My ALCTS Experience

Marlene Harris, Alachua County Library District, Gainesville, Florida

So far, I have been a public librarian in three states (Indiana, Illinois and Florida), an academic librarian in two states (Alaska and Florida) and a vendor in one state (Illinois). In order, the moves were Indiana, Illinois, Alaska, Florida, Illinois, and Florida. My mom (in Cincinnati, and yes, I was a page there) even loses track sometimes!

I have always worked in technical services positions. It usually has been technical services plus something else, plus information technology, plus administration, plus local history, the classic “whatever duties are assigned.” And as a vendor, my job was to implement systems migrations, and I helped transfer databases (typically MARC databases), which was basically technical services again. ALCTS is my natural home in ALA.

My involvement in ALCTS began when I was an academic librarian for the first time, living in Alaska. I had been a public librarian and a vendor, but had never been in academia, never had to deal with a tenure folder. I had been an ALA and ALCTS member, but not been involved at the national level. So I sent in a volunteer form for ALCTS. Since my previous involvement was with state organizations, my volunteer form was sent to ALCTS CRG, the Council of Regional Groups. I found a home and friends there, and have been involved with CRG ever since, serving two terms as a member of CRG, and now as the CRG representative to ALCTS Membership.

During my time on CRG, my position (and residence) changed. I moved from Alaska to Florida to Chicago to Florida. I switched back to working as a public librarian again. Instead of being one academic librarian among many at committee meetings, I am frequently the only public library representative. When ALCTS was soliciting comments for an ALCTS response to the LC Working Group Report, I submitted comments that I hoped represented the public library perspective based on my then current place of employment (the Chicago Public Library). My participation led to an appointment by former ALCTS President Pamela Bluh to a Working Group on the LCWG to determine what ALCTS could do in response to this milestone document.

Public librarians in technical services hold a different perspective and have different needs than academic librarians. This has been reflected in the recent e-forums where money is no bar to attendance. Our career paths are different, our work is different, the work of our libraries has a different emphasis (1,000 copies of Harry Potter, anyone?). We are not funded to attended conference in the same numbers as academic librarians, and we do not have merit or tenure processes to compel us to attend, even without financial support. As public library budgets are shrinking, this situation is only getting worse in the short to medium term. Public librarians are looking toward online opportunities and regional conferences as methods of involvement in ALCTS, if such exist or can be created. They are seeking not just training, but actual involvement.

At the same time, public librarians expressed a lot of frustration with ALCTS because they want to be a part of ALCTS, and they do not feel represented. They have a lot of energy that ALCTS can tap if given an outlet. I have worked to increase the visibility of public librarians in ALCTS and to provide a method for public librarians in ALCTS to have their own voice as a group within ALCTS. As a result of one of the ideas from the LCWG discussions, Cynthia Whitacre and I co-founded an ALCTS Public Librarians in Technical Services Interest Group (PLTSIG)and the IG held its inaugural meeting at the 2009 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago. The PLTSIG has already scheduled its next meeting for Midwinter in Boston. Hope to see you there!