ALA Vice-Presidential Candidates Offer Their Responses to ALCTS Questions

Two candidates are running for President of ALA 2005-2006 in the upcoming election this spring. They are:

Michael Gorman,
Dean of Library Services,
California State University, Fresno

Barbara Stripling
Director of Library Programs
New Visions for Public Schools,
New York, NY

We offered each of the candidates an opportunity to respond to four questions posed by ALCTS on behalf of the division membership, to acquaint ALCTS members with the candidates, and to acquaint the candidates with some of ALCTS' concerns.

1. Why did you decide to run for ALA president? If you are elected, what will be your prime focus? What do you hope to accomplish during your term? How do your ALA goals and philosophy relate to ALCTS, and what role might ALCTS have in helping you achieve your goals?

I have been an active member of ALA (and ALCTS) for many years and believe I have the knowledge and experience to lead ALA, if I have the honor of being elected. I have no slogan or theme, because I believe that ALA needs some consistency over the years, rather than a Theme of the Year that changes as the personalities change. I believe that we should finish the work on formulating a statement of core values so that we can unify in addressing our problems. Other major issues are the furtherance of the ALA Allied Professional Association (APA) and its work on better salaries/pay equity and on certification; and an emphasis on diversity in recruitment for LIS schools as a means of creating a profession that looks like America. ALCTS is, of course, my spiritual home as a lapsed cataloguer, but my philosophy is that of seeing ourselves as librarians first, and cataloguers, academic librarians, school librarians, etc., second. We need to work on better articulating the relationships between Big ALA and its divisions, round tables, and units.

I decided to run for ALA president because I have a leadership style that brings people together to find positive, collaborative solutions to substantive issues. Our library field is facing crucial issues right now; ALA's responses will help shape our professional lives and the lives of those we serve through our libraries.

My focus as ALA president will be Building Community, both locally and professionally. This focus arose from my passionate commitment to creating a learning society through libraries. For my entire career in the school library field, I have focused on building independent, lifelong learners among the students, teachers, administrators, and fellow librarians with whom I worked. I rely on every type of librarian to accomplish this life's mission - e.g., catalogers to make material accessible, public librarians to build lifelong connections to learning, technical service librarians to transform and maintain systems that provide equitable access. We all contribute, and we all make it possible for the wiggly kindergartner, the shy tenth grader, and the relaxed retiree to find just the right information at the right time.

In this age of public accountability, funding cuts, proliferating information, and rapid development of technology, libraries must take positive, strong action to defend intellectual freedom, provide equitable access and add value to their communities. Libraries serve as an Information Commons, in which diverse ideas are respected and exchanged. By focusing on the needs of users, libraries provide both the content and the context for real, lifelong learning to take place. Libraries are valued by their community members for the access they provide; the community then becomes committed to sustain this community-building resource.

I hope to accomplish several aspects of local community-building during my term. In my opinion, ALCTS members must be involved in every one of those efforts. First, of course, is maintaining a strong national voice for confidential and equitable access to information. Underlying ALA's public voice, legislative lobbying, and legal action must be substantial understanding of the technology and systems that promote or restrict access. We need to use the expertise of ALCTS members to deal with current complexities and to plan for access in the future.

Second, I hope to strengthen equitable access by providing opportunities for ALA members to investigate and implement the concepts of a library (public, school, academic, or special) as an Information Commons that builds its local community. A number of related issues will require the participation of ALCTS members including embedding links to library resources in virtual learning environments; scaffolding the use and organization of unstructured data to provide context for community issues; addressing the growing importance of local community heritage by preserving and providing access to cultural and historical activities/documents; making collaborative decisions (with other community institutions) about digitization of cultural documents; making decisions about the repository role of the library.

Finally, I expect to lead an ALA action agenda around 21st century skills. If we are to base our library services on the needs of our users, we must understand the skills they need to be empowered as lifelong learners capable of finding and using information. Because 21st century learners must also have civic and cultural literacy, libraries must pay attention to the skills and knowledge required for civic engagement and cultural empowerment. Since ALCTS members are on the cutting edge of information and technology, their participation in this action agenda is essential. We need to understand how our users like to get information, what skills they need now and will need in the foreseeable future to find the information they need, what scaffolding libraries can build to lead users to high-quality information, and how to make the whole process seamless and effective.

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2. What do you see as the greatest challenges facing those engaged in the areas of work represented by ALCTS (acquisitions, cataloging, serials, preservation, and collection development) in the near term future? How can ALA assist these members in meeting those challenges?

The greatest challenges are funding for collections; the pressure to spend more on electronic technology and electronic resources while striving to maintain collections; cataloguing (and identifying) useful electronic resources; and preserving the human record.

Because of rapid changes in technology and the information environment, the challenges facing those engaged in the areas of work represented by ALCTS are numerous and daunting. These are not ALCTS members' challenges alone, however. Every librarian must understand the implications of digital technology, virtual learning environments, and self-serve mentalities. This understanding of the future is an ALA challenge and it is incumbent upon ALA leadership to bring all members into the conversation.

Underlying all of these issues are two main themes: a focus on the needs of users, now and in the future; and building interconnections and collaboration to provide seamless access to resources and information. Acquisitions issues identified by the recently published The 2003 OCLC Environmental Scan: Pattern Recognition ( include the critical problem of fulfilling increasingly diverse user needs with declining budget funds; assessing the value and implications of Print on Demand; and the development of consortia and collaborative purchasing agreements.

Catalogers are confronted with the challenges of figuring out how to handle the ever-increasing unstructured data of the Internet; how to offer access to collections of material through collection-level descriptions; providing content-related context for resources as well as links to different formats of resources; and the need for standardization and systems so that seamless access can be provided to users.

Serials librarians have been confronting the rising cost of serials for years. Electronic access has now led to a disaggregation of content, so that purchasing of whole serials may give way to Print on Demand. The whole field of scholarly publications has many current issues, including open access and archiving.

Librarians concerned with preservation are facing decisions about preserving activities in a digital environment with no standards or system to determine what must be archived. Preservation of digital information is a national issue, with implications for every cultural and governmental institution or agency and every type of library.

Librarians concerned with collection development are dealing with many issues that overlap the issues for other ALCTS members. Because of changes in the learning environment of our communities, library collection development must align with knowledge management systems, so that any electronic learning experiences provide seamless access to library resources. Collection developers must develop systems to deal with new formats and new delivery mechanisms, with the expectation that innovations will continue to proliferate. The OCLC report identifies one of the biggest challenges of collection developers is to focus on building an intellectual context for resources and developing the collection by adding intellectual value to content (including content on the Web), rather than the old paradigm of actually purchasing all the materials in the collection.

No one understands the complexities of our new information landscapes better than ALCTS members, but the impact of changes in resources, user preferences, and technology is profound for every type of library, every library worker, and every user. ALA must enable ALCTS members, in collaboration with members from all different facets of ALA, to study the issues and develop standards and systems to provide the seamless access to information that users desire.

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3. How can ALA make certain that members, whose primary affiliation is to a "type of activity" division, feel connected to the concerns of the organization as a whole? How might their involvement be increased? How might ALA's awareness of their concerns be increased?

Please see my answer to 1) above. I do believe that an ALA president can do much to inspire a sense of unity and continuity and promote inclusiveness--librarianship as a big tent containing collegial professionals who see the essential unity of our profession based on shared values.

I understand the feelings of isolation that you have described because I have experienced some of the same disconnection as a school librarian. ALA seems to exacerbate the "silos" by looking for simple solutions to this complicated problem. ALA is, by the very nature of its members, a complex organization. Our members have a great deal of expertise and experience in specialized areas of librarianship. I think the natural reaction has been to simplify the organization so that everyone feels connected (e.g., appoint one "youth" librarian to all committees without realizing that the perspectives of children's librarians are different from young adult librarians and from school librarians; pick one "theme" for an ALA presidential year and expect everyone to find a useful connection to it).

I think a preferable approach is to enhance the opportunities for diversity within the organization and improve outreach and communication so that everyone can find his or her own niche and can benefit personally and contribute expertise to the organization. We need to use technology more effectively to push out programming, work, committees, and conferences to members and to enhance two-way communication. For example, I have been trying a "blog" as part of my presidential campaign in order to let members know what I am thinking and offer their own comments and questions. Although organizing Annual Conference programming into strands has had positive effects of making the conference easier to negotiate, it has had the unintended negative consequence of further isolating certain divisions and types of programming from contact with other divisions. We need to counter that isolation by offering opportunities for conversations around issues, town hall meetings, virtual access to programs, virtual participation in public opinion polls, and other possibilities. I think we might find that the "siloization" among type-of-library divisions would be dispersed through the connecting fibers of common issues represented by type-of-activity divisions.

ALA's awareness of type-of-activity concerns will only be increased through strategic, targeted efforts to increase involvement. Committee appointments will provide a place at the table for different points of view to be aired, but they need to be amplified by appointments to working groups on various issues important to the field. When particular divisions identify task forces and committees to work on specialized interests, they need to think about pulling in members from other areas of the association to contribute to the discussions (ALA could help make those connections). Some conference programming can be specifically to provide perspectives from a cross section of the association, e.g., looking at opportunities to link library resources to e-learning in K-12 educational environments, public libraries and communities, academic institutions, and specialized communities.

ALA is getting ready to develop another long-range strategic plan. This will provide a golden opportunity for all areas of the association to coalesce around issues in our field. The OCLC Environmental Scan report provides an excellent foundation for this broad-based conversation. ALCTS members must be very pleased at the prominence that ALCTS issues have assumed in that report, but that is, of course, a reflection of the importance of the activities of acquisitions, cataloging, serials, preservation, and collection development in our changing library environment. Through the long-range planning process, we can make sure that members across the association understand the complex issues of our profession and the contributions of every librarian to successful service to our users.

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4. In recent years ALA has engaged in a variety of public relations and visionary activities such as Goal 2000; Libraries: an American Value; and task forces on core values, core competencies, etc. In some of these efforts it has been difficult for ALCTS members to "see themselves" or to see that the Association embraces issues that are critical to ALCTS. What steps will you take to increase ALA's inclusiveness within its own ranks?

I am interested in, and enthusiastic about, Janet Swan Hill's proposal to bring the question of bibliographic control to the forefront of ALA's concerns and look forward to working with her on that. I think it would be good to have a president who understands the critical importance of ALCTS members' concerns. I would note that all the drafts of the core competences that I have seen put bibliographic control (if not in those words) at the head of the list of the essential skills for a librarian. We should and can bring both the core values and core competences discussions to a successful conclusion soon.

As I mentioned in my answer to Question #1, as President I would like to focus on Building Community both locally and professionally. When we build our professional community, we will each be strengthened in our ability to provide service to our users.

One aspect of building our professional community is increasing the inclusiveness of the association to all library workers. Everyone who works in a library contributes to the mission; everyone deserves to be included in association planning, programming, governance, and communication. I am particularly interested in following up on the recommendations of the Third Congress on Professional Education (COPE 3), which focused on library support staff. We need to monitor our language and actions until we build a culture in ALA that sustains inclusiveness.

I also think we need to build our professional community by pulling together an association-wide recruitment plan that reaches out to diverse individuals and brings them into all different areas of library work. ALA should continue to build the Spectrum endowment to make going to library school more possible for diverse individuals. It is not enough to recruit wonderful new librarians. We also need to make sure that there are schools of higher education for them to attend. ALA needs to take a pro-active stance toward affirming the value of these schools for training for areas of specialty (like many of the areas of ALCTS, school librarianship, youth librarianship) as well as for general librarianship.

I think ALA-APA certification also offers opportunities for ALCTS members to feel included in the association activities. Certainly there are areas of specialty with the ALCTS areas of focus that would build on the graduate library degree. ALCTS could take the lead in defining those areas for certification, developing competencies, and initiating certification programs. I was chair of the Certification Task Force and I would be very pleased to work with ALCTS as ALCTS members define some of these programs of certification. Although I know that ALA has focused some effort on defining Core Competencies for all librarians, I am less concerned about defining (arguing about) core competencies that fit all librarians than I am about nurturing the diversity (of skills, backgrounds, interests) within our field. The competencies identified by different divisions for particular areas of specialty as the divisions develop ALA-APA certification programs are more inclusive and invite librarians with different areas of expertise to become involved.

Finally, my biggest effort at building our professional community and increasing the inclusiveness of ALA will be in the area of communication. We will be a better association when all viewpoints are solicited and heard. ALA cannot expect this conversation to happen by itself. We need to use technology and personal outreach to extend the association to all the members. And we need to respond to the issues that arise from all parts of the association by providing opportunities for members to work together to investigate, explore, and develop actions around issues that they care about.

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