Building a Partnership: Library Service to Labor

By Meyers, Arthur S. | American Libraries, August 1999 | Go to article overview

Building a Partnership: Library Service to Labor


Meyers, Arthur S., American Libraries


BARGAIN FOR MORE USERS WHEN YOU STRIVE TO SERVE THE NEEDS OF ORGANIZED WORKERS

Librarians have long worked with other organizations that advocate like-minded principles and goals. Nationally, we collaborate in coalitions on intellectual freedom and technology concerns. In local communities, libraries work with civic institutions and businesses. At all levels, we move arm in arm with advocates for youth.

The gateway that libraries open for individuals and groups to information, personal fulfillment, and building better communities also holds much potential for work with unions. Union membership in the U.S. exceeded 16 million workers in all fields and at all educational levels as of 1996, according to the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). That number will likely grow as more professionals and service providers organize for improved working conditions, benefits, pay, and participation.

Work with the labor movement presents a terrific opportunity for libraries of all types to reach deeper into their community of users. Beyond current union members and their families, millions of retirees closely follow the activities of their local unions and national affiliates. In addition to tracking their concerns over benefits, retirees enjoy continuing the socialization they found

through their union during their working years. Retired unionists are also frequently active volunteers in literacy programs, United Way agencies, or other community services. While some may not be personal library users, they do vote - and we all know that excellent children's service is very important to parents and grandparents.

Libraries' support of union members' lifelong learning at the national and local levels is a strong motivation for organized workers to support libraries. Building community coalitions is also a strategy in the new AFL-CIO Union Cities Program, as local unions work with other institutions to educate working people about such issues as living wages and the environmental impact some industries have when they relocate to a new community.

One of the longest-lasting collaborations in ALA's strong partnership history has been with the AFL-CIO - a collaboration that dates back to the formation in 1945 of the AFL-CIO/ALA Joint Committee on Library Service to Labor Groups. The enduring alliance has served both the philosophical aims of libraries and me educational goals of labor.

"It is the workers and the library users of this country who have benefited" from the joint committee's work, says ALA Immediate Past President Ann K. Symons, characterizing it as "a model for national and local library partnerships."

Team efforts

Anthony Sarmiento, director of worker-centered learning at the AFL-CIO's Working for America Institute in Washington, D.C., and a joint-committee member, agrees: "Increasingly, workers want to learn more about our changing economy, including their rights on the job and the role of unions. Even as the Internet expands into more homes, it's vital that libraries continue to serve as trusted and accessible information gateways for workers and their families."

The Joint Committee on Library Service to Labor Groups is composed of 18 members, half of whom are members of ALA's Reference and User Services Association and the others AFL-CIO appointees who frequently serve in union education departments, libraries, or archives. The goal of this primary link between the two national organizations is to show libraries how they can respond to the information needs of labor.

Established in 1979, the John Sessions Memorial Award Committee - an outgrowth of the joint committee - presents an award to a library that has made a significant effort to work with the labor community. Over the years, the Sessions Award has been presented to a wide range of libraries for a variety of activities. In 1983, the Jackson-George Regional Library System in Pascagoula, Mississippi, was recognized for being such a model.

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