995)

Over the past decades, the United States has experienced a decline in voter turnout and in attendance at political rallies, fewer people are engaging in politics, and there is reduced involvement with civic organizations. While countries throughout Eastern Europe and elsewhere seek to establish democratic institutions, here at home there is a deepening cynicism about public affairs. Concern about our civic disengagement has sparked a renewed interest in reinvigorating civil society and encouraging more opportunities to participate in our American democracy.

Librarians can be key players

Who is better equipped to face the challenge of strengthening citizen action and civil society in our communities than libraries? A democracy needs safe gathering places where community members can share interests and concerns. Information is essential to civic participation and the development of civil society. Effective citizen action is possible only when citizens know how to gain access to information of all kinds and have the skills to become responsible, informed participants in our democracy.

We librarians can be key players who help prepare citizens for lifelong civic participation and membership in civil society. Our libraries provide both the information and the community forum opportunities for dialogue that the public needs to make decisions about common concerns. Libraries offer citizens the real and virtual civic spaces where they can speak freely, share similar interests and concerns, and pursue what they believe is in their and the public’s interest. Ultimately, free discourse among informed citizens assures civil society; and civil society provides the social capital necessary to achieve sovereignty of the people, by the people, and for the people.

This is why one of the focuses of my presidency is to encourage libraries to rekindle civic spirit and participation by engaging the public in discussions about our democratic values. I am seeking grant support that will enable ALA to collaborate with partners experienced in video programming, deliberative democracy, and electronic dialogue. Together we will develop materials and forums for community discussions about issues of concern. The goals of these community dialogue projects are to:

  • Rekindle civic society through libraries;
  • Increase public awareness, understanding, and participation in issues related to democracy;
  • Provide communities with in-person and virtual forums to examine important issues and encourage their involvement in problem-solving and decision-making;
  • Increase awareness and use of libraries as essential community centers by providing librarians with the tools and materials necessary to present thoughtful, engaging, and enlightening programs about problems facing our democratic way of life; and
  • Develop model programs for replication in libraries nationwide.

I invite you all to join me by showcasing your libraries as civic forums for deliberative democratic dialogue. Many libraries now host programs in which speakers address issues of concern to their communities, or they sponsor film showings to generate discussion. My hope is that ALA’s materials will enhance existing programs and spark many new ones. All libraries, be they school, academic, or public, should recognize the important role they can play as local civic spaces for dialogue and exchange of ideas. If our grant effort is successful, funds will be available for pilot projects in libraries across the country. With the renewed interest in civic participation everywhere, we have a unique moment to demonstrate the important role libraries can play as a community space for public dialogue, and a perfect opportunity to prove that libraries are the cornerstone of democracy. I invite you to join me in this effort. Please share information with me about your current programs, and watch American Libraries for announcements about funding in the next few months.


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( American Libraries, October 2000)

Just a decade ago, libraries faced serious cuts and closings throughout the country. In response, ALA galvanized librarians and library users to join forces to launch a major advocacy campaign to halt budget cuts ( American Libraries, Sept. 1991, p. 731–732). Today, we can be justly proud of the renaissance of our libraries and grateful to all the library champions who spoke out on our behalf. Nevertheless, we must not assume that all is well. Many libraries still lack the resources to match the needs and aspirations of a demanding 21st-century information society.

This is tragic, because in this Information Age America’s libraries are more essential than ever. They are essential to our economic well-being, to the advancement of learning, to meeting the challenge of information overload, to public participation in the democratic process, and to closing the digital divide. ALA has launched the five-year Campaign for America’s Libraries ( American Libraries, Sept., p. 84) because we believe that working together at the national, state, and local levels is the most effective way to capture the public’s imagination and foster a new understanding of the value of libraries to our democracy.

Armed, articulate advocates

Our challenge as we enter the first decade of the 21st century is to act—to raise our voices to present what we do, to show how librarians make a difference. We must work together to tell the full library story to leaders in government, business, education, and the general public.

In this new millennium, we have unparalleled opportunities to articulate our concerns. What we need are articulate advocates armed with facts, cases, examples, stories, testimonials, and pictures that show exactly how libraries and librarians help-and how the lack of either hurts. From Abraham Lincoln on, there are countless stories of people, famous and not so famous, who got their starts or improved their lives at the library. As we have learned from ALA’s “Libraries Change Lives” campaign, users are willing and eager to tell their stories. What we need to do is ask on a regular and consistent basis. Statistics are fine, but compelling, personal testimonials bring the importance of libraries to life-testimonials that show just how using a library, or asking a librarian, made a difference in someone’s life. That is why I am asking you to collect, and share, your library stories with me-stories that graphically show exactly how libraries have changed and enriched your library users’ lives-by sending them to  @ your library.org. Hold a contest. Start a bulletin board or newsletter where users can write their stories. Ask people to post their stories on your home page. Enlist your friends and trustees in story collection. And then be sure to share these with us—and use these success stories in news releases and speeches.

Exciting training programs

Story collection and storytelling are essential ammunition for fighting the battles to come loudly, visibly, and successfully. And we need every librarian, library worker, and library user to become a library spokesperson and advocate. That is why, on the eve of the launch of the Campaign for America’s Libraries, my ALA Special Presidential Committee on Advocacy designed and unveiled an exciting new series of training programs. We have now trained presenters from ALA chapters to conduct 21st-century literacy-advocacy workshops locally, as well as preparing frontline librarians to focus on key messages for speaking out about the importance of libraries and librarians to developing information-literate communities across the country. We have also offered a new advocacy session centering on ALA’s Internet Tool Kit ( American Libraries, Apr., p. 8). These workshops are available for presentation at state and local meetings. Over the coming year, we will also develop a new legislative-advocacy workshop.

I urge everyone at every level to participate in the Campaign for America’s Libraries by collecting stories and taking advantage of advocacy learning opportunities. Together, we can convince the public to take advantage of and promote the benefits @ your library. Stay tuned for more details about the campaign and advocacy efforts in upcoming issues of American Libraries.


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( American Libraries, September 2000)

Our parents and grandparents had to be able to read in order to succeed. Now, in the 21st century, print literacy is no longer enough. If we are to keep afloat in a huge sea of information exponentially larger than the printed word that served our forefathers so well, we must also master more advanced forms of literacy. Beyond handling traditional forms of information, a functioning citizen of the 21st century must selectively navigate and critically assess a continuous stream of news and information broadcasts, as well as the two-billion homepages and one-half-million images available through the World Wide Web.

For centuries, libraries have organized information and guided people precisely to the best sources for their particular needs. As the Internet has grown in recent years, librarians have been in the forefront of taming it, just as they did with books and periodicals in the print era. In communities throughout America, librarians now guide users through a morass of published resources while teaching them the skills to become literate in finding, reading, interpreting, and applying information for their daily needs. Librarians help the public learn how to identify and evaluate information that is essential to making decisions that affect the way they live, work, learn, and govern. They teach the critical-thinking skills so essential to lifelong learning, so necessary for effective participation in our democracy.

A new initiative

At the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago, two of my presidential committees launched a new and exciting Information Literacy Partnerships and Advocacy initiative to bring together librarians and community organizations. Their purpose was to help prepare people to utilize information effectively so they can participate in the workplace, education, community, governance, and family life. On July 6, an assembly of representatives from throughout ALA and our sister organizations met to build models based upon the highly successful information-literacy efforts undertaken by the American Association of School Librarians and the Association of College and Research Libraries. The assembly reviewed toolkits to identify community partners for promoting information-literate communities. The next day, we trained presenters from ALA chapters to conduct 21st-century literacy advocacy workshops in their states. On July 8, we taught library-instruction specialists the key messages they can use to speak out about the importance of libraries and librarians in developing information-literate communities across the country. This new advocacy workshop, complete with training manuals, videos, and action packets, will be taken “on the road” across the country this year. At ALA Midwinter Meeting in Washington next January, we will hold a major program with multidivision sponsorship to train ALA division leaders and others to join this expanding corps of 21st-century literacy specialists and advocates.

Being information smart

Why have I made building information-literate communities a major focus of my presidency? In this environment of rapid technological change and proliferating information resources, I believe our communities need libraries and librarians more than ever. All of us are faced with diverse, abundant information choices, but the uncertain quality and expanding quantity of information pose major challenges. More information will not in itself create a more informed citizenry unless people know how to use information effectively to solve problems. In the 21st century literacy takes on a new and expanded meaning. Information literacy means being information smart. It means knowing when a book may be more helpful than a computer. It means knowing how to make critical judgments about information: its completeness, accuracy, viewpoint. Information literacy is a critical life skill in today’s information jungle. And that is where librarians bring a unique asset: teaching people to find, use, and evaluate information effectively and efficiently.

Today, more than ever before, good decisions depend on good information. Smart communities are information-literate communities. They know how to find, evaluate, and use information in all forms to make good decisions. They invest in libraries as centers for information and lifelong learning. Over the coming year, I look forward to working with ALA members to develop models and initiatives that will clearly demonstrate the critical role libraries and librarians play in helping their communities thrive in the 21st century.


top Libraries: The Cornerstone of Democracy
( American Libraries, August 2000)


Libraries are . . . essential to the functioning of a democratic society . . . libraries are the great symbols of the freedom of the mind.— Franklin D. Roosevelt

Democracies need libraries. An informed public constitutes the very foundation of a democracy; after all, democracies are about discourse-discourse among the people. If a free society is to survive, it must ensure the preservation of its records and provide free and open access to this information to all its citizens. It must ensure that citizens have the resources to develop the information-literacy skills necessary to participate in the democratic process. Free societies allow unfettered dialogue and guarantee freedom of expression. Our libraries help to ensure that this happens.

Guarding against the tyranny of ignorance

During my presidential year, I will use every opportunity to demonstrate just how essential libraries are to our democratic way of life. Since their inception, libraries have served as pivotal community institutions upholding, strengthening, and realizing some of the most fundamental democratic ideals of our society. Libraries are the place where people can find differing opinions on controversial questions and dissent from current orthodoxy. They serve as the source for the pursuit of independent thought, critical attitudes, and in-depth information. And in so doing, our libraries guard against the tyranny of ignorance, the Achilles’ heel of every democracy.

Libraries are for everyone, everywhere. They provide safe spaces for public dialogue. They disseminate information so the public can participate in the processes of governance. They offer access to government information so the public can monitor the work of its elected officials and benefit from the data collected and disseminated by public policymakers. They serve as gathering places for the community to share interests and concerns. Libraries and librarians provide opportunities for citizens to develop the skills needed to gain access to information of all kinds and to put information to effective use.

Ultimately, discourse among informed citizens assures civil society. In the United States, libraries have greeted the self-determination of succeeding waves of immigrants by offering safe havens and equal access to learning. They continue this mission today. Indeed, libraries ensure the freedom to read, to view, to speak, and to participate.

An incredible opportunity

While libraries are popular and well-liked by the American public, they are often taken for granted. Their unique qualities are not always obvious. Over the coming year, ALA will launch a major campaign to communicate the importance of libraries and librarians to our democratic society ( AL, June/July, p. 112). This is an incredible opportunity. Working together at the national, state, and local levels, we can be articulate advocates-advocates for open access for children, young adults, and adults; advocates for fair use, privacy, and intellectual freedom rights; advocates for policies and funding that will narrow the growing gap between the information-rich and the information-poor; and advocates for an information-literate citizenry.

Several special presidential committees are working toward mounting a major new advocacy campaign in conjunction with ALA’s communications plan. We have established an Association-wide advocacy assembly, updated our training materials, and developed new messages around the importance of librarians in guiding the public through the 21st-century sea of information. We have also formed a representative assembly to help build information-literacy community partnerships. In addition, we have drafted a proposal for hosting virtual forums in libraries about issues of concern to our democracy and developed the "Smart voting starts @ your library" tip sheet included in this issue (following p. 64). And, finally, we are seeking support for a conference to help improve library services and information policies in emerging democracies in Eurasia.

Over the months ahead, I will update ALA members about many of these topics in greater depth. I look forward to spending an exciting year working on your behalf to promote and demonstrate that libraries are the cornerstone of democracy.