Magazine article American Libraries

My ALA Journey: Working Together, We Can Change the World

Magazine article American Libraries

My ALA Journey: Working Together, We Can Change the World

Article excerpt

When I first came to the American Library Association (ALA) 15 years ago, people thought I was--to put it mildly--demented.

Here's an organization with:

* 57,000 members, representing an incredibly wide range of backgrounds, communities served, types of libraries, and interests

* a new president every year

* an Executive Board

* a 185-member Council

* 11 divisions (each with its own board)

* 20 round tables

* 56 state and regional chapters

* membership in 96 countries

* 1,266 online communities

* 1,272 discussion lists

* 2,210 active committees including ... a committee on committees!

And did I mention that if you gather 100 members in a room, you are going to have 200 opinions?

This is my last column as executive director. ...

My journey with ALA began 40 years ago, when I climbed into a beat-up Chevy Vega and drove to Chicago for my first ALA conference. As any new conference goer knows, it was overwhelming. I found the job I'd come looking for, and in the process, I also discovered the difference between a job and a career. In the years that followed, the people I met through ALA mentored me, challenged me, and helped get me through tough times--while teaching me how I, in turn, could mentor, challenge, and support others. The projects I worked on helped me understand leadership and teamwork in new ways and stretched my horizons.

I always say that ALA is not 57,000 members; it's the dozen or so people you discover out there who share your particular brand of insanity. They are the colleagues who share your passions and aspirations, continuously sharpen your thinking, and serve as a support network throughout your career.

I also discovered that going to an ALA or division conference is the best way to refresh not only your spirit but also your creativity. If you attend an ALA conference and can't come back with three ideas that help you provide better service back home (and make you look like a genius), you are definitely spending too much time in the cocktail lounge!

There's always a lot of discussion about the cost of dues, conference registration, and hotel rooms. Until I became ALA executive director, I paid much of the cost of attending conference out of pocket. What I discovered over the years is that, like any business, you need to invest in yourself. If you do, you'll find--as I did--that the money invested in ALA membership and conference attendance directly results in professional advancement, promotion, and increased earnings that will more than repay the money you spend. That's a fact.

Changing the world

When we talk about ALA membership, we talk about "supporting you--and changing the world." So now let's talk now about that "changing the world" part:

From my international work, I know the respect with which ALA and our system of libraries are held throughout the world. Our libraries, free and open to all, are something that others everywhere aspire to. Our positions on intellectual freedom, privacy, and access to information for all are inspirations to the rest of the world. These are not platitudes; they are values and realities we live every day.

Here in the US, the ALA Washington Office has led a determined and growing group of advocates who have helped create federal library legislation and increase federal funding through the Library Services Act, Library Services and Construction Act, and today's Library Services and Technology Act. …

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