ALA Presidential Candidates for 2008–2009
Kenton L. Oliver and Roberta Stevens are candidates for the 2010–2011 presidency of the American Library Association (ALA).
Kent Oliver has served as the executive director of the Stark County District Library in Canton, Ohio since 2001. This is a library district which serves an area of 256,000 residents with eleven locations. His career spans more than thirty years of service, and also includes stints as the associate director for branch services for the Johnson County Library in Overland Park, Kansas, library director of the Olathe Public Library in Olathe, Kansas, and serving as the head of public services for the Daniel Boone Regional Library in Columbia, Missouri.
Oliver recently completed his fourth year as chair of ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. He is also an elected member of the Freedom to Read Foundation board, is a former Kansas Chapter Councilor to the ALA Council as well as a past member of the ALA Executive Board.
Oliver has also served on many ALA committees, including: the Committee on Organization; the Resolutions Committee (Chair); and the Budget Analysis and Review Committee (BARC). In addition he served on the Legislation Committee’s Privacy Task Force, the External Accreditation Task Force, the Governance Task Force, and the Core Values Task Force II.
Offices held include serving as president of the Kansas Library Association and the Missouri Library Association. Oliver has been an active member of the Public Library Association, and served on its Intellectual Freedom Committee, Library Video Award Jury, Gordon M. Conable Award Jury, and its Nominating and Membership Committees.
Mr. Oliver holds an undergraduate degree (B.A.) in American History from Washburn University of Topeka and an MLS from Emporia State (Kansas) University.
Roberta Stevens, Library of Congress outreach projects and partnerships officer and project manager of the National Book Festival, is seeking the 2010–2011 ALA presidency. Her thirty-five year career in libraries includes the creation of a library resource center for high school-age students in a technical/occupation center in New York State. The first such facility in New York, it served as a model for others that followed.
Stevens headed up media services at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf and was director of technical operations at the Fairfax County Public Library, then the third largest public library system in the Southeast. While at FCPL, she instituted the nation’s first office of evaluation and information development at a public library. This innovative office was charged with studying materials availability, patterns of usage, reference accuracy and other measures of the effectiveness of library services.
She began her twenty-four years at the Library of Congress managing the product development, marketing, customer support and accounting operations of the Cataloging Distribution Service. Since then she has held high-profile positions working with members of Congress and their staff, individuals at the highest levels of government and top donors to the Library. In addition to fundraising for the Library, she has managed the National Book Festival from its beginning in 2001. The festival, which is funded by donations, annually features seventy popular and diverse authors, attracts an audience of 120,000 and involves 900 volunteers in addition to its operational team. Over the festival’s eight years, 440 of America’s best known and most celebrated authors have participated.
Stevens served two terms on ALA Council and is currently on the Executive Board. She was on the Committee on Legislation for six years and chaired its Privacy and Telecommunications Subcommittees. She also served on numerous award juries and task forces. In addition to ALA committee and governance positions, she managed the Library of Congress exhibit booth (1991–1998), coordinated the Library of Congress special programs and all-conference receptions for the 1997 Midwinter Meeting and 1998 Annual Conference in Washington, and coordinated with forty-three ALA chapters and more than 200 libraries that were second-day issues sites for the Library of Congress Bicentennial commemorative U.S. postal stamp. Stevens was the first graduate of the School of Information and Library Studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo asked to be its commencement speaker.
Questions from ALCTS
The following questions were posed to the 2009 candidates for the ALA presidency. Their responses follow.
1. Why did you decide to run for ALA president? If you are elected, what will be your primary focus? What do you hope to accomplish during your term?
Oliver: I decided to run for ALA President because it will culminate my life dedicated to libraries and work in ALA. At this time and place I believe I am the best candidate for the job. I have thirty years of experience in the ALA organization, including a term on the Executive Board and four years as chair of the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee. The substance and depth of my experience in association work and skill as a practicing librarian would contribute substantially to my success as ALA President.
Today many library issues stem from the broader issues of funding, intellectual freedom and access to information. Funding challenges require us to advocate strategically for the profession, which I have done successfully at many levels. Intellectual freedom is a core value that I have long fought for, including the right to privacy. The most effective ALA Presidents show the capacity to engage member groups that understand the breadth and expanse of their field to drive our agenda. This will be even more important over the next few years as ALA faces a transitional period reacting to the economy and the demand for member e-participation.
Advocacy, strategic planning, library and information school curriculum and issues of diversity and inclusiveness are all important. My specific Presidential vision includes:
- Support for association-wide initiatives that develop library programs and services which help Americans deal with societal and economic turmoil.
- Development of more formal ALA partnerships with allied professional groups such as the Urban Libraries Council.
- Completion of the National Discussion on Privacy. This critical topic is fundamental to our core value of Intellectual Freedom.
- Implementation of an action plan to address the plight of school libraries and media specialists.
- Continued commitment to ensure that diversity influences all aspects of ALA.
- Engagement of ALA’s chapter voices in our processes.
- Monitoring of ALA’s financial strategies to assure we are responsive to the chaotic economic fortunes of our markets.
- Initiation of an association-wide discussion focusing on library and information schools as they define our profession’s future through their curriculum.
- Promotion of strategies to engage members of the new ALA Trustees/Friends/Foundations division.
Stevens: There were a number of reasons for my deciding to run for ALA President. First, I realized how powerful the voice of ALA can be from my experience on the Committee on Legislation (COL) and as Chair of COL’s Privacy Subcommittee. While on COL, we prepared a series of resolutions in response to the passage of the Patriot Act, particularly the provisions that affected the privacy rights of library users. ALA showed great courage when many others were scared off or intimidated about protesting the Act’s incursions on longstanding freedoms. ALA and its allies called attention to the threats being posed to personal liberties and changed the course of history. In recent weeks, the aggressive advocacy of ALA is evident in the increased visibility we have received in the national media about the crucial role of libraries during this difficult economic time. If elected President, I will continue and expand upon that effort and use the power of ALA’s voice for libraries.
I have been on Council for two terms and the ALA Executive Board for more than two years. It is clear from receiving regular reports of the President’s activities that the position involves a significant time commitment. Fortunately, I am at the point in my career where I can take a year’s leave without pay to devote myself to the responsibilities of being ALA’s chief spokesperson. I feel so strongly about the need to advocate extensively for well-funded libraries that I am willing to give up my salary for a year to be able to do so.
I have worked in all kinds of libraries … I have been a school/library media specialist, headed up media services at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (a college of the Rochester Institute of Technology) and directed technical operations for a large public library system (Fairfax County Public Library in Virginia; current budget of $33.5 million). I managed the product development, marketing, customer support and accounting functions of the Cataloging Distribution Service early in my career at the Library of Congress. In the last decade, I have managed major nationwide projects, including the Library of Congress Bicentennial Program and the National Book Festival. My thirty-five year career includes a breadth of experience and an understanding of how libraries of all types and sizes operate … what they share in common and how they differ. I believe the variety and scope of the jobs I have performed are directly applicable to being President of ALA.
Although I have a number of “campaign platform planks,” my primary focus is on advocacy for libraries. Advocacy has not only been a theme of previous ALA presidents, it is also the first and most important goal of ALA’s strategic plan. As I listened to authors at the 2008 National Book Festival in late September (my eighth year as its project manager), I thought about the possibilities for tapping these well-known and widely recognized individuals as advocates for libraries. They are among the smartest, most articulate and passionate people I have met, and they have a vested interest in seeing libraries financially supported and successful. The more funding we have, the more of their books we can buy. If elected President, I will pursue—in collaboration with ALA’s staff and members—using these natural allies to advocate for libraries, library employees and librarianship with the media and decision-makers, local and national, on our behalf.
Having been at the Library of Congress for nearly a quarter century, I have had a daily education in how Congress works as well as experience in working on projects directly with the lawmakers and their staff. As the Bicentennial Program Manager, I led a major nationwide project that documented local cultural traditions and events throughout the country and involved ninety-two Senators, nearly 80 percent of the House of Representatives and thousands of their constituents. I also worked with the Office of the First Lady’s staff throughout the eight years of the National Book Festival. These job experiences are especially relevant for the ALA President as we increasingly look to the federal government for support.
Why did I decide to run for ALA President? In brief, it was a combination of timing, the ability to make a personal sacrifice for the good of the association’s members and the opportunity to capitalize on past experience in leading ALA at a crucial time for our country, our libraries and our profession.
2. Please discuss how your ALA goals and philosophy relate to ALCTS. How might ALCTS help facilitate achievement of those goals?
Oliver: ALCTS deals with the specific tools and disciplines which facilitate access to information. Certainly this has always been at the heart of my concern as a champion for intellectual freedom and as a practicing library director. Issues such as digital preservation, record retention and ownership, non-English language access to information, bibliographic control and serial authority concerns are subjects which we understand ultimately impact information access.
Additionally, ALCTS members certainly share concerns I have for ensuring the success of ALA as well as other overarching member quality concerns. My specific desire to have an association-wide discussion regarding how library and information school curricula will impact the disciplines practiced within this division.
Overall, I would like to see ALCTS continue to do the very necessary work they are currently doing. Your research and position papers delving into such areas as digital preservation are so essential in providing ALA the working documents required to make informed decisions. As ALA President I will ensure that scholarly work created by divisions is used in practice as association-wide initiatives are developed. Furthermore, I will look to divisions to help identify those initiatives requiring our attention and seek their help to advocate for their implementation.
Stevens: Although ALCTS has its unique expertise and concerns, as members of ALA, we all share the same commitment to providing opportunities to members who want to play a meaningful role in the association. I have heard many times the frustration of members who volunteer for committees and assignments and are never appointed to them. I will work with ALCTS on creating ways to get members actively involved in the association.
In addition, I believe support for better electronic participation is essential. With budgets tightening and the ability to travel to annual conferences and midwinter meetings diminishing, the role of electronic participation in connecting our members to the association’s programs will only increase. I pledge to support ALA’s work on expanding online communication and information sharing within and across its divisions.
As the premier library association in the world, the “brand” of ALA and its units commands great respect. I want to leverage that respect and move the organization forward by increasing the number and diversity of members nationally and globally. An important component in doing so is to promote ALA’s products, services and training. These online opportunities for sharing training, materials and the expertise of ALCTS members, whose focus is on the bedrock skills of the library profession, are vital to keeping the association financially secure and successful.
I will work with ALCTS to accomplish these goals and ensure recognition of ALCTS’ contributions to their achievement.
3. What do you see as the greatest challenges facing individuals 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 ALCTS members to meet those challenges?
Oliver: The documents “ALCTS and the Profession: Next Steps” and “Report of the Future of Bibliographic Control” offer glimpses into the different technical emphases possible in answering this question. They are wide ranging and staggering in scope. There is a common thread for success. Like many of our specific discipline(s) related divisions, the key is training, education and staff development. Training, education and staff development will allow us to change with the rapidly shifting landscape we are seeing in areas such as OPACs, open source, shareware, bibliographic control, digital preservation and media formats to name but a few.
ALA can assist ALCTS in pushing forward on training opportunities. Additionally, as the national association speaking for all divisions, ALA must remember that as it advocates for or discusses standards with entities such as OCLC, ILS vendors and publishers we include the right divisions in those discussions.
As ALA President it will be my routine practice to include the right people and interests groups in discussions. It is important that we speak with one informed voice as we advocate for standards and public policies impacting the entire profession.
Stevens: Technical services have always faced near and long-term challenges. I speak from experience. When I became director of technical operations at the Fairfax County Library, they had purchased (but not installed) an automated circulation system. They used a microfilm library catalog that was at least a year out of date. They had not fully implemented AACR2 and MARC. Collection development was “idiosyncratic,” with library managers specializing in collection development for their branches that reflected their interests but sometimes had little to do with the population being served.
Working with the staff, we got the automated circ system up and running, automated cataloging, became the first site to integrate the two systems, provided training in AACR2 and MARC, and switched to a new format for the public catalog. Materials selection was centralized and simultaneously targeted to address needs of the branch libraries’ changing communities.
Implementing new automated systems with the technological limitations of the hardware and software were our big challenges then. Here are the challenges that I see for ALCTS, both near term and extending into the future:
- Implementing AACR2’s successor, RDA. There has understandably been a great deal of concern with the complexity of the earlier RDA drafts. However, the current plan to beta-test RDA seems a step in the right direction. ALCTS will play an important role by having members participate in the beta test and provide feedback so that RDA is implemented with as little difficulty as possible.
- Developing an action plan based on the outcomes of the Library of Congress Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control. ALCTS members should not be “reactors,” but leaders in the critical discussion of next steps, the role that LC and other institutions play in the development and distribution of cataloging records, etc.
- Engaging and listening to new members so that they are not only part of, but actively engaged in, ALCTS activities.
- Dealing with the proliferation of information that is only available digitally (this is, at least partially, tied to the implementation of a “new cataloging code”) and responding to how users now search for materials and information.
- Attracting the “best and the brightest” of the profession into technical services and providing opportunities for advancement and recognition.
- Dealing with the reliance on fewer professional staff to provide technical services.
- Ensuring that, during these difficult economic times, technical services are as well funded as public services in our libraries.
ALA can assist in meeting those challenges by having an electronic infrastructure in place that allows ALCTS members to communicate with each other. I will support the implementation of the second phase of the professional networking capabilities of ALA Connect, which will build on the first phase’s features allowing communities of interest to form and members to quickly and easily contribute to group discussions and work.
4. How can ALA ensure that certain 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?
Oliver: First, as I stated in my resoponse to question #3, ALA must have all appropriate interest groups at the table as we advocate for and develop positions of wide professional importance. I like to allude to ALA as a community where we must be inclusive rather than exclusive. The next alliteration of ALA Ahead strategic planning must by necessity reflect the issues faced by our divisions. These will be common issues (such as training and advocacy) to which all of us can relate and engage in. In recent years ALA staff and committees have been assertive in developing e-participation products to engage everyone. ALA Connect, Wiki development on divisional pages and the move toward social connections on Facebook are but a sampling of these.
As ALA President I will be aware of and assertive in ensuring committees and task forces are inclusive not only in the traditional sense of diversity, but divisional diversity where appropriate and required. MY experience and recognition of ALCTS issues will increase your presence in critical association wide discussions.
Stevens: The specialization of the divisions and round tables of ALA is both its strength and its ongoing challenge. There is a niche for everyone in ALA ... when you join you can be certain that you will find individuals with whom you can share your problems and get advice. But the possibility of being narrowed into a very specific set of professional concerns is also present.
ALCTS members’ concerns about feeling connected to the larger ALA organization are no different than the concerns of the other divisions. I am the Executive Board’s representative to the Seven Measures Working Group (the “seven measures of association success”) and this question is precisely the one we have been tackling.
Addressing the issue of electronic participation and using ALA Connect for communication and sharing the work of the divisions with their members and others will be a step forward in this area.
As the leader of numerous teams for the LC Bicentennial Program and the National Book Festival, I have a great deal of experience in including many parts of the organization and others outside the Library in the process of accomplishing goals. I pledge to include ALCTS as part of the planning and implementation of initiatives that I undertake as President. The formation of the communities of interest that I discussed above will go a long way in bringing the various ALA divisions together into an organization that is more inclusive and far more powerful than the sum of its parts.
5. In recent years 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?
Oliver: In preparing my responses to these questions, it occurred to me that the ALCTS mission statement in the most recent strategic plan reflects the entire world of librarianship. That being, to shape and respond nimbly to all matters related to the selection, identification, acquisition, organization, management, retrieval, and preservation of recorded knowledge through education, publication, and collaboration. I believe that concerns cited in recent ALCTS studies and in my previous responses, are and will be issues of importance to all types of libraries.
I believe one of the advantages ALA and ALCTS will have with Kent Oliver as President is that I recognize and respect ALCTS leadership in developing standards, principles and best practices for creating, collecting, organizing, delivering, and preserving information resources. Those resources are the foundation of every size and type of library. Therefore, issues ALCTS identifies as critical are of importance to all librarians because they are ultimately about information access. As a library director, your issues are mine on a daily basis. For instance, ALA should be at the forefront of the current controversy surrounding the Google copyright discussion due to its wide ranging impact on our collections. It is a potentially collections shattering situation for all types of libraries.
As ALA President, ALCTS should be confident it will be represented on committees and working groups of all types. Certainly, I will continue the actions and promises of President-elect Camilla Alire in regard to conference programming. In order for ALCTS topics to become important to the association as a whole, they must see the light of day in our online and in-person training opportunities. Be assured that I will assist your division in whatever way appropriate to make this happen.
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your questions.
Stevens: First and foremost, ALA’s President needs to listen to and fully understand the concerns of the ALCTS members. Having been the director of technical operations for a major public library system and the customer services officer for the Cataloging Distribution Service at the Library of Congress is a real advantage in being able to relate to, understand and value ALCTS concerns.
Second, an effective way to ensure that ALCTS sees itself as part of the association is to seat ALCTS members on ALA’s committees. If elected, I will appoint ALCTS members to ALA committees and task forces so that they have a strong voice within the association.