Mahatma Gandhi’s words, “You must be the change you want to see in the world,” have inspired me for most of my career. His words are not only a call to action, but also a reminder to reflect on the changes we want to see and to make sure that we follow a true line of our strongest values and beliefs as we move toward our goals.
I have always been supported in taking risks. As a young child, I knew that my parents were there to pick up the pieces when I tried something new and failed. Their support gave me courage to try. Over time, I developed enough confidence in my own abilities and resilience in the face of failure that I have been able to weave a career of challenging jobs in several states and different organizations. Every time I started to get complacent in a job – “I know how to do this!” – another opportunity came along “. . .but I don’t know how to do that. . .yet” – and I accepted a new challenge. One day, district Director of Instructional Services in Fayetteville, Arkansas; the next day, Director of Library Programs for New Visions for Public Schools in New York City.
For the last seven years, I have been Director of Library Services for the New York City public schools. We have 1700 schools and 1.1 million students. Our community of school librarians in NYC is amazing; we have done good work together. This position is the most challenging, exhilarating, and important work I have ever done. The change we want to see in our world is that all of our 1.1 million students will become independent learners, ready to make their place in the world. Our mission is about equity and justice and empowerment – that’s our true line. Everything we do – every document we create, every professional development we deliver, every connection we make – has our core values at heart. It is not easy to maintain a true line amidst the turmoil of inner city schools, but we do, because that’s the change we want to see in our world.
Libraries have a true line, too. I think we all recognize that libraries are changing, that they must change, as our communities grow and evolve. It’s sometimes a puzzle to figure out just what we need to do to help our libraries thrive in these economic hard times. I think libraries need to reach out to their communities to build a collective true line that is aligned with the hopes and heart of the community. Only by following that true line will libraries fulfill the mission set forth by Gandhi’s words.
I have chosen to focus on Transforming Libraries / Transforming Communities in my presidential campaign. I hope to help ALA and library workers in all types of libraries across the country figure out what that transformational vision looks like in their libraries. For a school librarian, it might mean a Family Literacy Night or student performances in a learning-commons atmosphere in the library. For an academic librarian, it might mean enhanced digital access and virtual services. Public librarians might offer opportunities for civic engagement and open discussion among community members around issues of public concern. The decisions and the connections to community “true lines” are local and individual, but ALA can, and should, offer support to the library workers.
These are exciting times. What we may find is that as we transform our libraries and our communities, we have set a new vision, a new true line, for library services in the future.