An LJ Report on ALA Annual 2011

When I saw An LJ Report on ALA Annual 2011 I was hoping that I might get some encouragement that the profession was catching the vision of a 21st Century Library, and that we might be moving forward. Unfortunately, from this overview of ALA Annual Conference 2011, I’m still discouraged. What I read sounded like a traditional librarian perspective to librarianship and library issues. Let me point those out.

The section of the report titled Demonstrating value contained the following.

Librarians at the conference were eagerly seeking such ideas [arguments for change] as they increasingly face pressure to demonstrate their worth in concrete ways. How to illustrate and document value, how to increase it, was a constant theme, ….

Molly Raphael, the former director of libraries at Multnomah County Library in Portland, OR, and the District of Columbia Public Library in Washington, DC, began her 2011–12 term as president of ALA emphasizing the need for those who prize libraries to work together.

“Libraries are so essential for learning and for life,” Raphael said. “I am honored to lead ALA as we help [to] address serious economic, social, political, and technological challenges…. Libraries will not just survive but will thrive when those who use and value [them] join with those who work in libraries to sustain their critical roles…in our society.”
Maureen Sullivan, who began her term as president-elect of ALA (she takes office in June 2012), said that at the behest of younger members, the annual conference was evolving to provide programming attendees demand as the profession undergoes “significant change” in tough times.

“We’re very much at risk, and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that the work and the contributions that librarians and library staff are making are not understood and they aren’t valued,” she said. She said ALA was the organization best positioned to address the problem.

Ron Carlee, COO of the International City/County Management Association, was frank about what he needs to hear about libraries. “If your brand is a book, it might as well be a buggy whip,” Carlee said. “The product is not the book, it is the consequence of the book…knowledge is a core service.”

It is totally remarkable to me that over one decade into the 21st Century, the general perception within the profession is still a view of traditional librarianship to the extent that there is no new vision. “Libraries will not just survive but will thrive when those who use and value [them] join with those who work in libraries to sustain their critical roles….” So apparently librarians’ fate is in the hands of library users. That doesn’t speak very well for librarians’ initiative or vision. Simply recognizing that libraries and librarians are “undervalued” is nothing new – we have been for decades. The funding decision maker very bluntly states; ditch the BOOK brand and get with the times. These two perspectives could not be further apart.

The LJ report on ALA Annual 2011 goes on to report other observations of attendees.

The Association of College and Research Libraries’ (ACRL) assessment committee made its first ever presentation at the conference, and Jennifer Rutner, incoming committee chair, exhorted the academic librarian community to develop and support “a culture of assessment.” Assessment results can have a powerful impact, Rutner said, in convincing stakeholders, particularly funding bodies, about the library’s worth.
“In this environment it has become imperative that libraries demonstrate [what] we bring to our communities,” she said.

Megan Oakleaf, an assistant professor at the iSchool at Syracuse University, NY, and the author of ACRL’s September 2010 report on the merits of academic libraries, said academic librarians need to get more forceful about validating, with data, how what they do advances the overarching mission of the institution.

“We are not being militant about this,” Oakleaf said. “We should be. And we should be aggressive about this conversation and maybe even a little angry and get ambitious about what we could provide to the conversation.”

Stacey Aldrich, California state librarian, said it always surprised her when meeting with other stakeholders how little aware they are of the libraries’ role in educating and supporting communities.

“It’s amazing to me because it’s almost like being in a room with a fireman who says, ‘I put out fires’ and me saying, ‘Wow. I had no idea that you put out fires,’ ” Aldrich said. “[L]ibraries are what they were originally created to be, the poor man’s university.

Sounds like the academic librarians are taking the bull by the horns to make some changes, and give the funding decision makers what they need – relevance.

In the section of the report titled The library mission, the following was included.

Susan Hildreth, former director of Seattle PL, who recently took over as director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) in Washington, DC, said one of her goals is to get elected officials to think about investments that have already been made in the civic infrastructure and how, as libraries move away from printed materials, this infrastructure could be used to change and help better define libraries as the linchpin of the community.

“We’re going to have a lot of physical space to repurpose, and we want to do that in conjunction with our communities and our civic leaders to make sure that however we redeploy that space is valuable,” Hildreth said. “There are many different kinds of services that libraries can provide given the assets that they have.”

Hildreth also said that the IMLS is going to focus on aggregating information – now spread among various states – about the payoffs libraries provide to communities in order to make a better case for funding to Congress and the administration.
“This administration is very interested in evidence-based activities that are providing benefits to our citizens and supporting them,” she said.

Sounds like IMLS is going to take the bull by the horns if librarians aren’t going to. As I’ve been stating for some time now, nature abhors a vacuum, and if the librarian profession is not going to step up to the plate, somebody else will, and we’ll just have to deal with the circumstances somebody else creates for us.

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