This is Circulating Ideas, I’m Steve Thomas. My guests today are the four candidates for ALA President. Yes, all four of them. In alphabetical order Joe Janes, James LaRue, JP Porcaro, and Julie Todaro. I hope all you ALA members out there will go out and vote and I hope this interview set is very informative for all of you.
Joe, welcome back to the show.
You, of course, are on this episode because you are one of the candidates for ALA President.
That’s right, that’s right.
And you were a petition candidate. How did that come about? How did you decide you wanted to run?
Yeah, I’ve been approached several times over the last several years. The first time came out of a clear blue sky and I was literally speechless for about 15 seconds, which is remarkable for anybody who knows me. And people had clicked my name and I thought really? And, so over the years I’ve been in touch with the nominating committee and they’ve asked me and I’ve said yes and they didn’t pick me and I said no and they came back and they asked me again. And then last year, in particular, I had a good friend on the nominating committee and I just couldn’t do it, we were up for accreditation and it was a terrible time. And then this year all the pieces sort of fell into place, all the stars aligned, so I figured if I was going to do this, I might as well do it and I might as well do it this year and the petition seemed the easiest way to accomplish that. So that’s why.
What made you want to be ALA President?
Well, it’s, so as I said, I got that first phone call several years ago and it, it hadn’t entered my head and then over the years I started to think about it and think about the opportunities that it would provide. And, and what I would bring to the role, and, and I think it took me a few years to sort of figure out how I would be in that role and what I would bring to it, and I think the two things that I focused on is. First of all, I’m a really good explainer and a really good story teller. And I can motivate and move people, and I can, I can tell a good story and I, and there are great stories to be told about libraries and librarianship and librarians and such that I don’t think we always as a profession do the best possible job in telling. So, being able to go to the wider media, being able to talk to the wider world and articulate our value, how important we are, how, the phrase that I’ve started to use is critical infrastructure and all of our communities and clienteles and institutions and so on, I think I could be a really effective advocate and be able to shine a light on, on the great work that we do and also the challenges we face in lots of quarters.
The other thing I think I bring is having spent the last 25 or so years thinking hard about what libraries and librarians and librarianship are and not to be and also helping other people to work through those kinds of questions, my students over the years, there are a lot of good ideas and a lot of really hard questions about where we go from here, about what the next steps are, what libraries and librarians ought to be and, and I think I can bring something to that as president, to be able to raise some of those questions and help people to think through where we go from here, what the next steps forward are for all of us. So, I think those are the two things that I have focused on, that I could bring to the office.
I’ve read a lot of stuff online, especially of people that are sort of worried about the image of librarians, that are really trying to fight off that stereotype. Do you think that’s anything that’s even worth too much effort in fighting off?
I, I think I do. I think that slightly less of an issue than it was 15, 20 years ago. I still cringe, I don’t, I can’t watch It’s A Wonderful Life cause I can’t stand that final sequence. She’s the librarian, as if that’s the worst possible fate there could befall anybody. I think the bun and the sensible shoes and the shushing and so on, you still see that and people still talk about it. But I actually think there, we’ve made some progress and I think the media has made some progress, that kind of ridiculous show on TNT has helped a little bit, and the Mummy movies have helped a little bit, crazily enough. That, that, the image is, is also of skilled professionals who are technologically sophisticated and can help people and that the library is a really valuable institution. And I think I wouldn’t, that’s not my thing, but I think that’s a pedal worth pressing a little bit, is to show off the great work that people do, the kind of surprising things that people do around data science, around literacy, information literacy, around community building and economic development and there already is, in early literacy the raw power of early literacy and story hour and such. I think when you get people in those kind of oh you know, that’s librarianship too? I think that can really help to, to further break down the memorizing Dewey numbers and stamping books, which I don’t think anybody does any more, or very few people, so yeah I think that’s a part of it.
Can you talk a little bit about, in sort of that vein a little bit, like what, not, if you wanted to give specifics, you can give specifics, but like what kind of librarians do you admire? I mean are there specific people that you admire? Or just a trait of librarians if you don’t want to name specific people.
Well, I’ll allude to a couple of people and then talk about traits. The kind of people I really admire are the kind of people who are kind of kicking butt and taking names. Who, not in an aggressive kind of I’m a librarian damn it, well actually yeah, I’m a librarian damn it. People who, who do their work with joy with vision, with creativity, with innovation, with a little fearlessness, with a willingness to fail and learn from that, with a willingness to share what they’ve learned with their colleagues, who are in, who are kind of the, it’s hard to articulate it but I’ll do this, they’ve just got, they’ve just got this and I see people.
I was on a panel a few months ago in Philadelphia with a, a young woman who’s a librarian in the free library Philadelphia system and she gets students who have to do volunteer work as part of their high school curriculum and rather than have them shelve books and such, which she has them do, she also has them write an essay for her about what they want their future to be like, want their careers to be like, and then she has them research company profiles of companies in industries that are in their area of expertise, in their area of interest and she was talking about this on the panel and I thought oh my god what a fantastic idea, it’s pretty small, but it engages them in the research endeavor, it connects what they want to do with the real world, it helps them to understand the resources that libraries have to offer, shows them a great role model for librarianship, like wow, that’s fantastic and you scale that all the way up to people who are running major systems and major, major libraries and innovating like crazy in the Open Access movement and then the use of mobile technology and how to help manage large research datasets and how to make your public library indispensable to your city and so on. And so it’s scales, it’s not just leadership at the top, it’s leadership through the entire organization and its acts that are really large and really small and everywhere in between and those are the kind of people I admire and I say to my students that’s a great librarian, that’s librarianship.
So, we have all these great librarians and we look to the ALA all the time to help us figure out some guidance, what do you think is the biggest challenge currently facing libraries and the second part of that is how would you as ALA President, specifically you tackle that challenge? Like why should we have, why should we elect you to challenge, to do this, take on this challenge?
I’ve said for many years that the, our biggest enemy is not censorship, it’s not funding, it’s not people saying we don’t need libraries, it’s, those things are all important. I think our biggest enemy is indifference, is people just not even caring or paying attention to us enough to know whether or not they think we’re still viable and valuable. And as I always said, I’d rather be loved than hated, but I’d rather be hated than ignored. And indifference comes from not paying attention. And from not having to pay attention because there’s too many other important things going on and so one of the things I want to really do is to take every opportunity I can, to engage using whatever tools I can, social media, traditional media, you name it. To engage the wider world and why we are absolutely necessary, why we are critical, what would a community do without its public library, what would a university do without its academic library or research institute. What would a school do? Sadly we have far too many examples of schools that don’t have libraries or librarians any more. There are rooms with books and people sitting in there. What would these institutions, what would these settings, what would these communities do without a library? And people don’t engage that idea very much, partly because they’re taking us for granted and partially because people have a kind of generic sense of what a library does, but they don’t often have the fine details and I want to be able to raise that profile, I want to be able to raise those questions, I want to be able to raise that awareness and I think I have the ability to do that in an engaging and interesting and provocative way, that I’ve been doing for years in lots of different venues. Not only in my teaching, but also in speaking and writing and so on and I think that’s what I can bring, is just to raise the questions and raise the profile and get people to engage in how valuable and important and critical the modern contemporary library is and is going to be in our society.
ALA is a very, very obviously large organization. How do you make the organization as a whole more navigable for new members, like when they first step in and go wow, that’s tens of thousands of librarians, what do I even do in this organization?
Yeah, I remember that myself and I was just talking to one of our students about this the other day, that she’s going to go to her first, San Francisco is going to be her first conference and the first thing I always tell people is it’s overwhelming. There’s just so many people and it’s your whole profession laid out in front of you, it’s sort of like a giant field day for our profession. And it can be overwhelming and my first conference, 30 some odd years ago I sort of stumbled into meetings and like I’m put on a committee because I turned up and got lost in the exhibit hall, I won a Guinness book which was the last thing I won in the exhibit hall in 1982, which I think I still have somewhere. There are, I think there’s a bunch of things. I think the new members round table, which was the Junior Members Round Table back in my day, I think they do a good job, many of the student chapters including ours, but lots of student chapters help students and people new to the profession sort of figure out where they’re niche is. The divisions do some of that, assuming you can find your way to the right division and round table and committee and so on. I kind of like the fact that ALA is big and complicated and messy. If it was clean and easy and straightforward and obvious it would be a whole lot less interesting, and our profession is big and diverse and a little bit messy and also strangely specific, you get the, you get these, you drill down within the sections and the round tables and the big, excuse me, the divisions and the round tables and of the sections and committees and so on and you get this incredibly specific kind of work, which to a lot of people seems really esoteric and exotic but for that niche it’s really important and I love the fact that we have that, that we’re not all the same, that we do lots of different work, we do it for lots of different communities and the association should reflect that. That means that it winds up becoming this behemoth, that you can’t wrap your arms around and nobody kinds of gets the whole thing and oh well they’re doing too many things, and oh they shouldn’t do that. That’s, that’s, it’s natural, it’s actually desirable. If it was easier and more straight-forward, it would be a lot more dull and we are anything but dull. And we, the people have developed these kind of ways of making their way and networking and finding your niche, finding your, finding your community within the community. And I think that’s all to the good, I kind of revel in that and encourage my students to kind of roll around in it until you find, find your people, find your drive in there.
If one of your students came up to you and asked the, well why should I join ALA, what would you tell them if you had to give that elevator speech kind of thing?
Well we are your people and I’d say that almost regardless of what people are interested in. First of all, there’s great professional benefit just to the networking opportunities, the continuing education stuff, the going to sessions and seeing what people are talking about, the publications, the online stuff etc. There’s tremendous value there. Secondly, there’s the great work that ALA does around policy matters. And I think for a lot of people that’s a little under the radar, they kind of know it happens, but they don’t necessarily internalize that all the time, so all the stuff that they do on Capitol Hill and in other venues around e-rate stuff that’s been going on forever and copyright and intellectual freedom and now net neutrality and all of that kind of stuff.
It’s just incredible work and the folks who’ve done that kind of work, largely out of the Washington Office, but also out of Chicago, they’ve got a great reputation in places that matter. I say the same thing about the whole e-book thing, with publishers, which I know Molly Rafael and Barbara Stripling and Roberta and a whole bunch of Presidents, Courtney was doing it just the other day, have gone to New York to bang some heads together about listen, we’re not here to kill you, we’re here to help you to the publishers. I think that’s a little bit under the radar and that’s, that’s what the, an association the size and scope of ALA can do, is that they can amass the resources to be able to be in those meetings and be taken seriously and be able to help advocate for policy changes and make the business case for the sale e-books to libraries and so on. And then all the other stuff, all of the education stuff, all of the scholarship stuff, all of the awards and so on. There’s, it’s a pretty good value for the dollar and I know people who’ve, you renew and you click the button and you think oh my god, why, ugh. Well that’s what you’re paying for and you gotta pay for it cause that’s what, that’s what professional associations do and that’s what they’re for.
Thank you for talking to me today, do you have any last words for potential voters/listeners?
I do. I love being a librarian, I’ve been, I got my degree in 1983, my mom worked in a library, I kind of grew up in my public library working next to her on the reference desk. I love doing this, I love this profession, I love our people, I love it, all of the things that we do, I have the best job in the world cause I get to help people become librarians and, and I want to do whatever I can to leave this profession that has meant so much to me better than I found it. I always tell my students this is the best profession, best profession in the world, we make every human activity better, we actually make humanity more human and you can’t ask for much more than that. So, I’d love to be able to lead ALA for a year and, and leave the profession a little better than I found it.
Thank you so much for coming on, explaining all your views so people can be better informed and good luck in the election.
Thank you very much, thanks for having me.
All right, bye bye.
Jamie, welcome back to the show.
Thanks Steve, pleasure to be here.
What made you want to run in the first place?
Well, a combination of things. First thing was I got a call saying would I agree to be nominated and I thought about that and I said at this particular point in my career all of the things that I am spending my time on anyhow, I’m doing a lot of time on the road writing and speaking about things that I think are essential to our profession and that would seem to be the right time to kind of step up to the ALA national platform to say these ideas are transformative, not only for our profession, but also for the many communities we serve. So it’s a good match of interest and time.
How would you say, how would you describe your leadership style? And how do you think that will play over into being the President of ALA?
I’ve been thinking a lot about exactly what leadership means lately and I start with this. Leadership begins with listening and so I’m a good listener and I try to understand what the trends are and what people are experiencing and then it’s this process of iteration. We say okay so now I’m going to distill that, make meaning out of it. Have I got this right? And then you begin that dialogue again it comes back and it’s no, it’s more like this, or it’s more like that and then at some point you move from all of that distillation to say okay now there are just a few things that really matter to us and now we need to put together an actionable plan, deliver them and let everybody know that we did that. So that’s my style.
How do you think you can make ALA more attractive to new members? When they first join up how can they, cause it’s such a huge organization. How do you think people can get started when they first get joined up?
It’s, I think that’s like one of the key challenges focusing in ALA right now as we’re seeing in many professions in the United States, this is kind of generational turnover. So you have people that are kind of getting into the final phases of their career, they’re moving on and all the millennials are now starting to come in and kind of as a group. So many of the concerns that they share are those getting started issues. How do I connect to my colleagues? How do I hook into these larger trends that are affecting the larger environment in which our profession is evolving? How do I figure, can I stay where do I live? Do I have to move around other places? How do I find affordable ways to be part of ALA? To connect to it? And I, I think that the obvious one is exactly what you’re doing, I mean you lean towards more and more technology to say if people can’t afford at the beginning of their careers to not only join ALA which itself isn’t too bad, but then go to a conference that can be quite expensive for travel and for lodging and for meals and for just getting around cities, how do we stay connected? And I think it’s a combination of tracking people technologically, following shows like yours, say you’re trying to pick and choose interesting folks in the profession so I can follow you and don’t have to lay out a lot of money to stay connected to the world. And then I think the physical matters too. So, there needs to be a greater emphasis on starting off with the local connections, make sure that your library association, which is after all a chapter of ALA, tends to be easier to get to, it’s more local. So, I guess that’s the mix, is reach out to people electronically, reach out to people locally in your, in your area.
My big question here is sort of the, is two parts. The first is what would you say is the biggest challenge currently facing libraries as a whole? And then how would you specifically as ALA President tackle that challenge? Because I think that there’s a difference between of course ALA elections and real political elections cause it’s not like anybody’s saying, you know, you’re not like Joe Janes will burn ALA to the ground if he’s, you know, you almost have different focuses and you want to do, so how would your focus tackle those challenges that you see in libraries?
I think that the real issues, and I’ll give you two. One of them is sort of internal, one is external. Over the past 25, 30 years or so, libraries of all types, academic, school, public, special have done an ever better job of delivering quality services. We’re very, very good at our jobs, we’re good stewards of money, we manage to make a real difference, both to individuals and to these larger communities, but despite the fact that the use of our services is growing in many cases, what we’re seeing instead is a decline of support. So, academic, yeah, universities, college and research institutions, the money from the state tends to be going ever down, less and less money goes to libraries, people are kind of coming in to try to grab library space. In the public library world, based on the OCLC study from Awareness To Funding, use is rising almost geometrically, but further libraries make it to the ballot or win when they do. School libraries I’m deeply concerned about because in Colorado they’re almost winking out of existence. The average age of books in some of our school libraries is 15 years. They replace school librarians with tech assistants, replace tech assistants with volunteers, replace with volunteers with nobody. So we’re in this peculiar sense of we are losing mind share, we are losing the support of our authorizing environment and I think that the only way to do that is that it’s not about talking to each other because librarians get that we’re valuable. We get that we make a difference. What we have to do is reach out to this larger authorizing environment, we have to say talk to non-librarians in ways that they understand, demonstrate the value that we bring to the larger community agenda. So, my, my focus and I, you see this all throughout ALA, every one of the divisions, or committees, or round tables says well what do we do about advocacy? And advocacy is not saying Steve, libraries are really important and here’s why you need to give us more money. Libraries advocacy means I interview you and I say Steve, tell me what matters to you. What are you trying to accomplish in your life and in your community and then I pick a high profile project, a library delivers some key things which demonstrate a profound understanding of those communities and then we’re at the table where these decisions are made, we contribute to that larger environment and community agenda and at the end we remind everybody that we added value. So, my gift, my ability, my background is I’ve spent all my life talking to people who are not librarians. I’m a newspaper columnist, I was for 25 years and what that’s about is saying how do you tell a short, compelling story that gets it out of this bubble of librarianship to say here’s why books in home, for instance, really matter to our society. Or here’s why, her’s a library analysis of the community development issue and these are the resources that we can bring to bear to make this a better place to live. And I think that whether it’s a public library, school library, or academic library, we have to get far more intentional about managing our relationships with power. Connecting to the authorizing environment, understanding who the leaders are, having a deep catalog of what their issues, initiatives and aspirations are.
Your consulting business, has that sort of shape the way that you’re thinking now, differently maybe than you would have if you had done this while you were still at Douglas County?
Yeah that’s true, I, like I very much understood, you know, I, we were, Douglas County Libraries was a very successful organization and we did a good job of weaving ourselves into the life of the community, but as an independent consultant, I was approached by, for instance a librarian on the west slope in Norwood, Colorado and here’s a woman who was again doing a very good job running a small library and during the recession the hardware store closes, half the people in town are going to lose their job, most of the revenue starts to disappear and this one librarian says can you, we bought some land during the recession and maybe there’s a possibility to do a joint public/private partnership to invest some energy in the main street of downtown and to, and kind of growth, will you help me save the life of my town? And I thought, that’s librarianship, that’s the future of librarianship, where you say it’s not just about us, it’s about making this whole community around us so much stronger and I’ve learned that librarians do have the skills, we just seldom apply them. We’re too internally focused and if we are to survive and thrive into the 21st century, we have to get a lot better about getting out and mixing it up and understanding what other people are talking about and finding a way to add value.
Can you name off some librarians that you kind of see as examples that are doing great things out there, some other colleagues, other institutions that you admire?
Yeah, well I’ll give you one of each here. So, Pat Losinksky in Columbus inherited a wonderful system, tackled many of its planning issues straight on, built a good public relations kind of campaign and then looked around and said another problem here is education. We have a lot of kids who are falling into the gaps, who aren’t making it through the, the educational gates and so he refocused the whole institution and said we’re going to help kids graduate. We’re gonna really, we’re gonna tackle this large community thing and the outcome is not circulation, the outcome is graduation and so that’s that shift that I’m talking about from the communities centric, or rather from libraries centric to community centric. Locally here we have a wonderful librarian at the University of Denver, Nancy Allen, and went through that whole thing about here’s this very old library, old collection, how do we work with an architect and a scholarly community that we want to start refocusing on more Open Access initiatives, we want to change the feel of the organization, we really want to be the hub of the intellectual lives of our community. And this transformation of the building has been extraordinary and so now when you, used to be that it was difficult to get into the building if you weren’t a DU student, and now you wander in there and it’s welcoming and open and lively and people are connecting and you can see that kind of intellectual energy crackling around it. And then I’ve known a lot of really good school librarians who try to break out of this idea if you’re a school librarian you are politically isolated. You only have as much support as your principal is willing to give you and it’s very difficult to get out and what I, the best school librarians that I’m seeing now are reaching out to the parent community to try to find advocates for proven strategies for academic achievements so that the parent shows up at the school board meeting and says schools, school libraries are vital to the leisure reading of my child. We have to fund this library.
So, in every one of these cases I’m pointing to people that circumstances where somebody gets that it’s not just about them.
So, finally, if a librarian comes up to you who’s not a member of ALA and says why should I join ALA? What do you tell them?
I would say that we need you and we’re at a point of extraordinary change in our profession and our society and if I am elected to be your ALA President I’ll work on three things. First, we’re going to move from the gatekeeper to gardener. That is we’re gonna really focus in on being at the heart of the digital publishing revolution, we’re gonna help people write better books, and we’re gonna start exploring this explosion of independent and self-publishing. The second one is we need to move from embedded reference librarian to community leader and instead of just showing up at a group and answering some questions, we’re gonna do systematic management of community leader interests and aspirations. We’re gonna pick big projects, we’re going to deliver them, and we’re gonna make our communities great. And the last one is we’re gonna move from desert, from book desert to book abundance. Now book desert is a household that has fewer than 25 books in it. We know, research proves if we have 500 books in the home of the child between the ages of 0 and 5, it’s as good as having two parents with master’s degrees. If we can get those books in homes, we can reduce the number of people going to jail, children will be healthier, they’ll live longer, they’ll get through school and make more money, it’s life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In order to achieve all of those things we need to talk to people who are not librarians. So join your voice to ALA and let’s get out and change the world.
I just moved to a new house and I can say for sure I am not a book desert because I moved a lot of boxes of books.
Oh, that’s right, it’s a, it’s my home insulation plan is to, you know.
All right, Jamie, thank you so much for being on and do you have any last words for potential voters?
Yeah. The most important thing is this. There are about 56,000 librarians here and in the last ALA election we only had about 10,000 people show up. So there are four candidates for ALA this time that represent some clear directions for our profession. Vote! Join and vote and have a say in what librarianship is going to mean in the next 25 years.
Good luck in the election and we’ll talk to you again soon.
JP, welcome to the show.
Thank you for having me.
What, one of the things I think that I don’t you’ll argue with, the point that you’re not the stereotypical librarian. And I’ve talked to some other of the candidates about this. Do you think librarians need to worry about their image of being too stereotypical or anything like that?
You know, I am not concerned about that as much. What I can tell you is this. We know from the data is that our, people’s perceptions of a librarian is very important and so sometimes stereotype is a good one, there’s a lot of nostalgia attached to it. Sometimes it’s, it’s not necessarily the greatest, what really is important to me is the level of service we provide as librarians so if the stereotype kind of feeds that, that’s awesome. If it doesn’t, that’s okay too, what really matters is when the people kind of leave the library, they leave feeling good about their interaction.
How we serve them is really what’s important.
If somebody comes up to you and says why should I join the ALA? I have no reason, I cannot figure out at all why I should join. Why should a librarian join ALA?
Yeah, this is a conversation I have with people often. I would say firstly, if you’re feeling that way, think about it. I’m not gonna be the person to say just go for it, just join, you need to join, you have to join. If it’s gonna serve your purposes, good. I will tell you some of the values there are kind of obvious as far as ALA being the oldest and largest library association in the world. That’s one of those things that can really help us advocate for ourselves and help us provide better service for our users. But then also some really good things come out of the ALA. The, the Caldecott, the Newberry, those are really important whether or not you ever visit a library. Those are really important things that come out of the ALA. As far as me, I am concerned, I would not be at the point in my career that I’m at without the American Library Association, right, so I’m running for President as someone of a, I’ll say a younger generation than everyone else who’s running and that’s because of the opportunity that the American Library Association gives all of its members to really do important work and succeed as individuals, and that’s really cool and that’s really important and we get that out of our state associations, and we get that out of our national association and so I, if someone says to me why should I join ALA, or give me some reasons to join, I would say use some introspection. Think about what you want to get out of your career and out of your life and if the ALA fits, please do join because it’s really going to be a valuable organization for you as a professional and maybe for you as a person as well.
What can the ALA can do to appeal more to that younger generation that you’re a part of?
So, what can the ALA do to appeal? You know, I’ll tell you what. So I have my, you can check out my website which is jpporcaro.com. On there I have my Presidential platform. Along with my platform I have some professional concerns. One of those big concerns is the fact that the American Library Association is not a perfect organization and how do I say this? You know about I Need A Library Job right? The website. It’s almost a way of life for a lot of people at the moment.
Yes, Naomi is awesome, so.
Yes, Naomi is just a hero of mine and here’s my thing about it though. Why did it take Naomi to have that exist? And why does that exist outside of the American Library Association, right? So, how, ALA needs to change to better serve the future of the association, right, the future of the association, future members is to be aware of what’s going on and be aware of what the needs are. A really good library collection is only really good when it’s weeded, right? And so, I think that the ALA can use a little weeding in what it does. As far as that goes, though, the doors really are there open wide for all of us young folks to be involved and for us to make changes that we need to see so, that’s a really difficult, that’s a really difficult question to answer. Let me give a shorter answer. I apologize for going so long. My short answer would just be the ALA needs to open its ears to what is going on within librarianship, among its members, but especially what’s going on amongst librarians who are deciding to not be a member, or who have lapsed because they are part of our library ecosystem as well and something like Naomi’s website, which is much more than, much bigger than Naomi. It is one of those cases where okay ALA failed, but let’s not fail again.
So let’s say you were successful in convincing somebody to join the ALA, you told them all the value, they joined up. Now they come into this organization that is enormous, you go to a conference, there’s 20,000 people there. How do you make that navigable for new people? Like how do you recommend they get started?
A bulk of my work in the American Library Association is answering that question, right. So I started the American Library Association as a student, but I really didn’t get involved until my Emerging Leaders here and it was a kind of group of us who all had that question lingering, like do we want to get involved, or do we not want to get involved? And a bunch of us decided no, this is too large and then a whole bunch of the other of us decided maybe we want to stay involved and the way we did that was this little Facebook group that we had, maybe 20 of us called the ALA Think Tank, right. And now we’ve grown to like 11,000 members which is a, boy oh boy, that’s over one sixth the size of the membership of the American Library Association. So in four years we great pretty substantially large and so I don’t think that there’s necessarily an answer to the question how can we make ALA more navigable, oh that’s a hard word to say. More, to, in order to kind of get involved, right. The new members round tables a great place to start, but not just there.
What is really powerful about the ALA is sure it’s 20,000 people at the conference, but it’s splintered down into, we have the ethnic caucuses, we have the divisions, we have the round tables, we have the member interest groups. Something you’re really passionate about in your career, odds are there’s 20, 30, 40 people who are also really passionate about that. Who are already doing work in that field and if they are, join that member interest group, join that round table, get involved, if it doesn’t exist, start that round table, start that member interest group. I started the graphic novels and comic books member interest group three years ago which opened the doors for the ALA to be involved in the Eisner Awards which is the big award in comic books. Very exciting. I also started the games and gaming round table which has been around now for a couple of years and that was just like the comic book interest group, that was a way for us to, those of us who are interested in games in the libraries to get together and talk about it and do some cool things and I’m not as involved in that organization, but they’re running international games day now, it just, the work that’s coming out of that round table just is so exciting and it’s like that almost no matter what your passion is and the ALA’s opened that, if your passion isn’t being served, you are there to kind of start that up.
The last question, the big question is sort of the difference of yourself to the other candidates because I’ve talked to some other people and obviously none of you are, this is not like American politics where you’re saying that the other candidates are gonna destroy ALA if they’re President. You all just have different visions of how to go into the future. So, what do you see as the biggest challenge currently facing libraries and how would you specifically tackle that challenge?
Okay, there’s three big intersected challenges. Firstly, it’s funding. Funding is our largest issue. Please do visit my website jpporcaro.com. OCLC put out a document that I talked about before that showed that when people vote at the voting booth on libraries, they’re not voted based on library, their idea of what libraries are as institutions, or how beautiful the building is, or how great the services are, they’re voting based on the perception of the librarian, so that’s really important. So, sorry, us as librarians it’s really important that we keep that in mind, that that’s what important is us. The second thing is diversity. We are doing worse as a profession in, and there’s numbers to back this up. We’re doing worse as a profession versus the American population, in 2012, that’s the latest numbers we have, than we were doing in 1985 versus the American population. We have to stop having presidents who just do a diversity initiative in order to check off a box and we need a president who will at the top be like we need to listen to the ethnic caucuses now, not just come up with our own idea, we need to listen to them, we need to bring them into the conversation more. Rather than pushing them off, they’re the ethnic caucuses, they’re doing their thing, we need to include rather than exclude and maybe the ethic caucuses might disagree with me that they’re being excluded. That’s fine. I just think that from the top we need more listening in order to help us at least achieve parity with the American population. And then the third thing is my 8 and 10 year old are growing up without a school library. What happens when this generation who has hardly any school librarian, no school librarian grows up and hits the ballot box? What happens then? Cause we know from that OCLC data that what will happen is they won’t have those positive perceptions of librarians and then they’re going to vote.
It’s a dire funding situation in the future if we don’t change this now. Whether I win or lose, this needs to be addressed and there needs to be changes as soon as possible. So, these issues to me are, are so important that that is why I’m running. I’m running to raise awareness of those three big things and so I hope people listen to this podcast and check out the website to learn more about those big issues because I, vote for me, vote for whoever you want, that’s fine, but take these issues seriously.
All right, well, JP, thank you so much for talking to me and good luck in the election.
Thank you, Steve.
All right, bye.
Julie, welcome to the show.
Thank you Steve.
So, what’s your basic answer to if somebody comes up to you and asks why they should join the ALA? What’s kind of your pitch?
The, the concept of being a professional has a set of admission requirements, or the goal standard and there are six parts of being a professional and one of them is membership in and frankly activity in professional associations and these are considered to be part of the infrastructure of being a professional because of the networking, continuing education, national or bigger picture focus and if you just want to talk about the importance of being a professional and moving into a profession, moving through a profession in that way, that is the first and obvious answer. To me, the, what ALA does for you is really create this incredible network of people and in two categories. One is the network of the professional who is in your type of environment, so whether or not it’s a completely technology driven environment, or it’s a type of library environment, or it’s an environment that’s categorized by a size, ALA has that for you. But, what they also have is the functional area that’s so critical for professional, so circulation, reference, teaching and learning, ALA offers that as well and it’s kind of a one-stop shop for that in terms of professionalism. So there are lots of adjacent professions that you can join as well because they bring a strength to an area like educause, or computers in libraries which isn’t really an association, but a conference, but you get my drift. But what ALA does is have all of it available to you to move throughout, that the life of your career and that conference. My concern is that ALA just as a financial issue and I get it because we need to reduce costs for members as much as we can, but ALA is shrinking the footprint of the conference and so it’s getting harder and harder to be active and it used to be more than areas and now it’s getting harder and harder to be active in more than one area and I think activity is more than attending programs, it’s becoming involved in membership and legislation of policy and all of those things.
So, I think it’s the broadest, most important thing you can do for the infrastructure of your profession.
As an organization that’s obviously pretty big still, even as it sort of shrinks its footprint, how do you make ALA more navigable for new members when they come in? When they come in and kind of just see this huge organization, go to a conference with 20,000 people, how do they know how to get started? And how do you recommend they get started?
I think each division, which really there are several entities, divisions and a couple of the round tables who are massive and I think each one of those presents some kind of a new members, or first-time conference attendee experience and they are offered at a significant times and they really, when you hit the ground, you hit the ground running when you attend those. I think one of the things that we have to ask ourselves about our members is whether or not we can actually start something like that in advance of ALA. So that you have a robust platform for discussion where the week before the conference, you sign on if you’re a first-time attendee and then you get the opportunity to talk with a panel, or get questions asked or answered, or just for general networking, or identifying tracks at conference. So I think we need to take a step back and provide more content for people that’s live and interactive at least a week or two before ALA and I think that would help supplement and it would give people a richer experience. You might even consider to take even more steps back and do that right before registration opens up because although, because the footprint is shrinking, it’s easier to figure out when to fly in and when fly out, there still may be some questions you still may try to figure out can I afford this, how many days can I afford, but that needs you sitting down talking with people who have been there and know what the conference plan is.
You talked a little bit before we started recording about it’s sort of an odd year, that there’s four different candidates running. There’s two petitioning candidates, two that were nominated. You were one of the ones that was nominated.
What made you say yes when the nominating committee came to you? What made you want to tackle this challenge?
I, I got that question throughout mid-winter as well. I, I’ve gotten the call twice before in my career and when you get the call it’s not to ask you to run for ALA President, it is to ask you if you would consider running and there’s, sounds like there’s a fine line but there’s really not. The committee does a very careful job, they go back to names that, of people that they’ve vetted previously and they, they call, I’m sure a number of people and say are you interested in having your name considered. And if that’s the case you really have to put in your big thinking then and what I think is particularly good about that is that you are asked to prepare a statement of purpose then. So, it’s not that they just say to you show me your resume. They actually ask you to thoughtfully prepare a statement of purpose and that makes me think about why is it that I want to run.
So, I gave them my biographical information, but basically I stepped back to take a look at, at what I’d been involved in and what I think associations do and what I think I can do and what I’ve been particularly interested in is expanding what I think is an incredibly valuable part of the ALA and that is this broad discussion on the value, the actual value of libraries and those dollars and cents and vision and values kinds of things that meld together and based on some very significant research, provides value to people. So, what I’m interested in is expanding that to include the value of librarians because in my campaign and on my website I’ve included in there all along that you can have the perfect facility, the newest, the best, you can have the perfect collection, you can have access, it can be 24/7 but unless you have the experts putting it together, there to help you when you come in in some manner, shape or form, if you walk in digitally or if you walk in person, you must have the kind of expertise that this profession brings to the table in order to really have a library experience and I think we can really focus on increasing the value of libraries discussion to some very serious content on the value of librarians.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that’s facing libraries as a profession, as a thing? And how would you as ALA President tackle that challenge?
I think our ongoing issue has to be a very aggressive involvement in policy development. I was thrilled that the Washington office added a children’s and youth policy person because there’s so much out there that’s going on. Our role in constituent access to the United States really, the immigration issues, reform as children in crisis project which is just an incredible youth discussion and I think that our aggressive role in all corners for the policy infrastructure involvement is critical and we have a lot of that. We got choose privacy, which is extremely good and extremely valuable and it’s so odd that those two words put together really create such a foundation. Caroline Haywood has a great pod, it’s not actually, it’s not a podcast, it’s a YouTube interview that talks about the importance of preferences and the fact that you, you buy units, you buy time, you download software, but that you have to make the specific decision to choose privacy and so I think that’s significant and then I think the new policy revolution which is part of Washington office, or the Office of Technology, or OTP and so my push, which I was really pleased to see also occurred in the Tues, excuse me in the policy revolution program is that we have to lean to the creation and revision of policy far beyond technology. So, it’s, it’s the entire infrastructure. So, although the office began the discussion with the revolution discussion, they did in fact have a program that talked about the breadth of policy, so I would pick policy development, policy revision, and our knowledge of and expertise in designing policies that really create and support the infrastructure that we know is the right one to have.
What would you say is your leadership style, just in your organization now and how would you apply that as ALA President?
I’m gonna answer that question first by saying that I’ve worked on I think three or four ALA presidential list initiatives and then I have worked over the past 30 years actually and then I worked, I had my own, but then I worked on two ACRL presidential initiatives.
And I am very inclusive in carrying out ideas, so for example, and I was thinking of this as I moved among the different groups at mid-winter, it’s not just enough to go and say I’m thinking about, I’m going to include you, you have to create a timeline that allows you to actually include people and as we know that’s very difficult at ALA because of the breadth of the organization, as well as the length of time. You have a very short window to make a difference, so I, I began to kind of sketch out a plan for including people in the discussion on creating a value of librarians. In other words as I went to reform, as I went to the black caucuses, I went to stakeholders group, which is the, not only the freedom to read in their area, but also United For Libraries, and the Retired Librarians group, I really talked about having content to vet to people because they’re there as a particular type of librarian, so what is it about a member of black caucus, and I’m not saying a black person, or an African-American person, I’m saying as a member of a black caucus, how would you assist me in creating a value statement for having a librarian, because they’re going to have a, a different or enhanced perspective from reformist group. How could I go to reform with a template for value of expertise of a librarian and then what would a member or reformer, again not by color or by ethnic group, but just as a member with their vision and values, how would they enhance the vision of librarians. So, there, it’s a timeline issue and it is a, it’s kind of what I call the Disney Circle of Life, where you circle back to those people who you first started to work with and talk about involving them in the design, or creation of content which focuses on librarians as experts and I think it’s not easily done, but it can be done and I’m already trying to sketch that out, if I have the opportunity to win.
I’ll refrain from singing The Circle of Life here, but. [laughs]
Isn’t it though, you know, we did, we did that at ALA more times than I can tell you. We also did, we were talking about delegating things and so I didn’t see the movie Frozen, but the song “Let It Go” was something that we sang a lot as well, so.
I have a seven year old daughter, I have watched that movie many times.
There you go. Well I’m telling you, it’s great, it’s, it’s the popular culture and it happens so quickly from a youth’s perspective, I love it.
Right. So you talked a lot about expertise of librarians. Can you talk about. You can either answer this in two ways. So it’s sort of what librarians do you admire. Either specifically if you want to name some people, or just sort of your ideal, what all librarians should try to live up to.
Camilla O’Leary has been, I think such, has such depth and breadth in terms of what she brought to the ALA presidency and I assisted her in her campaign, which was very content driven and we integrated it, which is another key thing about ALA, you have to integrate it to the structure that they already have and so we were with the office, advocacy office and marketing office to create content for front line advocacy because that was an area that had content, but not what it needed and so we, we picked a structure that we knew could use the content and then involved those people.
So, advocacy university, which ALA has, was just a no-brainer for bringing that content in. And then Camilla was very committed to and is very familiar with all types and sizes of the libraries which is one of my particular interests, is the breadth of the association. So Camilla for contemporary. I loved Jesse Shearer, he was witty and I, I was, had the opportunity to go to dinner with him once when he came to the University of Michigan when I was teaching there. He was a phenomenal man. Very witty and articulate, far beyond librarianship and I loved him, so Jesse. I like Jim Matteratso from Simmons, he was very involved early on. My, two of the people involved in my dissertation work. Jane Ann Hannican and Katie Vandergriff, who recently passed away. They knew the incredible breadth of the youth services and Jane Ann was a popular culture specialist. And there weren’t a lot of popular culture specialists so I guess if there’s a theme among those people, wit and quick, they know the breadth of the topic and they’re very involved and knowledgeable about things, both adjacent to librarianship and things that should be adjacent to librarianship.
I think that’s probably my last major, big question, but do you have any other last words that you want to give to potential voters and listeners about your campaign?
I think people need to get out and vote and they need to ask other people to vote, just vote. So, to me, we have so many members and we have so few voters and this, this has, this race has drawn a lot of attention to it and I want people to really compare records and their content that they’ve presented and I’ve been honored to receive two endorsements, both performer and CLA, Chinese Librarians, and one of the things that I’ve looked at are the testimonials that people have given me and Larry Roman’s, for example, gave me a testimonial and Larry and I have been on the same side of the table and across the table from each other and he should have been someone I mentioned in terms of leadership cause no one knows more about government documents and the people’s right to information than Larry does. But, what Larry talked about is what I feel very passionately and that is you’ve a very short window to make a difference, I think the ALA President should know all types of libraries, or at least all functions and areas of libraries and it doesn’t matter how old you are, or the experiences you’ve had, you can gather all those to you as you go forward and I think I’m the per, I know I’m the person who has the broadest experience and the most in depth, in terms of how this monolithic professional association works and so I, I want you to vote.
Thank you so much, I think this was very viable information, I also encourage people to go out and vote and good luck in the election.
Thank you, appreciate, Steve I appreciate people’s attention to this and we’re doing webinars and Skypes and Google Hangouts and Q&As and they, it, you cannot ask enough questions of people, I really am a firm believer in that and they’ve all been different. I know you said you studied different questions, but they’ve all been different and these were great. I appreciate the time.
Thanks again to all four candidates for speaking with me for the show. I hope all of you ALA members get out there and vote.
And thanks again to Joe, Jamie, JP, and Julie. Yes, all four begin with J.
Oh, that’s a cute little noise there.
[Julie] You know, I’m sorry, I have a phone and I have Law And Order as my notification and so I need to turn this off. I apologize.