Candidates for ALA Presidency Spar at Midwinter Forum: Questions Center on Advancing the Status of Librarians and Their Workplaces
Candidates for 2005-2006 ALA president shared their views and took questions from the audience during a January 15 forum at the Midwinter Meeting in Boston.
To supplement the official and unedited candidates' statements on the preceding pages, American Libraries provides here the responses of presidential candidates Leslie Burger and Christine Lind Hage to questions from the audience during the forum. ALA Immediate Past President Carla Hayden moderated. The questions and answers below have been edited for clarity and length.
MAURICE FREEDMAN, director, Westchester Library System, Ardsley, New York. Where do you stand on the privatization of professional services?
LESLIE BURGER I'm against the idea. What we lose in the process is the ability to shape institutions that are uniquely our own and to protect the opportunity to give people full and free access to information as they need it. The company running the library is more interested in maximizing its profits than in providing access to information and the kinds of collections and resources that we need in our communities.
CHRISTINE LIND HAGE I also support local control of local libraries and would not endorse full privatization. The local aspect is what makes that community special, and the library needs to reflect that in its policies and its governance structures. We can say as ALA that we prefer not to have privatized libraries, but communities are going to make their own decisions. The important thing for us is to convey the importance of those contracts they might be entering into, to make sure that there is still local control over policy decisions, and that the contract is carefully crafted to protect the rights of the citizens of that community to have a service that matches their needs, and isn't just a cookie cutter. I can see some value in outsourcing and privatizing some services, but the library must remain under local control.
JANICE GREENBERG, Midwinter intern, ALA Office for Literacy and Outreach Services. Would the candidates discuss their platforms on serving the needs of the under-served?
LESLIE BURGER The opportunity is incredible to reach out to people who do not necessarily have a tradition of using libraries. I've seen that in my own community. We have one of the largest Latino populations in our part of New Jersey. We have made a concerted effort by doing things like teaching computer classes in Spanish. Women have come to our library for the very first time to put their hands on a keyboard, because they can now take a computer class in their native language. We have popularized our collections. We used to buy just the classics in Spanish and many other languages that are spoken in our community, until one day we realized that what they want to read is the same thing we all want to read in English.
We have a "Meet the Lawyer" program, which offers opportunities to get free legal advice on issues relating to immigration status, citizenship, and a variety of other issues that are unique to people who are newly arrived in this country. Just as we welcomed everybody in the early part of the 20th century, we're welcoming people again.
CHRISTINE LIND HAGE America is becoming a more and more diverse country. Public librarians across the country are concerned about serving everybody in their communities equally. We offer a free place for people to go, a safe environment that offers them resources that they will not get at home, that they cannot get on television, and that they may not even be aware exists. Librarians can help introduce resources to new readers, new citizens, and people who have not had the advantage of advanced education. We provide basic internet access, and that's still an important service in many communities. As many libraries offer wireless access, there are just as many people still relying on the public library's computer as their only computer. …