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Following a True Line

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.

1 comment

  1. Nancy Churchill

    Your bid for the ALA presidency is great news, Barbara! I,too. believe that the ALA must assist library workers. I think that the work of librarians needs to be brought to the front and center, helping library administrators and the public realize how very vital librarians’ work is to the success of libraries.
    I am most concerned about the deskilling of libraries, in particular, public libraries. Many library paraprofessionals are to be congratulated for their hard work and contributions to the success of libraries. However, more and more, most often due to budgetary restraints, paraprofessionals are expected to accomplish the work that previously librarians were hired to do.
    NYLA educates paraprofessionals and offers a certificate. Yet, to me, it seems like a ‘crash course’; it certainly cannot come close to providing the skills and understandings that an MLS is designed to provide. Reading Lankes, Atlas of Librarianship, where the line between paras and professionals was greatly blurred,also prompts my writing.

    If our public libraries are to successfully transform throughout and beyond the digital age, I believe it is imperative that we have professionals at the helm of our libraries who understand and employ the principles and practices of the ALA. I would like to see the ALA address this paraprofessional/professional situation to help our public libraries grow strong, vibrant, and more adequately staffed with librarians. I am a public librarian employed by choice on a part-time basis and I work successfully in tandem with paraprofessionals. Certainly there are times when they’ve provided patron needs more quickly and precisely than I have. Yet their competencies typically lack the breadth and depth of those who have completed an MLS.
    I believe that public libraries are floundering due to lack of leadership by librarians. Fortunately, you are now in a position to bring your expertise to LIS students at the ischool. But, it seems to me that, unless their future employers better understand how valuable MLS-degreed employees can be to the future success of libraries, many of these students might find themselves employed in a ‘thinly’ staffed library. They might be working elbow to elbow with paraprofessionals, trying to do their best, but actually and unaware of how to achieve the mission of their library. These newly degreed students might even find themselves working indirectly with another library’s staff of which there are no librarians, perhaps just a manager with only a bachelor’s degree.
    It seems to me that presently, much of the public, if they get hold of a DVD or book they want from a library, might think they’re being well-served. Yet really, much could be lacking. It takes an individual who is well educated, skilled and dedicated to the mission of the library to know what extra mile to traverse during a quick exchange with a patron.
    Although I only work by choice part-time at one library, I consider ALA and NYLA membership and participation absolutely necessary to my work. Many librarians I know consider these memberships too expensive. If the ALA were to finally stand and promote librarianship so that the public could more fully understand the necessity and value of librarians, I believe that public libraries would be facing a much brighter future and that more librarians would flock to ALA membership.
    I hope you will find my concern, expressed here, within your mission for the ALA, for the ischool, or, ideally, for both, Barbara. Thank you for stepping forward to assume these important roles. What prompts my work and this writing is simple: I never want the time to come when people ask, “remember when there used to be public libraries?”

    Much success to you in your campaign!

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