This is Circulating Ideas, I’m Steve Thomas. This episode kicks off a new series about the candidates for the 2013 ALA elections. This episode features two candidates for ALA president, Courtney Young and Barbara Immroth. I wanted to do this series so you could be more informed about the candidates for office in ALA. Don’t forget to vote, which begins at 9am Central on March 19th and ballots close at midnight on April 26th. We’ll be voting by email, so if you haven’t gotten email confirmation, make sure to check with ALA. First up is Courtney Young.
Courtney, thanks for being on the show.
Thank you for having me.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am currently the Head Librarian at Penn State’s Greater Allegheny campus, which means that I’m very much a front line librarian doing reference, instruction, and collection development. Also managing the budget and staff and working with faculty and administrators on campus, my MLS is from Simmons College in Boston and I have a Bachelor’s degree in English, with minors in Women’s Studies and Black Studies from the College of Wooster in Ohio.
And why do you want to be ALA President?
That’s always a great question and one that I’m very happy to answer. There are a number of reasons why I would like to be the next president of the American Library Association. As I sort of mentioned in my introduction, I am a front line librarian, so I know and understand on a first hand basis what’s going on in libraries and as librarian currently engaged in the work that we do and often focus on as an association and I think it’s probably been a little while since we’ve had a front line librarian as president of the association, and I think there’s a lot of value to having someone who’s very much engaged and involved in the work, who represents the association. I’m also very much an engaged member of the association, who understands what’s currently going on. I was member of the ALA Executive Board from 2009 to 2012. I’m currently member of ALA Council. I’ve served on the Budget Analysis and Review committee from 2010 to 2012, so I have an understanding in a sense of the ALA budget and finances and some of the changes and new approaches to, to revenue and our budget that’s incredibly important for all of the work that we do I think in libraries, and obviously in the country as a whole. I’m incredibly energetic and enthusiastic and that’s something that I think I would bring to the position. I also have an understanding of the perspective, particularly of new or newer members of the association. I’ve been a member of ALA since 2002, so I have a 11 continuous years according to my ALA membership card and so that’s a definitely newer and by some people’s perspectives younger perspective of the association and as a past president of the new members round table, I think that I am really understanding and engaged with emerging librarians, librarians who are early in their career, who are still not quite at the midpoint of their career and, and that’s a perspective I think that’s incredibly important for our association looking ahead.
I also want the opportunity to learn more about the association and share that knowledge with our members. It’s a very complex organization and as someone who works at a very complex organization, that is one university geographically dispersed, I have a unique appreciation, understanding for working in a complex organization and the fact that one of the things I know I will learn from this role is that there is a lot about ALA that I don’t know. I think every president really goes into it with that perspective, but there’s an opportunity to chip away at that and to know more and to make connections and I really want to move our association forward and really highlight the value of ALA membership and my approach to doing that looks at things with regards to diversity, career development and engagement and outreach. I had the opportunity, obviously, during the mid-winter meeting, in addition to the presidential candidate forum, was to visit with, it turns out I went to 35 different meetings for either division board meetings, or round table board meetings, or committee meetings, even some socials to talk to people about my candidacy and I really want to focus on the value of membership because I think that that’s something that is really in the forefront of members’ minds. And it’s something I think that is incredibly important and that ALA could do a better job of demonstrating not only the value of ALA obviously to our users, the public, but also the value of ALA to those of us who have a passion for libraries and the work that is done, the engagement that takes place in libraries. So that’s really what I want to focus on cause I do think that membership in ALA is viable. I’ve gained a lot of value from it as a, as a member and really want to be able to highlight the fact that we do have some great things that we’re doing, but there’s certainly more work that we can do and if we can improve and sort of build on the foundation that we have in sort of the three key areas that I’ve identified: diversity, career development, engagement and outreach, that I think we can do more to be an even stronger association.
What can you say to librarians who are considering not joining ALA because of financial commitment?
Well it’s something that I certainly understand. I mean I earned my MLS in 98 and I think I was a student member briefly, but then was not a member for that sort of first five years until I got involved in 2002 and I was a member of the Michigan Library Association because that’s where most of that time I was working in Michigan and, and so I certainly understand and appreciate the, the fact that there are reasons why any member quite honestly would potentially not join ALA. I, like I said, I think it’s incredibly valuable. One of the many things that I’ve been able to, to gain and appreciate about my membership are the people who are involved and the network of colleagues and friends that I’ve been able to grow as a result of my involvement in the association. I mean ALA does really great work with regards to advocacy and intellectual freedom and the, those sort of front line things that people think about and sometimes there can be a perspective of well that’s, ALA is really focused on this type of library, or this type of librarian, but it really does help all of us, the work that ALA does, helps all of us who are not only librarians, but library school students, retired librarians, our trustees who are members, our advocates and our users.
But, there’s also that, that component of having that network of people who you can call upon and contact when you have a question, when you’re not sure how to approach a situation, that network becomes incredibly important and I think I very much value the fact that nowadays we have social media that really allows those connections and contacts to not only grow even faster, but it means that you are able to connect with those people at a much, much faster rate than you were before and so I really think that having that network of colleagues to not just be social with, but also to, to, have those career development opportunities, I appreciate being able to observe, for example, conversations on Twitter with librarians who are talking about implementing some new service, or program and I get that, and that’s a, there’s a real value add there I think and a lot of those connections, for me, initially, really are facilitated through my involvement with the association and I really feel that there certainly are decisions you have to make with regards to is membership too expensive, if I could just join this piece of the association, but there really is a lot of value I think that we gain as members versus not being members. It’s really, I think important to remember that joining a professional association is your commitment to your own professional development. It’s a commitment to what you have decided to do in the profession. It’s a commitment to libraries because we are through a member that, there aren’t just librarians who are joining our association, we have support staff who are members, we have a whole division that’s devoted to boards and trustees, United for Libraries, and so we have a lot of people who value the, this association and what it does and I think that if you can be a part of that, then that helps. I do believe that the association needs to potentially make some shifts and expand in certain ways the opportunities for participation and engagement and you’re seeing more and more of that I think. For example, with the virtual town halls and the, there’s going to be a virtual meeting later this month, or I should say February for library school students that will include the present president-elect and so I think ALA recognizes that having more of those opportunities I think will increase the value seen by potential members in joining the association.
So a lot of what you were saying kind of ties back to what you were saying earlier, is that the way to show to people that the financial commitment is to show them what the benefits are.
Another related question that sort of came up recently on Twitter and somebody actually asked me before to ask you and Barbara both is that we should change the name of the organization to the American Librarian Association, to emphasize the people rather than the buildings. I know we have as it was brought up that we have the APA. What do you think about that? That some people think that there’s too much of an emphasis on library than there is on librarian.
I think it’s a, it’s, it’s an interesting question and it does, it points to two things. It points to one, sort of that need, or the fact that there needs to be some work in advocacy in our association around the profession. But it also points to the fact that the knowledge and understanding, the existence of ALA APA is not very broad. I think that probably beyond people who are serving on ALA APA committees, or who are members of ALA Council, which also make up the ALA APA Council, there probably is not a whole lot of knowledge or visibility of ALA APA.
And I hope it’s okay if I kind of talk to this in a couple of different pieces.
The, I think that for the, the piece about renaming the association to ALA-APA, or to the American Librarians Association, there’s some real challenges I think in doing that because as I mentioned before, this is not an association that is solely made up of librarians. We have library school students, who you could argue are sort of the future of librarians, or potential librarians, but we have library support staff and some of whom have absolutely no interest in becoming librarians and are very happy in the role and the worth that they do in libraries and have a passion for libraries. We have, as I mentioned, trustees, or example, who are not necessarily working in libraries, or librarians, but they have an appreciation, a passion for libraries and the role that the libraries play in their communities. We have a significant vendor community who are members of our association, some of whom are librarians, but some of whom are not and they’re members and I think that changing it to a librarians association potentially alienates us from, from those other folks who are very passionate about the work that we do, the role that we play in our communities, and that community can be obviously, can be either your neighborhood community where you live, it could be as in my case for the work I do on a day-to-day basis, the college campus where I work. So, we certainly wouldn’t want to, to do that, but it does really say hmmm, we really need to look at what we’re doing with, with the ALA-APA and ALA-APA and I know that Barbara was a member of Council when this was created, so she’s gonna be able to, she’ll be able to speak a bit more about that creation process because I don’t believe I was involved in the association at that time. But, ALA-APA was created to be that organization that advocates for a librarian and higher salaries. One of the challenges with ALA-APA is money. ALA made a loan to ALA-APA so that it could be established. There was a sense that there would be more donations and funding available to allow ALA-APA to pay off their loan as well as do more, but that has not necessarily been the case. The position, director, the previous director for ALA-APA, that position went from being sort of 100% to 50% time in that, in the now it’s 25% time. We have someone who’s the director for ALA’s Office of Human Development, Recruitment Retention, HRDR who is the 25% of her time is as the director of ALA-APA, so it’s kind of challenging because you can only get so much done when you have very few resources and someone who only 25% of the hat they wear is committed to that piece of the association. So, also the focus of APA with regards to the ALA-APA council has also shrunk. I first went on the ALA Council in 2005 as the new members round table rep to council and at that time ALA-APA in terms of its standing council meeting I think was allotted now we’re an hour and a half. As of the, that time has, has decreased so now the ALA-APA meeting that just took place in Seattle at mid-winter was slotted for 30 minutes. So, those things say hmmm something is, something is going on here, but clearly based on the conversations that I got to just sort of see and kind of was paying attention to on Twitter, that potentially that there really is a need for, for something like ALA-APA, but is ALA-APA the organization that needs to exist. Does it need to exist in another form? What should it be doing? What could it be doing? I’m actually a member of an APA committee, the fundraising committee and we had the event at mid-winter, but there are definitely some, some challengers there with regards to the mission of that group, the resources that are available and what. I’m sorry?
I was going to say like you and the Jenny Levine also chimed in that there’s legal issues between the two organizations too, that you can’t necessarily just all of a sudden switch and say oh we’re going to do this, ‘cause you can’t really.
Right, and the, one of the things that, that’s important to remember is the, is the, the status, the tax status component with regards to the work that ALA versus ALA-APA can do is critical and key and that’s why different organization was formed. ALA is a 501(c)(3) organization with regards to, its exemptions and tax status. ALA-APA is a 501(c)(6) and is described as, and I’m reading from the actual organization description, is “a non-profit professional organization established to promote the mutual professional interests of librarians and other library members” and it’s focused on sort of vocation as individuals and specializations beyond the initial professional degree and direct support of comparable worth and paid equity initiatives and other activities designed to improve salary and status of librarians and other library workers. And so those distinctions in terms of what ALA-APA can do versus what ALA can do is incredibly important in that distinction. Whether or not the executive board of ALA needs to put a more critical eye to ALA-APA, beyond just the financial component, may be something that is important and then adds to that sort of value of membership that I’m thinking about.
What else do you think that ALA could do to partner with other sort of sister organizations like the SLA?
This was an interesting question because ALA does have some affiliations with, with some organizations like SAA, Society of American Archivists. It was interesting because I did a little bit of research ‘cause I am, I am a reference librarian, and it was interesting, too, because I have a very limited knowledge of SLA, but I do know a number of librarians who are, who are members and who are involved in SLA. One of the things that I found that was interesting and with SLA particular is that in 1949 SLA disaffiliated from ALA, so obviously there was that early connection, but then it really became its own distinct, separate organization back in 1949. One of the things that I also found interesting in looking at SLA’s mission and ALA’s mission is that they’re very, very different with regards to focus. Now, with SLA their mission, vision, and core statements, core value statements which were revised and adopted in October of 2003, notes that special librarians are information resource experts who collect, analyze, evaluate, package and disseminate information to facilitate accurate decision making in corporate, academic and government settings. Now certainly there is some overlap in terms of ALA with regards to those, those settings because we obviously librarians who work in corporate, academic and government settings. Obviously the school library, public library, trustees and affiliates component is not within the scope of SLA, so that’s,that’s sort of one obvious gap as well. And SLA is, is very much a global organization. I do know and had the opportunity back in December to speak with Brent Mai who is the, currently who is now the past president of SLA and SLA is a very different global landscape with a different type of complexity, but I know that he talked a lot about focuses on leadership which is certainly, I think, something that intersects with, with ALA.
ALA also has the, we’re very privileged to have the current new members round table president, Janelle Kinlaw, who’s also an SLA member and she works at NPR, so it makes sense that she would be involved in SLA, but also she’s very much involved in, in ALA and she said that she stayed involved in the American Library Association after she graduated from library school because she found that there were more opportunities for her to be involved within ALA and then she noted that her particular division that she’s been involved in in SLA, which is the news division, has been dwindling, but she says that her local chapter really has allowed her to be more engaged and it’s been a lot more relevant to the work that she does. I think there potentially are some, there could be some career development opportunities, but I think that they’re, one of the challenges with speaking of SLA in particular might be some, some gaps in terms of, I guess we’re still focusing on the overlap in terms of the, the folks that are involved in that work that SLA covers as well as ALA, but I think that ALA does tend to be pretty good in terms of partnerships with organizations that make a lot of sense and with that, like I said, but SLA I really have a very limited knowledge and understanding as to why, obviously there was a, there’s a history there, but, but I do think that in this time, these times of sort of competing funds and competing resources also with regards to time, being in, being involved very involved versus just being a member of one versus the other, that can be, that can be challenging. But, but I think it’s, I think that if the ALA is always very open to collaboration, then and opportunities and then really focusing on staying mission focused, and, and I think that places, points for the most, the missions very much dovetail our, I think we’re worried about the opportunities to really play to your strengths, but they’re very different organizations, but I, I don’t know whether or not there appears to be, or there could be more synergy or communication, or really where each organization is with regards to certain issues. It’s a, every, it’s a really interesting question and I appreciated the opportunity to think about it, really talk to the folks who I know are involved in both and what they see and their perspectives.
And sort of in a related question to the previous question of, you know, should we change the name of the organization. I’ve talked to a lot of people on this show about people have different ideas about what you call the people who use a library. Do you call them patron? Or a customer? Or a user? Or a member? Do you have a preference? And do you think it matters? Or is that just semantics?
I don’t personally have a, a preference and it can be semantics. I do think that in a lot of ways there’s a, knowing your audience and knowing how, in what, what location it makes the most sense to refer to people. I, I prefer to be able to call people by their names quite honestly. It’s, I, I’m certainly happy when my patrons or users or students, want to refer to me as, as the librarian, or hey library lady, or what have you, but a lot of that has to do with, I think, where you are. Obviously when I’m talking about the, the people who use my library, I’m often referring to them as students or faculty, or staff, or community borrowers, but it’s, it seems to, there seems to be ebb and flow with regards to whether or not we call them patrons, or we call them users, or we call them community members, or what have you. I’m all about making connections and getting to know people and, and being able to refer to people by name, or connect them in some way and I think that libraries do a really good, we do a good job of knowing who the people who walk in and out of our doors, or who are connecting with us, virtually, or online, who they are and I think that it’s, I don’t know that it matters.
They’re, there may be some new terminology, their new word, I know that some people really don’t like using the word customer, but other places they are referred to as customers, but it’s, I think the fact that we have no agreement on how we decide to refer to the people who use our libraries and keeping in mind that we’re also talking about ourselves because those of us who work in libraries are probably also very big time library users in their own communities, or at their own libraries. So, I think it’s a lot of it also we have to remind ourselves that I would, it’s a, it’s that whole sort of do unto others as you want others to do unto you. How do you want to be referred to? How do you, how do you want someone to think of you? Or address you? Or speak to you? So I think sometimes we forget to remind ourselves that, that we need to be inclusive in terms of the language that we use because it’s not a, it’s often, sometimes it can come off as an us versus them. That’s, I think, that is never the intention, but I do think that there are times that we need to be thoughtful about the fact that we’re talking about ourselves as well, when we’re having, when we’re using that line or when we’re having those conversations.
Right, and it always feels to me like it’s a very librarian-y kind of thing to do, that we have to categorize and classify everything and we have to the exact name right, and.
Yeah, exactly. We want to, because we want to be able to identify, we want to be able to identify people so that we can identify what they want, and identify what they, their needs are and, and what will make them happy and it comes from the best place possible, but it can also, it can also be the thing that kind of creates, creates these gaps as it were and there are ways to, to bridge those gaps that, that we create just based on what we, like you are said, are trained to do and how we are taught to, to think about information and user needs and customer service and.
So, aside from what we call them, how do you think librarians can work more with our communities to meet their needs?
I actually, I feel that libraries quite a bit and are, and that’s one of the things that, one of the, one of the great things that motivates us to do the work that we do, we’re, I think we’re very engaged in our communities no matter what that looks like. We’re very focused on the needs of the folks who walk in and out of our doors, or who were. As someone who staffs a lot our library’s virtual reference service, for a long term I’ve been thinking about how to, how do we do a better job providing access to the student or the graduate student or the faculty member who isn’t going to go to the library on their campus, they’re going to be accessing it from their office, or from off-campus, or they’re doing research in some other part of the country on a sabbatical or something like that. And I think that we really need to give ourselves more credit for the fact that we’re doing those things. There was a, I think an article buried in the most recent American Libraries, I know that I read it, or saw links to it online about the, a librarian in, in California who suddenly was doing these clinics for, for people who are going foreclosure and the, the housing bust that kind of took place in 2008 and that to me is an excellent example of someone who recognized, who coming new into position that there is this need in the community and it’s not the.
It’s not the kind of need that you obviously would actually think about or, it’s a, it’s a bittersweet sort of thing to know that there’s suddenly this housing crisis and you need to do something do support your community by putting together these, these clinics and that, to me, is sort of a perfect example of how libraries do a fantastic job of recognizing their communities, recognizing what’s going on, and how to support your community during a housing crisis. It really doesn’t, it doesn’t get more, more community focused than that, it, and so I think that that to me is a most recent shining example of how I think libraries do a good job. I think libraries also have very, work very hard to pay attention to trends and have materials and resources available for their users, patrons, now I’m very self-conscious about how I refer to. With the opportunity to experience using a Kindle, or an iPad, or a device that lets you determine how much electricity you’re truly using. And at the same time, recognizing that some of the tried and true things are also continue to be important, we’re continue to acquire print books in our libraries and probably, and probably will for a long time and that’s, that’s okay, and that’s good and the. So I think that that sort of recognition that not everyone’s going to want to sort of jump on every trend, but there are people who are going to want to jump on trends and we’ll provide that and have that available. Another thing that coincided with sort of these financial challenges that we’ve had in the country over the past several years have to do with jobs and layoffs and libraries were there in order to provide people with connections to the Internet because there still is a digital divide. Provide people with assistance and workshops for putting together their resumes, interviewing skills, that sort of thing. Setting up email addresses. So I really think that we should continue to do those things that we do well, we should continue to pay attention to trends and spot those trends. We need to continue to create access in all the various ways that that happens. Whether it be having books on the shelf, having audiobooks available, having break spaces for teens to geek out. Having access to e-books. I think that we need to keep, libraries have always done really dynamic things and I think we just need to keep doing those things, we’re still continuing to push the envelope with regards to the things that I do in academic libraries. I think that, that we have also done a good job of, of really sort of reading our users and providing them, continuing to be engaged and providing them with services and resources by combining more and collaborating more with other offices and services on our campuses, being embedded in courses, that sort of thing. So I think that, that really we, we’re doing it, probably what we need to do, maybe is come up with more ways to really advertise it and highlight it more outside of the library community. And I know that the ALA certainly thinking about ways to get some of our messages, some of the things that we do out beyond the library world for lack of a better term, but, but I think that there are things that we can do to better demonstrate to people who don’t speak our sort of library language the value of the things that we are doing. Because I think a lot of it has to do with sort of the discovery that people find out that oh, your library does X. Your library provides access to Y and that people just don’t realize how much we’re doing and how much is going on.
Right. I always say that that was one of the original sort of concepts of why I wanted to do this podcast in the first place, cause I was hoping, I know 99% of the people who listen to it are already librarians, but I kind of wanted people who weren’t librarians to be able to listen to it and see what cools things the librarians are doing, so you can see we’re not just sitting around reading books, we’re not just sitting around shelving books, that there, there’s lots of innovative things going on in the world, and here they are, so.
Yeah, and we’re, and we’re, we’re great people who are in our communities just the same way that other people and other professions who do other things day-to-day are in their communities and contributing to that.
So, why are you a librarian? In just the general sense. What made you want to be a librarian and what makes you continue to want to be a librarian?
I have always worked in libraries. My first job, when I was 15 years old was shelving books at the Bay branch of the St. Louis Public Library and, and I enjoyed that work and because I also had, I guess a proficiency with technology, technology, I think I used it effectively, I think I always have used it effectively, it doesn’t scare me and, and got to do some other things in the library in addition to shelving books. I got to also check out books to people, we had one computer in the library that obviously was, was, this pre-internet of course, and, and I remember that it, it had, I think it still have 5 ¼ disks that it read and helping people to load up the limited software that we had, which included things like Where In The World Is Carmen Santiago and Print Shop. I was, I sort of became the, the go-to person if anybody came in and wanted to use the computer that we had. But that was my first, my first job is working in the public library and then when I went to college, all four years, I worked in my college library with increasing responsibilities and my sophomore year I decided, I sat with the, a couple, a friend and said about halfway through sophomore year and I think it was in, it was in February, I remember it very distinctly and I said you know, maybe I should be a librarian and, and I told my mother this, who was a faculty member at the college and I remember her being so very excited. She was like you’ll be able to find a job, you’ll be able to, you’ll do great stuff. She really was very excited about it, and that was, that was nice to have her excitement and then I told the librarians in my college library and they were very excited and so suddenly I had these mentors who talked to me about library schools and were served as my references and taught, gave me some opportunities and a little bit of pre-education and then I went to, to library school. I really feel, I’ve, I’ve only worked in libraries and the things that really excite me about the work that I do, keep me, keep me engaged and passionate are the, are the people that I get to work with, who, who I often do get the opportunity to, to get to know by name, or recognize enough, or recognize me enough that we can, if we see ourselves, each other across campus or something, or some place outside the library we can say hello and have a conversation. Having the light bulb go off when working with undergraduates, when helping them on their research projects, helping them to develop their, their research topics and getting them to think about ways to fold in the, the materials that they find, the scholarly articles that they identify. When a, when a website is appropriate for what they’re doing in their project, ways to, to fold in multimedia they’re doing a scholarly storytelling project, really having an opportunity for that light bulb to go off and for them to understand that, that we’re sort of going down this, this path together, learning together, and that I’m there with them on that journey. It’s really a lot, it’s a lot of fun and I thoroughly enjoy working with students in this sort of combined reference and instruction sort of sphere and so that’s the stuff that really makes me passionate about the work that I do, that the, the opportunity to work with students who come back later, a few weeks later or the next semester and say that they did well on the, on the assignment that I helped them with.
Or that they come back, they’re okay, now I have to do a paper in this class, or even when they graduate and they come back and visit the campus and they’re happy to see me and as someone they want to talk to when they’re here. Knowing that you really have made that difference with students and sort of opening their eyes and getting them to think differently about what I do as a librarian and my role on campus and students often, sometimes they’ll say well, wow, you seem to know everything and I say well no, I don’t know everything, I certainly wish I did, but that’s part of my job, that I learn something new every single day. Every one of those students teaches me something, they, they allow me to improve the work that I do and this also includes the, the people who I work with through our virtual reference service as well because they’ll come in to our chat and, and have a question of something and being able to walk someone through that and work through and figure out how to identify the information they need, or how to get them around a problem that they’re having and, and really sort of help them move forward. That, those are, those are really good, good connections because you know that’s really what it’s, that’s what it’s about. It’s the same as with ALA. It’s about making those connections, it’s about making those differences. It’s about being a student, or a member of the association, opportunity for them to be heard and understood and figure out how you can make something better, how you can improve a situation, how you can get to a point where that light bulb goes out and it’s been meaningful and helpful and so I really, I really do enjoy what I do. I spoke with my, with the, my older brother over the holidays and told him that I was running for ALA President and he said to me, he was like, you know it’s really great that this librarian thing is really, really working well for you and that’s really exciting and, and that recognition from him that, that I really did make a, this decision that 15 years later is still an exciting and amazing decision for me to have made and really having that, him be proud of the fact that I, I took this path and it just and I really made a lot out of it and so I’m really appreciative of the opportunities that I have to work with the students that I work with, to work with the members and the association that I work with. It’s, it’s a lot of fun and I’m excited to continue doing it as president.
So, how can people learn more about you and your candidacy online?
Well, people can certainly, and I encourage them to visit my website for the campaign which is courtneyyoung.org. They can also follow me on Twitter in my, find me at @librarycourtney. You can also find me on Facebook @librarycourtney as well. And if you’re using Google Plus, the @librarycourtney also will lead you to me. And that way, so I’m very, very engaged and connected in social media. You’ll see me tweeting about things with regards to my library reference service, information literacy, virtual reference, but also things that are just sort of personal to me and general. I’m a big NFL fan, so that season is now over, but certainly during the football season I play fantasy football and so you’ll see me tweeting here and there about various games and players and I’m also an avid baker so you’ll see pictures of things that I bake as well. But, yeah I have a lot of things that I love to do, but they all really do come back to librarianship because it’s researching and finding information about fantasy football players that I choose to select, or identifying a new recipe to bake, or cook, or something like that.
Well, if people vote for Courtney she will make you a cake [laughs] All right, Courtney, thanks a lot for talking to me and good luck in the campaign.
Thank you so much.
All right, bye.
And up next is Barbara Immroth. Barbara, thank you for being on the show.
Well it’s lovely to be invited, thank you, I feel like it’s an enormous honor and privilege to be able to be a candidate for an ALA office like this, it’s been just a growth experience for me, I’m learning so many things every day, it’s really a lot of fun too.
Well, what made you want to be ALA President in the first place?
Well I, as I said it was an honor to be invited, I had been invited several times previously and because of other obligations and responsibilities that I had, I hadn’t said yes and finally I’ve got to the point where I thought that maybe this would be the year to give it a try. I have been a long-term member of ALA and it’s been very significant in my career development. I got my Masters degree as soon as I got my Bachelor, after I got my Bachelor’s degree. Partly because I was a liberal arts major at Brown University. At that time Pembroke College was a women’s college in Brown, but we had all our classes there and so my dad said “Barbara, I was in the generation of what are you going to do if your husband dies?” So, I thought well I’ve been working in the Brown library for my senior year and Louie Vagianos ho was the AD there at the time really recruited me to go to library school. So, at that time I applied to several library schools and I was admitted. I chose the University of Denver for financial reasons, some of the people listening may be interested in that because it’s nice to get a, a DRA and not have to pay all your tuition, just work it out in the library. So I went to the University of Denver, in Denver, Colorado and got my Masters degree there. And I’ve been involved in libraries ever since, so pretty much my entire life I have been up, well starting out when I was a very little child because my mother was a lifetime library user, I was writing an article several years ago and I asked her if she knew, if she remembered the librarian she had had when she was a child. She grew up in New Jersey and right away she told me she was 85 and she remembered the name of the woman who had been her librarian when she was a child, which I thought was pretty amazing. But, so from the time that I was old enough to take downstairs to the library in Caldwell, New Jersey which is where we lived at the time, for story time, I’ve been going to the library. So pre-K, or before and then the other part of it was my father was an electrical engineer and so any time I would ask a question about a word, or where a place was, or anything, he’d say look it up in the dictionary, or look it up in the atlas so I think I was kind of like bound to be a librarian because between the loving children’s literature, and loving reading and stories and being able to look up things from an early age because my father insisted that we look things up and know the definitions and spellings and even the car manual, he said well if all else fails look it up in the manual, or stuff.
I’ve been doing that all my life, but when I actually became a member of ALA, it has just been a wonderful, wonderful career development. It’s opened up the world to me and literally. When I was President of the Association for Library Service To Children, I got invited to go on an IREX exchange to the Soviet Union when they were going through perestroika and that was fabulous. We got to go to Moscow and see the, the foreign language library and travel around. We went to Kiev and some of the beautiful, beautiful children’s libraries there and I’ve served on the, as a ALA delegate to IFLA school, the school library and learning resource center section and then I’ve served on the children and young adults section too, so in total I’ve served for 16 years as a, as a section member of presenting ALA in two different sections of IFLA and, which means that I’ve traveled to 16 different countries for 16 different conferences and that’s opened up the world a whole lot too and then a lot of other things that I have done, just have given me insights into things that I probably never would have had the opportunity to do otherwise and so I feel like working with my students, I’ve tried to get them involved. I always have a faculty adviser for our student chapter, I always try to get a student to stay and have to go and have the new students learn what ALA is like and come back and spread that around with the other students and so I’ve just had a whole lot of opportunities over the years in ALA and I would love to serve that because I think professional association and having that really strong collective voice for the profession is very, very important and I think I have over the years gained a lot of experience and really a breadth of knowledge about the association, so I feel like I’m in a good place to be articulate about ALA and the value of libraries to our democratic society and I’m just really excited about the opportunity to maybe become president of ALA.
Okay, well why do you think that librarians should join ALA? What benefits do you think it offers to members, to people who are maybe considering not joining because of financial, financial commitment. What would you say to those people?
That is an excellent question and it is so interesting that students last night at the virtual town hall that Maureen Sullivan and Barbara Stripling were giving and our student chapter here at Texas had viewed that and they answered the question, actually Maureen Sullivan said that that was advice that she was given as a new librarian and as student just going out into the job market and somebody told her to join the professional association and she said it’s the best investment that she has made in her career because again it gives you the broader horizon, it gives you that collective voice, it gives you the opportunity to do things that you as an individual probably never would have the opportunity to do. It prods you into doing things that you might not otherwise have done too. I mean I’ve done a lot of the business and been on budget committees and divisions and the Texas Library Association, a chapter of the ALA and kinds of things that I probably wouldn’t have been able to hear financial planners talking about building up the endowments for the association and the units and other opportunities like that. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity like I’ve had to be in the Freedom to Read foundation and talk with people who are at the tops of publishing and the turning and that my daily life doesn’t necessarily involve those people, but when you’re a member of ALA and you’re part of the organization, it just gives you a really big range of opportunities to try out new ideas and expand your horizons.
Well, I had put out a call for questions from people to ask you and Courtney for this interview. And one of the things that came up was people said, there was a suggestion and there was a conversation on Twitter about this, but that we change the organization’s name to the American Librarian Association rather than American Library Association, that would emphasize the people and part of that is, and of course ALA APA came into the conversation, that there was sort of that, that takes care of that. But can you talk about that a little bit? Of how the organization can emphasize librarians more? The people.
Well, of course libraries wouldn’t exist without librarians, but the and I think that’s, that’s been a problem for a long time, even in writing because you don’t write necessarily, you write about the people, the actors, rather than the institution and so which word do you use. But, I think that ALA and I know Texas Library Association right now is doing it, they have the member of the month on the homepage of the association and so that gives people an opportunity to feature different people and actually it’s a big enough organization that you can’t know several thousand people, so then it’s nice to see somebody different month and sometimes you know them and sometimes you’d like to meet them, and that kind of thing. So, I, I’m not sure that it would be worth it to go through the name change. One of my fields is school libraries and we’ve been through a lot of different like learning resource names, teacher librarians, some people, I mean some people would go to the mat for the name change, but then it seems over the years that it changes again and again and so I can understand wanting to promote individuals and highlight what people are doing and I think they’re a lot of opportunities to do that without actually going through a name change and having to explain it. On the other hand I’m part of a school that used to be the graduate school of library and information science and now we’re the school of information and we have to explain it all the time. People say everybody has information, what gives you the right to just use that title. So I mean I’ve been doing a lot of explaining over the years and I’m not sure that we, I think we should highlight the great things that people are doing, but I’m not sure I want to spend the rest of my life explaining the name change, you know what I mean.
Right, and sort of in a related question. I’ve had conversations on, with other people before about if there’s a preference what we call people who use libraries. Patrons, customers, users, members. Do you think that’s basically kind of a semantics issue? Or do you think it really would matter what we would call the people who use libraries.
I, well I know different kinds of libraries use different words to explain that again, and my feeling is that I’m pretty tolerant about that. If people are more comfortable with calling people, the people that come in patrons or users or clients, that’s fine with me. In the line of work I, that I’ve been doing most of the time, a lot of times our users are called students and so in school libraries and public libraries students and also in the university a lot of the people that use the library are students, so there are a lot of different terms for it, but I’m not sure again that it would be worth the time and effort to have to pick just one term. I think if, if like a library board or a group of people want to use one term or the other, I think different like divisions tend to, to kind of lineup under one term or the other. But I’m not, I guess I don’t know, I feel like I’m a pretty tolerant person and I’ll go with whatever, try to figure it out if I don’t know already what that term is and use the one that people prefer.
And what, what do you think that ALA could do more to partner with sister organizations like SLA, that are, with SLA in particular used to be a, affiliated with ALA and now it’s not. What could we do more to work with them?
You mean with other library associations?
Because I was wondering too about no other collaborations and like Maureen and Barbara were talking a lot about having a lot of different collaborations with a lot of different groups in the community, but one example that I know about, cause as I said I’ve been pretty active and gone to a lot of FLAs is that there is always a US caucus at IFLA and that’s shared with six other organizations, the Medical Library Association, the Special Library Association, ALISE, the educators, I can’t remember now. I put myself on the spot cause I can’t remember all six of them, but ALA is one of them too. And I think, again making those connections where there are mutual interests is probably really important. One of the things that ALISE does is the management from ALISE is housed within the Medical Library Association because they already have a great management team and ALISE is small, so that it’s really cost effective, they get better because they are people that are working in similar kinds of organizations and so that I think that that’s a really good arrangement and I think if ALA looks for commonalities with other, oh the law librarians, that was another one, that and I know one time I went up to Dallas and I spoke to the law librarians about, cause I’ve done intellectual freedom things quite a bit too, and it’s been my understanding and I talk to people and like I’ve friends who are records managers here even in the school, talked to students who are archivists and that kind of thing and some of the problems are really different, but a lot of the problems aren’t as different as we’d like to make them be. So just look for some of those commonalities and go with where you can have good connections and good intersections that way.
And how do you think librarians can work more, not just with other organizations, but with our communities to meet their needs?
Well, of course I’m in an institution where you’re supposed to be doing research and over the years I have been doing some research and I think going and asking the people that you’re serving, the people that, for instance, who are the taxpayers, or the, the like here at the university what the students need and that kind of thing and see what just really go and ask them. Sometimes that, just like I told you earlier about the young man that came to our student meeting and I, we were having our bake sale soon and I said can you bake? Would you like to contribute? Turned out his brother was a pastry chef. Ask and it shall be opened unto you.
You just, try it out, do a little research, do a survey, whatever it takes to find out what the, what is important in that community and then try to serve it. We have a town that’s not too far away from here where they have a wonderful public library. It’s called Georgetown and they have a Sun City near Georgetown and everything, but the librarian up there’s very creative and one of the things that they have for check out there is a whole set of baking pans in different shapes, so if you have a birthday and you want to have a train cake, or something like that, you don’t have to go and spend $39 to buy a train cake pan, you can go to the library and check it out and make your cake and then take it back and somebody can make a train, so just even things like that, some of these toys, there are all kinds of programming, we’re really lucky in Austin that we’re getting a new public library and going with the idea of having more meeting spaces for people to meet for discussions here at the university of course we have lots of things digitally accessible, but you, it, lots of times during the year you can hardly find a seat in our library because the students are there. They’re there partly to study, they’re partly to do their assignments and things like that, but it’s partly a community building place too, there’s a coffee shop outside where they can get coffee and they can go into the commons area which is just wonderfully big and has a lot of chairs and tables and drink their coffee and talk to other students and so library is the place, is a gathering place. I think it’s really important too.
Yeah and as you said there are different ways we can work with our communities, but we can work with other libraries, like you said you’re learning new stuff from this public library and your academic library so I mean it’s different kinds of libraries can learn from each other as well.
Exactly, right, that they’re, I mean and in Texas Library Association we’re divided into districts and of course ALA’s divide, has state chapters and so we work together with different kinds. That’s one of the things I like about Texas Library Association because the school librarians haven’t broken off in Texas and have their own association. I know in a lot of places that’s the case and so their state association for primarily the public and academic librarians and then the school people have their own, which is fine. But, in Texas we have, we all work together and then we can all have pay for a lobbyist that works with us and we can have one platform to do our lobbying for whatever we want for the state libraries at the legislature and we don’t have to try to combine because we’re already combined, so that I think it cuts down some of the expenses that way too, to not have those separate kinds of things. I know that doesn’t always work out everywhere, but it seems to work out pretty well here.
How do you think libraries can maintain their relevance in the modern world? What is it about libraries sort of their core that, cause a lot of people will say you know, oh it’s, your just a big warehouse of books or whatever and that’s obviously, we know that’s not what we are, but what do we do to maintain our relevance and let other people know I guess that we’re relevant.
And that, that’s one thing that I think is very exciting about what’s going on at ALA right now in terms of this concept of transformation of libraries, of reimagining, rethinking what a library is and what a library can do and I think that we in the profession need to get that kind of hashed out, which to a large extent probably a lot of us are.
Although digital repository concepts and the e-book concepts and when we get all of those ideas worked out, and the problems solved with those that we can go on, because the libraries have always been about ideas and storing ideas, whether it’s on a clay tablet, or papyrus, leaves or whatever we store things on, skins, I mean I’ve seen like even in IFLA seeing women that have scarves that they have stories on and when they want to tell the kids a story, they take off their scarf and spread it out, so. We don’t do that too much here, but we do tell kids stories, so those basic functions of information are the same no matter if we get it on our iPad or our computer, our, we go and get the print copy which I know is getting not as common as it used to be. So, I think that ALA is doing a great job of trying to lead the way in doing the transforming and they’re reimaging and carrying that out for the 21st century.
You kind of touched on this a little bit earlier, about how you became a librarian in the first place, but what is it kind of about the profession that keeps you excited about being a librarian? Like why, why do you feel in your heart sort of why you’re a librarian? And why you love being a librarian?
Well because I think I’m a lifetime learner and as I said, I started out, if you look on my blog there’s a picture that my father took of me when I was a pre-schooler that, reading Raggedy Ann, just sitting there and unfortunately I had to wear glasses when I was very little, so there I am with my glasses and reading my Raggedy Ann at a very early age and I still love to read and I still love to find things out and I, I love my students, I’m always learning new things and sharing them and trying to help other people learn things and find out the solutions to their problems and so I think it’s just a very exciting place to be and I just, I feel very fortunate every day I come to work and I think well, I wonder what I’m going to learn today, you never know from one day to the next because it may be a big surprise what. I was grabbing a quick lunch in our little eating place right before we started this and one of my young colleagues came through and he had a young man with him and he introduced me, this is a writer for Wired and he’s, he wanted to see the school and he’s writing about it, so I thought that was really interesting, I never actually met a Wired writer before, thought that was good, and so I told him because this semester I’m supervising 32 capstone experiences for Master’s students, that our, they’re finishing up in May these students and so they have to do a special project and I have to cap a few classes for it too, cause I have to do e-portfolios and we’re supposed to kind of get acquainted different fields and so I’m having all next week we have an entrepreneur who is resident this year and his name is Gary Hoover and one of the things that he has done is he started a company called Books Stop which sold books and I think was a predecessor of Half Price Books, I’m not sure, but anyway he made a lot of money doing that and then he went on and he has Hoovers business reference and other kinds of reference and that’s in Austin, so he’s here and I was talking to him one day. He was asking me, cause he didn’t know what I did and I said well I primarily like to do youth services and I think the younger you get the kids, the better off you are and you know they’re going to be readers and be literate and be lifelong learners and all that kind of thing. And he said I couldn’t agree with you more Barbara, this is great, he really was enthusiastic and he said I feel the same way about entrepreneurs, if you don’t get em by the time they’re in junior high, you’re, it’s too late to get em.
So, I invited him to come to the class and he’s going to talk about entrepreneurial skills that our students should be taking out and using in their first professional jobs. So I told this young writer from, I was telling this young writer from Wired magazine about that and he said “Oh can I come?” I said sure, you’re welcome to come, but, you know, when I went to eat my little bite before I had no idea that was going to happen. So, as I said, I’m in a very exciting place and I love it and I learn things from my students all the time and life is good, so, being a librarian is a great career.
It sounds like you’re going to have a lot more, maybe more guests in your class than actual students if you keep inviting people, so.
I mean I, you know, I didn’t go out of my way to do this.
It just pops up.
I already have 32 students so that’s pretty good, so.
So, is there any, what’s kind of, going to be like the big theme of your presidency? Like, what issues are you going to want to push?
Okay, well the, my little, I mean because I think that when you’re an ALA President you’re in a long stream of people and you have to realize that you go in and you’re the president-elect for a year and then you’re the president and then you’re the past president and you’ve got to go with what’s the hot issue of the day and you don’t have very long and you have to continue what’s already been going on and so I think that, that looking for the opportunities to advance libraries is really good, but what I chose for my little, I don’t know if it might belong, I have these little cards. I have, advocating for libraries because I think you asked me initially, what more can we do to explain what libraries are now and I think that that’s a really important thing right now. That people have to know that you can’t look it all up on the internet, there’s too much stuff out there, somebody has to be kind of a guide or a helper and gather that for, especially for kids, but for everybody to find things and everything and then the other part is empowering communities. Because I think if libraries can empower communities to win them over as supporters and the communities can speak for libraries, that that’s going to be much healthier for libraries, to have the whole community be behind them and really want them and want them for gathering places and for helping find information and finding solutions to problems in the community. So those are the two things that I’m really looking forward to being maybe a spokesperson with this collective voice of ALA as I’ve said. What we can’t do alone, we can do together when we are all, all working together for these goals for libraries. We have a much better chance of achieving that.
So you talked a little bit about your blog. Can you tell people how else they can find out about you online?
Well, I have Facebook page that is Barbara Immroth For ALA President Elect. You can find me on Facebook and you can find me on my blog which is through the ischool.utexas.edu and I think it, it’s connected with the ALA candidate form and if you look me up you’ll find lots of entries because I’ve been active for years as I said, I’ve been a chapter president, president of Texas Library Association, I’ve been president of the Association for Library Service to Children and I have just been out there and so it’s not very hard to Google me and probably find out things that I would maybe even, I don’t even know are there about me, so thank you for asking.
Alright, thank you very much for talking to me Barbara and I hope people have heard this and have learned more about you and the other interview of this episode with Courtney and can make a balanced, informed decision and I think above all, everybody I’ve talked to for this has agreed please just go vote because we do not like the numbers being so low.
My pleasure, Steve, I really enjoyed it and I couldn’t agree with you more. I think, I love to have people look at the qualifications of each of the candidates and see what our experience is and what we are already know that would be very helpful in making that decision and as you know I have, one of my friends has a West Texas story that she’s made a video of, what you don’t know, how what you don’t know can hurt you which is really fun, Elizabeth Poke and that’s on my blog too. So for those who like stories, go look at that and please vote. Thank you very much for inviting me.
All right, bye bye, Barbara.