Alternative Voices: An interview with Black Caucus of ALA (BCALA) 2014 President-Elect Kelvin Watson

BCALA President-Elect Kelvin WatsonAn interview with Black Caucus of ALA (BCALA) 2014 President-Elect Kelvin Watson conducted by Kai Alexis Smith.

Kai Alexis Smith: When did BCALA start?

Kelvin Watson: Forty four years ago in 1970. We are celebrating our 45 anniversary in August 2015 at the National BCALA Conference in St. Louis, Missouri.

KAS: What are the mission and goals of the organization?

KW: Our mission is to promote African American librarians. BCALA serves as an advocate for the development, promotion and improvement of library services and resources to the nation's African American community. And to provide leadership for the recruitment and professional development for African American librarians.

KAS: What are some programs/events available to new members or professionals?

KW: We do programming at least twice a year at ALA midwinter and annual. We also have many different committees that a new member can join to get involved in the organization. We were awarded a $10,000 grant from the National Library of Medicine (NLM) to fund the BCALA and NLM Health Information and Promotion Project focused on obesity and the health impact it has on our community. We also sponsor the Coretta Scott Book Awards and BCALA Literary Awards and partner with the different affiliate caucuses for programs.

KAS: What plans does the organization have for the future?

KW: As president for 2014-2015, part of my vision is around sustainability of the organization as well as growing the membership. Two simple points are sustainability and good stewardship. Both of those are achievable as well as measurable. We can also go beyond them. Grow our affiliates. Develop a new strategic plan so that we can continue to move forward in the twenty first century.

KAS: What are the some of the challenges the organization is facing and how do you plan to meet them?

KW: Many challenges are ahead of us. The primary ones are living the challenges of diversity of the profession, access to technology, increasing digital literacy, continuing to serve our communities, and being empowered to make change. With sustainability and good stewardship, I plan to meet these challenges.

KAS: What do you think are some of the challenges new librarians encounter? Do you have any recommendations for how to deal with them?

KW: Some of the things that I think new librarians encounter is learning how to navigate ALA and the affiliate organizations. Also, learning and being prepared for their first professional librarian job. BCALA can help them by serving as mentors. If you are new, we encourage you to join the organization and lead a committee. The skills you learn within BCALA can be used in your professional career and day-to-day job. These skills and your involvement also help you navigate within the organization. We are an open organization to all people. Being a part of BCALA gives you the opportunity to build your network.

KAS: What do you see your organization doing 5 years from now?

KW: I see BCALA continuing to grow. Getting more lifetime members. I see us continuing to be a leader and, hopefully, serving as an example to all of the affiliate caucuses that are a part of ALA. In the next 5 years, I see us continuing to go outside of ALA to build partnerships, for example, with National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE), National Urban League, and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). This is what I see us doing. Hopefully, under my presidency, but definitely in the next 5 years.

KAS: Is there anything you would like to add?

KW: BCALA has remained diligent in our mission. We still have a lot of work to do and lots of challenges ahead of us, but we have the corner stone, which is the sources and the strength of our leadership now and as well as before me. We have continued to focus on our agenda and address pertinent societal development. So as things change, we change. And we continue to focus on the challenges ahead. That is how you stay around. Sustainability and good stewardship.

Learn more about BCALA here.

Kai Alexis Smith is the Librarian in Residence at the University of Notre Dame. She wrote this when she served on the NMRT Membership Promotion, Diversity, & Recruitment Committee, Subcommittee for Diversity from 2013-2014.