BCALA’s Candidate forum for 2019 ALA Presidential Candidates
For more information on these candidates, please visit their websites. Wanda Brown’s web site is https://www.wandaforala2019.com/ . Peter Hepburn’s website is https://www.peterforala.org/ . BCALA generally does not endorse candidates for ALA president, and as of January 15, 2018, has not endorsed a candidate for this race. (EDIT & UPDATE: BCALA publicly announced on Feb. 16th that it is endorsing Wanda K. Brown for ALA President).
BCALA: What is your view on a required MLS degree for the position of ALA Executive Director?
Wanda Brown: As a member of the American Library Association for 30 years, I understand why the association is so divided on this topic. I, along with many others, believe it would be extremely beneficial to our organization to have an MLS holder in the role of Executive Director, but it should not necessarily be a requirement. I have worked in the human resources field of librarianship for some years, which has broadened my thinking around the language we use when posting for vacancies. Typically postings include a variation of the following phrase: “A combination of equivalent experience and education may be considered”. The equal combination of experience and education is most relevant for this search.
According to the 2001 report on ALA President & Executive Director – Roles & Responsibilities, the Executive Director “needs an extensive knowledge of planning for and administering voluntary organizations, and experience with business models, as well as the ability to adapt to a constantly changing group of employers.” Someone within the Executive Director position should be an exceptional organizational leader who possesses the same amount of passion and dedication to libraries as our other association leaders and members. Our organization places value on leadership. The ALA President is the person who should have a MLS degree required as they are the public representative of the profession, while the Executive Director works behind the scenes managing the association. I understand the concern from both sides; however, I think softening the language for the description will probably produce a deeper pool. The broader description will allow for people who are library partners to apply, which will increase our ability to form stronger collaborations. Our association needs to build partnerships to better meet our current and future challenges.
The search firm has the task of soliciting exceptional talent and convincing them that this might be a job worthy of their attention. But it will be the librarians serving on the search committee who will make the selection of the next Executive Director and let’s trust those challenged with that mission to accomplish the task. Often times those best capable to lead are those not actively looking. What we really need is an applicant with a balance of experience and education. Personally, I want an Executive Director with passion for our profession, and for what we stand for. Let’s help them by providing names of those we know to be competent and qualified.
Peter Hepburn: In the November vote by Council on the two degrees, either of which were required for the position, I voted to change the requirement to preferring the degrees. I did this because there are many people who work in libraries and with libraries – paraprofessionals, non-librarian administrators, and trustees all come to mind – who may not have one of the degrees but who do hold the values of libraries and of ALA close to heart. The position will need someone who has the necessary knowledge and experience to lead a large not-for-profit association, and while it would be terrific for that person to hold one of the previously required degrees, I believe a successful candidate can demonstrate an understanding of and excitement for libraries otherwise. I articulate my thinking on the matter and how it changed from the first vote, at Midwinter 2016, to the second vote in further detail on my campaign site blog: https://www.peterforala.org/blog/2017/11/14/vote-on-the-ed-educational-requirement-round-two
BCALA: How relevant do you find ALA Ethnic Caucuses to the mission of ALA and what role should they play in assisting in that mission?
Wanda Brown: Ethnic groups have at the core of their mission the work of that particular ethnicity, which works toward ALA and other entities to be mindful of the “us.” The role of the ethnic caucuses is to be that voice to the larger association. Librarians and communities of color are often overlooked or not typically at the forefront of conversations around recruitment, retention, and development. The mission of ALA is “to provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.” The keywords here are development, promotion, and improvement of library services. Ethnic caucuses have similar wording in their missions in supporting and promoting librarianship as well as recruiting and developing librarians of color. They are also committed to promoting the work of authors whose works speak directly to their communities. ALA represents the work of all. Each group has an invited voice at the table. ALA remains strong because it values all the voices at the table. Our role as an Ethnic Caucus is to be that voice and continue to advocate for our members and patrons.
Peter Hepburn: The ALA Ethnic Caucuses are absolutely relevant to the mission of ALA – a comparison of the language of the ALA mission with that of the Black Caucus shows that there is common interest in development, promotion, and improvement of library services. Where the ALA mission statement ends by committing to “all”, that really must mean all. Libraries need the voices, the experiences, the insights of more than just one community in order to serve all who use our services and resources. Libraries also need a professional association that draws upon more than one homogenous viewpoint. Affiliation and cooperation with the Ethnic Caucuses strengthens ALA’s ability to engage with multiple viewpoints. Diversity and inclusion in ALA can only strengthen the profession, and working with the caucuses is one critical route to that.
Having spent much time working in the round tables of the association, I have come to think that there could be a greater role for the Ethnic Caucuses at partnering with the component units within ALA. All too often it seems to me that cooperation between ALA and the caucuses takes place at the level of “big ALA”, and that the divisions and round tables don’t as often think to approach the caucuses about working together. For instance, there can be collaboration on programming or socials at conferences or toolkits that address the intersection of interests between the round tables or divisions and the Ethnic Caucuses. Another possibility is for the various resume review services at conferences (including divisional conferences) to include collaboration with the Ethnic Caucuses as a step toward better recruitment of diverse populations within the profession.
BCALA: What are your plans/ideas for reaching out to members of Congress in advocating for net neutrality?
Wanda Brown: We have to continue encouraging librarians to express our concerns and disapproval to our members of Congress and the FCC. As President, I would look to our partners and invite those library stakeholders, specifically the database vendors, to combine their voices with ours. Many libraries will be affected when their budgets are taxed with the increased cost associated with providing equal access to the internet. This cost will trickle down and impact vendor revenues as libraries are forced to make cuts in other areas.
I wholeheartedly support and embrace our association’s charge to advocate on behalf of libraries and librarians everywhere. It is our job to make sure we are educating our communities on the implications surrounding policies, such as net neutrality, that have an impact on their lives and our services. In addition to the emails we push out to our membership to advocate against detrimental policies, we could also provide literature, offer strategies for informing our communities, participate in protests, host conversational platforms, and provide more lines of communication to voice our concerns to local and state officials. Forums in particular are a great way to openly and freely promote conversations, and our association should ensure it is equipping our members with the means to host these productive events.
Peter Hepburn: ALA needs to focus more strongly on a smaller number of issues before Congress. Net neutrality is one. It is of critical importance to us in our role of providing access to information. Working through the Washington Office, ALA must put more of its energy into key library issues like this.
Congress is not the only place to advocate for net neutrality. Legislators in California and Nebraska among other states are considering enacting bills to preserve net neutrality. The FCC may not recognize the authority of states, but such bills – and what we might hope and presume to be widespread and bipartisan support among the people in those states – could send a needed message to Congress as well. That being the case, ALA would be wise to engage with state chapters to coordinate with any lobbying efforts at the state level around the issue.
BCALA: What are your plans/ideas for library outreach programs and initiatives in helping immigrants, refugees, and other marginalized populations in the United States given the current political environment?
Wanda Brown: Our role of informing, educating, and supporting our communities remains strong. We need to have the necessary resources readily available for marginalized groups to access in regards to the challenges facing them. Our role as educators also means we have to stay current in our understanding of policies. Partnering with other organizations or political leaders would increase our ability to have a greater impact on our service to immigrants, refugees, and other marginalized populations. Public libraries are very well versed in this area. We need to continue publicizing their efforts and supporting the relationships they have formed in their communities. I find there is so much value in networking and learning from others. Libraries of all kinds can host community forums on topics, such as navigating government policies around immigration and social issues impacting our communities. Forums allow our patrons to express their voices and get additional information relevant to their concerns. Perhaps we could create a centralized listing of topic experts, programs and services that others have assembled, such as the report on current practices of Library Services for Immigrants published by IMLS.
Peter Hepburn: The current political environment in the United States sometimes situates outreach to immigrant, refugee, and other marginalized populations against the need for libraries to have the support of governing or funding bodies that may not themselves be supportive of those populations. Still, libraries need to assist users irrespective of citizenship.
Within ALA, the Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services (ODLOS) has been working in this area already, partnering with the Public Library Association (PLA), for example. Meanwhile the Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table (EMIERT) has created guidelines for working with immigrant populations and linked to other parts of ALA (such as ACRL and RUSA) that have developed related documents. In other words, there is good work being done around ALA. The organizational structure of ALA can work against information about these efforts being shared broadly and effectively. Instead, ALA should amplify and promote the best practices from within its units as well as from libraries around the country.
My campaign is built on association stability and growth. One aspect of that is ensuring that collaboration and cooperation across the units is facilitated and that initiatives in one part of the association gain traction elsewhere when there is a mutual interest in the outcome. Given how important our library users are to us – the immigrant and refugee populations and other marginalized groups – I will promote the cross-unit cooperation needed to broaden the reach of these worthwhile efforts. I will also work with ALA administration and the Executive Board to determine what further support ODLOS may need in order to extend its own effectiveness.
BCALA: The country as we know it is changing. Some would say for the bad. That being said, does ALA have a role to play in the following:
- Recent Sexual harassment scandals
- Immigration policy affecting children
Why or why not? If approached, what would be your response?
Wanda Brown: ALA’s role is to support the informational needs of everyone, encouraging members of the community to find information they need to make informed and educated choices. We need to make sure our collections meet the informational/research needs of our users. Libraries are considered safe spaces for our communities and we must all be committed to providing that support. Our libraries are where we can have open and honest conversations about issues facing our communities and society. Our role as librarians is to demonstrate equality through open access to information, and freedom of expression and opinion for all. ALA’s role as a member association is to take an active part in affirming publicly our support for equality and equal treatment, speaking out when we need to, and offering guidance and moral support to those libraries affected by policies or scandals.
Peter Hepburn: ALA often has a role to play in social issues, though that role is not necessarily to comment as an association on specific cases.
The scandals that have erupted so publicly in the entertainment world and other public spheres indicate that the problem of sexual harassment is pervasive. Libraries and our association are not immune. As I said, ALA’s responsibility is not to comment on specific cases happening in other professions and industries but to ensure that libraries and librarianship remain as free from this behavior as possible. To that end we have a statement for appropriate conduct at ALA conferences, and policy related to professional ethics to guide us. What we can continue doing is fostering an association wide culture wherein there is zero tolerance for harassment as well as support for those who have been subjected to it.
Immigration policy affecting children targets some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Libraries do not and should not discriminate against users based on citizenship, and with the support of ALA’s collective expertise, can provide information to them and their parents on their rights as immigrants and provide welcoming spaces that offer literature and activities much as they would to other children. REFORMA’s Children in Crisis project is an example of a worthwhile effort at outreach to these children; the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), an ALA division, is a contributor to the project.
In terms of social issues such as the two examples provided, by providing support and guidance to members, libraries, and library users, ALA affirms its own values which include diversity, the public good, and social responsibility.
BCALA: What are your plans/ideas in helping libraries in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands recover from the damage caused by the hurricanes?
Wanda Brown: I would like to see ALA sponsor a couple of major fundraising events to benefit those affected by the hurricanes. I would strongly encourage ALA to use its influence and relationships with library champions to solicit monetary support for rebuilding efforts. Another way we could help is to create a librarian relief program. Libraries would send teams of librarians and library workers who have experience in dealing with disaster recovery on a 30 day relief program to aid in affected areas. It might be as simple as having our librarians work in the libraries keeping the building open while neighboring Puerto Rico librarians work to rebuild their homes.
Peter Hepburn: ALA implemented two long-term initiatives that will assist libraries in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands recover from the damage caused by the hurricanes. For individual members, there is giving to the Disaster Relief Fund. The fund will be used to assist libraries following future disasters as well. For their part, libraries can participate in the Adopt A Library program that ALA developed in coordination with REFORMA. The program enables libraries of all types to provide a variety of forms of assistance to libraries on the islands. Efforts to support the affected libraries have been very important to ALA President-Elect Loida Garcia-Febo, and having worked closely with Loida in our time together on the ALA Executive Board, I am keen to continue the work she has undertaken. Already I have donated to the Disaster Relief Fund, and I have signed my library up for the Adopt A Library program.
What ALA can otherwise do to support libraries and librarians is to offer steeply discounted or complimentary memberships and conference registration for a period of time. In this way, our colleagues on the islands can get access to many ALA resources that will help them rebuild their libraries at a time when monies that would have been used for such activities may need to be diverted elsewhere.
Recovery from the hurricanes will not be quick, and the residents of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands need assistance far beyond what support their libraries may need. ALA can partner with organizations that are providing that broader relief and take advantage of our large membership and events such as conferences to raise money and awareness.