National Dialogue on the Curriculum of Readiness for the 21st Century Librarian
ALA Annual Conference - Chicago, Illinois - Tuesday June 28, 2005
Plenary Session I: Preparing Leaders for 21 st Century Library and Information Service
Rhea Brown Lawson: Greg.
Gregory L. Reese: Good morning every one. Let's give Tracie Hall another round of applause for putting this together. [applause]
I'm very delighted to be here this morning. I'm sensitive and I understand the needs of my community. I'm Director of the East Cleveland Public Library. East Cleveland is probably one of the poorest urban communities in the country. I have three facilities. We serve a population of 28,000.
I'm very sensitive to the community and I understand my community. That's why I think it's so important that we recruit people of color to the profession.
I recently raised $3.6 million dollars, single handedly to add an 18,000 square foot addition to my main library.
$3.6 million over a course of about three years in a community that's battered with bad press. Our mayor recently went to jail but I was able to overcome all of that and raise this money. And my largest contributor was the Cleveland Foundation. They gave me over a $1 million. They said they gave it to me because they believed in my vision, they liked what I was doing, and I had great interpersonal skills.
They said, "If we didn't like you Greg, you wouldn't have gotten the money." So, they don't teach that in library school, but I'm getting to that.
I'm very sensitive and I understand the needs of my community. I had a situation where we set up a computer lab at one of my branches about six or seven years ago. The community was very disturbed because they thought that I was changing their traditional library to something else.
I received a letter in the mail. It said, "Mr. Reese, what are you doing to our library? Are you going to take away our story hour? We don't want our library to become an arcade. We don't want video machines in our library."
This is some really sad stuff, but it's real. They asked, "Did I live in the community? I live in the neighboring community, Cleveland Heights and we're going to picket the library. We're going to write the 'Plain Dealer' because we don't want no computers in our library.", unfortunately. But I decided that I understood that they were just intimidated by the technology.
I called a town meeting as call it. We had about 60 residents come in. I talked to them about the importance of the technology and I had to explain to them: when you go to the bank and you hit the buttons, you see people hitting the buttons there. That's computer technology. You've got to have it.
So after about 20 minutes of talking to them I really did win them all over. They signed up for library cards and they enrolled in the classes that we were offering.
In our new building, we have an additional 30 computers and thanks to Bill and Melinda Gates we have received over $300,000. I'm very sensitive and I understand the needs of my community.
Another example of that was when I visited Kirk Middle School in East Cleveland. We have some tough youngsters in my community and sometimes they are not too friendly to outsiders. But I took my recruitment video that I produced in about 1996 or 1997: "To be a Librarian." So I was armed with that.
But they were very impressed with the presentation and one of the kids said, "Mr. Reese, how can I be like you? How can I do what you do? How much money do you make?" I told him how much money I made. They said, wow, that's all right.
Then they said, "Do you have to go to college to do what you do?"
I explained to them. I said, "Yeah, I had to go to college."
They said, "Well, tell us about it."
I said, "Well, first of all,"-- I've forgotten the kid's name -- "you've got to finish middle school, junior high school. OK?"
He said, "OK."
I said, "Then you got to go to high school and you got to finish high school."
He says, "OK."
"Then you have to go to college for four years. Then you have to enter the masters program to become a professional librarian like I am."
The guy said, "Aw, forget it. I'll never make it. It's too drawn out."
It's an interesting thing because I have talked to Tracy about this before. I strongly feel that we need to consider a four year undergrad library science program. Mike Havener [sp] and I have talked about this for years. And I think it's extremely important, because I think... I don't know if we can contain all the needed information in a 36 hour graduate course.
So, personally, I'd like to see a four year program and if you would like to be a director or dean or something, we still would have the masters' level available to you.
I've noticed when I've tried to recruit that I find that many of our schools are doing different things all across the country. It's very disturbing to me that we do have some four year library science programs and we have a 36 hour programs. I think we need to all be on the same page across the country, just as other professions.
If you are going to be a lawyer, you follow a certain path and you have to pass the bar. If you are going to be a doctor, you have to do the same thing. I don't understand why we are not doing the same thing in library and information science. I think it's very important. We confuse our potential recruits the way we have things aligned at this point.
And then I look at admissions and I've had a tough time getting some African Americans in library schools in Ohio, simply because they needed a 3.3 GPA and 10 or 20 years ago they had a 2.8 when they graduated from undergrad. So they could not get in the program.
The GRE, they didn't do well on the GRE. So they couldn't get in the program. This is after I've written letters of recommendation. I talked to the dean at Kent one time. I said, "What's the purpose of the GRE? What's the purpose of the GRE?" Someone in the room tell me what is the purpose of the GRE? Why do we require potential students to take the GRE?
It's been very sensitive but I'll tell you, I've talked to the dean in my state and I asked them, "Well, suppose this potential student just took a library course, not being enrolled in the program and if they did well and achieved a B or above, would you let them in the program?"
He says, "Yeah." I thought that was very gracious. That's a great thing to do. Also, with the GPA, I figure if a person has been in the profession, has been working as a para-professional. They have letters of recommendation. We should let them in the program also.
And as far as the curriculum is concerned, I'll tell you, I'm in my 30th year in this business and I've learned a lot. The fund raising aspect of it has just been phenomenal for me to raise $3.6 million in three years but you know we are seeking alternative funding today.
I think the library schools need to prepare our potential students or those who are coming into the profession in areas of fundraising, networking, developing interpersonal skills, being political, dealing with the politics of the community, lobbying our legislatures, fiscal management. I'm doing all of that stuff every day and I'm loving it.
Library science is a career, but it is also... it needs to be treated as a business. I think if we plan to maintain our status as forerunners in the information business that we really need to take a close look at making changes in several areas.
Thank you very much.
Rhea Brown Lawson: Thank you, Greg, for those insightful comments.