This is Circulating Ideas. I’m Steve Thomas. My guests today are the three candidates for the presidency of the American Library Association: Loida Garcia-Febo, Terri Grief and Scott Walter. Circulating Ideas is brought to you in support from the University of South Carolina’s School of Information Science and listeners like you.
Thank you Steve, I’m so happy to be on Circulating Ideas. It’s very exciting to me.
Good. I know we’ve, we’ve had kind of a casual friendship sort-of online for quite a while, so it’s, I’m glad to talk to you and I know I’ve, we’ve talked a couple of times at conferences in the past and very, very briefly had a couple of drive-bys at Midwinter, but didn’t get to sit down very much, but. The main question I want to start off with is sort of the broad thing that I’m sure you have already thought about cause. Why do you want to be ALA President?
Yes. I am a librarian and I am an activist. I serve as a library advocate every day. I wholeheartedly believe that together all ALA members and I together we can bring change to benefit our profession and the communities we serve. So my decision to run for ALA President is based on my experience advocating for libraries in the streets and sidewalks of New York City, where I live, on New York City Council, New York State Senate where we have our library advocacy days or when we go to train senators about diversity issues, at the US Congress during National Library Legislation they, and at the United Nations. Also, my background growing as a the daughter of a community organizer and a school librarian, and serving communities as an academic special in-school librarian in Puerto Rico, and as a public librarian in Queens. So, those are reasons why I’m running for president. I bring all that to the table and in these, these critical times we need to work together with people that can lead the association.
My vision for the association and my focus will be to build on the work of ALA Presidents, to strengthen ALA that will be the leading voice advocating for libraries and library users while maintaining our core values. ALA will have a place and a voice at the decision-makers table, particularly for those in our communities with no voice. We will amplify their concerns to Congress, at State House, in City Councils and school boards. ALA will build coalitions with like-minded partners sharing our values. And ALA will train our members to flourish through our careers, to serve and empower libraries, patrons, and communities. ALA will advance our concerns through actions conveyed by pillars of the ALA strategic plan. Advocacy, information policies, diversity and inclusion, and professional leadership development. Together I believe that together we can bring change to impact public policy, benefit our communities and our profession.
And how would you, how would you sort of translate that to librarians who are not currently members of ALA. How do you convince them that all that stuff that you just said, that’s important enough for them to join? Like how do you convince them that ALA is something that they should want to support and be a part of?
Yes. The American Library Association is the voice of libraries in our nation. Together the almost 60,000 members, together we are all ALA and as president I will seek to collaborate with all our current divisions, round tables, committees and groups so that everyone sees themselves represented in the association. I believe that together we can bring change for an association that will increasingly and in currently increasingly reflecting our society. And we need all library and information workers. Our members make up mirrors our societies demographic. For instance, our library users come from the front ethnic groups, LGBT populations, socioeconomic background and disabilities, reflecting our increasingly diverse society. So we need you, we need them, we, together we are stronger. I think it is important to build an organization that is sticking up for the first amendment and our freedoms and our core values. We need members support in services for vulnerable populations. So we need all those different people that you mention that are our current members. ALA provide professional development and educational opportunities. We facilitate networking our members and support advocating to place libraries on local and national agendas. So these are key elements needed by all professionals and librarians working inside libraries and those that are working in other areas all serving different communities. So we need to work together to do more to, to meet the needs of our colleagues. We need to identify those needs and strategize about how ALA different group can serve them.
So as you said we do serve these diverse communities, but whenever we do surveys of the profession we’re still overwhelmingly white, still overwhelmingly female, still overwhelmingly straight. How do we promote diversity within the profession? Like getting more people in who are, who reflect more diverse views? Either to encourage them to get MLS degree or just to work in libraries as para-professionals, just to get them in the. I know cause that’s very important for our libraries to reflect our communities, but how do we go about doing that cause it seems like we’ve tried in the past and nothing’s really been overly successful. But, what are your thoughts on that?
Yes and this is an area that deeply concerns me as a Latina and as a librarian. I’m very concerned about this. As ALA President I will focus on pillars reflecting ALA’s strategic plan including equity, diversity and inclusion. And my vision for the association includes an area where ALA will embed values of equity, diversity and inclusion in our association’s programs and services. Which will in turn impact our profession in large, the services provided by libraries, communities and generations of diverse individuals across our nation. And my line of actions include an ALA that will facilitate joint work among ALA units to promote equity, diversity and inclusion in our profession and the association. So ALA will work more closely with all the groups, the division, round tables, and the ethnic affiliates who support libraries and library workers to continue welcoming all members of our communities to the library and to provide access to information for all.
I believe that now more than ever it is important that we work together to advocate for legislation and policies that benefit all libraries and their funding and we will continue promoting intellectual freedom, human rights and our core belief that libraries are essential to democracy. So, in the midst of all these changes, I am confident we can bring, bring change, but I, I want to specifically mention that I absolutely support the recommendations of the ALA’s task force on equity, diversity and inclusion. And will focus on implementing them to encourage all offices, division, round table to review their goals and strategies and outcomes for diversity and inclusion periodically. And so this will take up to develop a strategy to mentor new members. To enhance perhaps our promotion and marketing so we can reach high schools, perhaps middle schools. We can go to the under-graduate levels and promote librarianship.
And, and, you know, for more diverse workforce and so we need to, like I said, mentor members and ensure inclusion of more of these members from underrepresented groups. Also, inside our association, in committees, task forces, and association activities there is an area that I want to pursue, increasing funding opportunities to support our participation at ALA conferences and meetings, that’s important. And also explore ways to increase continuing education for ALA members in the areas of diverse groups. And building connections between people who are not like themselves. I truly believe that we can do this, together we can bring this type of change. And we need to continue working with all the divisions, roundtables, groups, and mostly with the ethnic caucus, with the Office for Diversity and ODLOS; their most recent report from the task force on equity, diversity and inclusion is very comprehensive. And we need to support these findings now that the task force has moved to a stage of implementation. So, all the different offices and units of ALA can contribute.
And, sort of along those lines, once the, you said that task force has kind of entered implementation phase now, how do we improve communication with members so that members know about these, what’s happened with the task force and what’s happened with everything else, and how do we let everybody, cause we know all these great things ALA does, but how do we make sure that members, and I guess even non-members to encourage them to join, how do we improve communication with them so that they are more aware of all this great stuff that ALA is doing?
This is a very important point. We are living in a very fast-paced world. The way we communicate has changed so much over the years. There is more social media, more Facebook, Twitter, Instagram conversations, more real-time communication and we need to communicate to the membership what we are planning to do, what we are doing, so they are not, perhaps left thinking what, what is happening, right? What is going on in the association and for instance, if a situation comes up on a Friday afternoon, a situation, we need to ensure that we tackle it, that we respond to it in a timely manner, which to me in this case will be before Monday, right? So we are more effective and we need to communicate and open the channels more. And I am very happy that ALA has increased this type of communications through social media because we are more in that type of medium now.
But also they have increased other types of communications that are, that include some videos, some webinars, some online, and pod, podcasts as well. I’m happy to share that as a member of the Security Board I was very happy that during our Mid-Winter meeting we looked at a new protocol. So there is a new protocol in place now to address situations in a timely manner. For instance, you can see how when the Federal Communications Commission revoked all the designations of the lifeline broadband providers and that happened on Friday, February 3rd ALA worked over that weekend, and by Sunday night there was an email with a statement from ALA denouncing the FCC lifeline’s revocations and their report retractions because there were a few things involved. And on Monday morning, they worked over the weekend, and on Monday morning the statement was on the ALA website. So, there is another, another example I could give you. The current administration just rolled back protections for transgender students. The ALA President emailed Council that we were working on addressing this and that a press release would be distributed soon. That happened yesterday and today there was the statement and there was the email for all the members. So this is excellent communication and that is what I, and that’s what we all want in that vein. Communicating what are the plans, what are the steps, and then finally comes out a statement or a document or guidelines or bullet points or whatever is going to be. So, I’m happy that this is happening and for our, the people that are going to tune into Circulating Ideas, I just want to share the actual title of this statement that was distributed today. It’s “ALA Strongly Protects Rollback Of Protections For Our Nation’s Transgender Students”. And this type of process is, you know, this type of timely responsive communication process is what we need and I’m very happy that it’s happening.
Yeah, and I thought the ah, at the Town Hall they had at Midwinter was a good idea too, cause it was a good way to hear feedback from members as well.
And, if I may add on that vein, providing opportunities and spaces for the membership to express themselves and, gather what their needs are, very important. That Town Hall was very important and we hope that we have more open spaces for people to comment because there are many of our members that that like to, you know, go to the website and so now they can go, I just saw that there are some new interpretations to the Library Bill of Rights and people can go to Connect and write their comments so that’s another avenue and so now because, you know, it’s so important to have this type of space to compile everything and the online environment provides many good channels for that. So, in person and online, we are opening more, more areas and I am, am looking at that, I’m very happy.
What responsibility do you think libraries have to advocate for information literacy as we’re sort of in the political environment. I mean we don’t have to talk about specific politics, but a lot of talk about fake news and things like that. And that’s always been a professional ethic of ours, of information literacy, but now it seems like it’s more important than ever. What can libraries of all types, I mean but, public libraries, school libraries, academic libraries, do to help push that into the general public cause it seems like it’s always been important in school and academic libraries especially, but maybe not as much in public libraries, but now it seems like that’s important in everyday life now, or people are seeing the importance more. It’s always been important, but I think we’re seeing the importance now.
Yes, definitely. We have seen the need, the increase in the need for more of this type of work that we do and I, I started my career as a school librarian in Puerto Rico and from there I went to the University of Puerto Rico and to a special library. Then I moved to Queens and I was a public librarian there, and in all those different stages of my career, I’ve seen the importance of information literacy. We educate our patrons about how to access information first, right? How to access information, how to understand that information and how to use it. And we will continue doing this. The public good is one of our core values, so we are serving the public good in many, in many other areas too. We must preserve also, we must preserve intellectual freedom and promote critical thinking. So information literacy is an essential skill for our times, and libraries as you said, I totally agree with you, ah have a central role in providing this.
So, we are all hoping and providing our patrons coming to our doors, our desks to obtain accurate information and news and I’m proud of ALA for taking the lead, stating that libraries are fighting this so-called “fake news” and this is indeed a critical time. I want to just share with you something. The Oxford Dictionary declared that post-truth is the word of the year 2016, so action, action is needed. I, I see how ALA and its divisions, and IFLA and many other library associations and libraries themselves, have stated a common goal, you know, how we as librarians educate and advocate for critical thinking. Which is vital, and is a key skill that we need when navigating this, this information society and all this online stuff that is thrown at us every day and so it’s very important, that critical thinking evaluation of information. And many of these associations have put out different guides on how to do it and, and posters with very interesting icons and so making it very readable, kind of like easier for us and the patrons to understand and I applaud that, that’s very good. And this might be a challenge, you know, simply telling people to doubt what they are reading is not enough because there are people who will believe that. So we must share, constantly, share principles of verifiability, verifiability very interesting word.
Librarians are experts in knowledge, right? So, we help our patrons and patrons to find reliable information. I do like what the different ALA units have done, like I have said they have shared blogs and they have shared educational materials, there are posters and we’re all composing our, including ACRL, the Association of School Librarians, and different others. I do think there is a, I was working myself the other day a list of what we can do and it’s very interesting because we can help patrons to consider the source and then check the author, check the date, we have to check our biases, everybody has biases, read beyond, look for the supporting sources, consider if it’s a joke, that has to be in place now, in place now. And finally, we ask, or the patron can ask, the librarian, of course they can ask the librarian at first. But we can provide a type of, a list to guide them in their own process. And I found that, that these steps are helpful and I think that definitely as ALA President I will be supporting efforts to help our patrons to, in the, in the, their critical thinking of evaluation of information and work with our experts from the different library areas.
Excellent. Well do you have any final thoughts that you’d like to share with the listeners about your campaign, or about anything before we wrap up?
I do. I would like to share something and thank you so much because I, I love advocacy and I think it’s very important in our times. I believe in the power of advocacy, very strongly, and I think this is a great time to show that libraries are a powerful group. No matter what’s going on in the world, we are powerful and I believe that together we can definitely succeed. I have seen how librarians working together with civic society, partners from different public and private organizations, have made history and I need to share this with your audience because while, while I was advocating at the United Nations, I worked together with different stakeholders and we met with different people, country representatives, diplomats, consuls, and we were working with local librarians in their countries and they were connecting with us. It was a beautiful team effort, it was hard work, it took some time, but the point is that it was the team that was able to get a point, a library access to information on a document. This is the Sustainable Development Goals and this is a document that is used by countries to guide their own development and, and when they adopt a document from the United Nations, it means that they’re going to dedicate resources, finances, manpower, to this and this type of documents impact everybody and their constituents, women, children, everybody and so. And for the first time in history, libraries and access to information are in a document that is going to be used and guide countries in their development and so, but that was only possible because librarians got together and this is my message, that we were able to do that and, you know, a passionate team working together across borders, across oceans, and I believe that if ALA members, this wonderful team of almost 60,000 members, put all their efforts towards common goals, we can do even bigger things. So, I think we can be very powerful, I believe that together, yes we can, and I am very positive that together we can bring change to impact public policy, benefit our communities and our profession. So I will encourage everyone to join me and join Team Loida to continue working and bringing up issues moving forward our library agenda for everybody and for those with no voice.
Loida Garcia-Febo, thank you so much for talking to me and informing my listeners about your campaign and good luck in the election.
Thank you so much, Steve.
* * * * *
All right, I am here with Terri Grief who is the school librarian at McCracken County High School. Terri, welcome to the show.
Thank you, I appreciate the opportunity.
Well, the question everybody wants to know, of course, first is why do you want to be ALA President?
Well, you know, I, I thought a lot about this. I’m, I guess the first thing that I want to say, I guess, is that I’ve always been a association kind of a junkie. I, I love my professional association beginning when my very first meeting when a local library, I became a school librarian and one of the libraries across the country said hey we’re having a meeting Thursday night you want to come? And it just started from there because I’ve always found that, especially as a school librarian, up until this new high school that I’m in now, I’ve always been by myself, I’ve always been at, an only in the school and so to be able to go to a group of people that I knew exactly what I was talking about when I said this or that or the other and nobody looking at me oddly, or, I just have always found that community very very powerful, and so from that local group I got involved with my state association and served as the president of the Kentucky Association School of Librarians and then I became the president of the Kentucky Library Association and then those positions pushed me into, to the ALA world and I found. I remember the very first meeting I went to at ALA and I walked into a room of, it was, it’s called the Affiliate Assembly of the American Association School Librarians and I looked around the room and I almost cold chills. I, like, all these people are my peeps, you know, they are the ones who think the way I think, they know exactly what an, and it’s just been a profound experience for me.
I was lucky enough then to get to be elected to the ALA Executive Board from the Council and I just felt I was one of the few school librarians that had been on that, as in that position and I felt like what I could bring to the table was a really powerful voice for school librarians and, and school children especially. And so, it’s just been, I guess it’s just grown from there. I’ve been passionate about what we do as librarians and I feel like I can be that voice of passion for the, the larger association. I, I guess I’ve always felt like I was kind of good at association work and that I was able to build relationships that have, not, I mean selfishly helped me but also I feel like have been a powerful way that we connect and that’s through our associations. So, I just, you know, they ask me to put my name forward and I did and, and so it’s all come to that.
Well, sort of I guess, to transition from that, you’ve, so, a lot of good things about what you like, like about ALA, but how do you, how would you as president sort of try to convince those librarians who are not currently members of ALA to join? Like, what, what is the pitch there to them to them of why they should join? What can ALA do for them?
Well you know I think that’s the deal. So, I’ve felt like as school librarians, a lot of school librarians have not felt like big ALA was their, speaking for them because a lot of times when you hear something that comes from ALA it automatically seems like they’re talking about public librarians or public libraries, but when we saw that the ESSA, every school every student succeeds at, got passed only when the whole of ALA got them, themselves behind it, that’s what’s in it for them. Now, it’s still, it’s a hard sell, I, I have, I don’t know how to convince people that they have a duty to their, to, because they need to have that for the association because one of the things that you don’t have to be a member to get the benefits of ALA.
I mean there’s a few things that are behind the screens, but we, we do, in Kentucky we try to make the difference in how much it costs to be a member and how much it costs to attend a conference without being a member, those, to make it really lucrative to be a member. But, some people will say, well heck my school pays for that so I don’t have to pay for that out of my pocket, you know it, in, And a lot of people look at it a financial way, but it is, I, and I feel like it’s a, we, sometimes I feel like we give away too much for free as librarians, as ALA, but when I’ve said that in public people are like oh no, that’s a terrible thing to say. But, we don’t, we don’t want people to be members to enjoy, we don’t say only members get to have, it’s kind of the same thing with our education association. If NEA is speaking or teachers, if a teacher, if a contract is, is, you know, something across the United States gets passed, it benefits all teachers, not just members.
So, I think the best that I can do is be a cheerleader for ALA and talk to people about what ALA has done for them because we, we, whenever we talk about intellectual freedom or somebody has a challenge, who’s there to back them whether they’re a member or not? ALA’s there to back them, but those, the reason that we have intellectual freedom the way we do now in this country is because of ALA and the Freedom to Read Foundation. So, I think in this really difficult times that we’re having, that we’re going to have I think in the next four years or maybe, hopefully they haven’t been out that long, but, you know what, just the things that he’s doing, the President is doing now with that, the fact that our children, our transgender children and ALA’s going to speak out against those kind of things, I hope that people will see the need to support them just like ACLU, their, you know, the, the donations ACLU have been increased because of their actions. I wish that everybody would feel like it was the most important thing to be a part of because it’s my professional association and I want to be a part of it. But, unfortunately, that’s not true. But I won’t give up, I will keep trying and that’s one thing I think I’m in, this hardheaded and I will, every place that I go and speak I will talk to people about why ALA’s good to, why it’s important to be a member of ALA and what we can do to. The more people we have the better off we’ll be. Not, and I’m not talking about financially, I’m talking about a solidarity with one another.
Well, kind of along those lines, how do you see that ALA can improve its communication with its members so. We know that you do all these great things, but maybe sometimes the word is not getting out to people, or people feel like they don’t have a voice. Like how can you, how can we give members more of a voice? And to make sure the organization is hearing them? And then how can the organization communicate better with their members?
Well, I do think that we are, it’s a big association, it’s a big organization and I do feel like we have the opportunities to listen, but sometimes it doesn’t get to the right person, people, or sometimes it doesn’t get in the right place. So, I think there’s methods that can be done to set up some communication techniques that we haven’t tried. You know, one of the things we still do, and I still read them, but we still do everything with email and a lot of people have not, do not do that anymore, so maybe going to once more of the social media aspect. I don’t know if everybody knows about the podcasts that the ALA offers.
Let’s see. It’s, it’s, is it Jamie LaRue that does it? Anyway, I think it’s the ALA publication, but there’s a podcast that I listen to that’s great, you know, so some of the.
The Dewey Decibel one?
The Dewey Decibel one, yes. Oh, it’s just hilarious, I mean it’s really, really good and I’m not sure that people know about that unless you just happen on it. So, one of the things I have a hard time with is, and this is, I don’t want to, I’m not saying mean, but sometimes we as librarians don’t read very much. So, you get lets of stuff and, and we don’t read. Right now, we have issues with people who say I haven’t ever heard of that, well did you know that, you know, I’ve sent you an email on that. So, so we have to figure out different ways because they’re not getting it sometimes that way. I do love the idea that, and I never have been a huge Twitter person, but ever since this election has, it’s the first thing I do in the morning is see what happened overnight and I look at Twitter and the reason I look at Twitter is because I’ve got people that I know that they, I believe what they’re saying, I don’t have to deal through a lot of under, I guess I’m looking at people that I agree with and news sources that I agree with, that I don’t have to fight through to get to the top stories. And, so I feel like we can use those kind of techniques with ALA. Maybe smaller, quicker, a lot and more instead of longer messages. I still think probably the, one of the most, read things that we have at ALA is American Libraries that I still think people like to get that hard copy of American Libraries in their mailboxes every other month, and they take time to read it. I think we’ve got pretty good statistics on that. But that’s only every other month. So, the big things that can be communicated could be through that. But, I do like the idea of smaller and more frequent.
Yeah, I like also the American Libraries has an email newsletter as well that comes out once or twice a week, but a sort of top news that keep you on top of library, library world kind of news, so that’s nice.
Well as you talked about, the political environment currently is not maybe the most ideal for libraries, so how do you see the ALA can help advocate for libraries in our current political environment?
Well I think that we have to not give up, and I, I, sometimes I, right after the election I felt like, and I never have felt like that, I’ve always, you know, not every election has the person I voted for won, but I’m, I was very, I can only say devastated by this election. And I’m a 60 year old white woman, so it’s not like it’s going to change, you know, and the feel like it’s probably let, affecting me less if I was a Muslim woman, or a younger woman even. But, I’ve felt, so I felt really, really bad about it and I just, and I’ve grieved about it and I’ve kind of gotten over that because I feel like we’re seeing that there are people that are going to stand up, stand up for us and stand with us and those are the people that we’re going to have to target.
So the ACLU, the Muslim associations, the Jewish associations, the Women’s associations, those kind of things that, you know, the Mexican associations, those kind of things that we, are we are going to have to unite with those people that are, that have not been sort of our, our next-door neighbors, but that are standing for rights of people that, and we want to stand with them. I am not sure, and I, I know that where, there are a lot of people in Congress that will still support us. We’re gonna have, we’re gonna have some battles I think, but I don’t think that we can ever give up and I think that the, the libraries resist thing is coming on Twitter now, it’s pretty interesting that, showing that libraries are activists, librarians are activists for their communities and for their patrons. I think that’s really, really important, it’s showing people that while we may have not had the reputation of being fighters because we’re probably not so much of fighters, but that when we, when we feel like someone is being mistreated or bad, our patrons are being harmed by actions that we’re going to fight back, and so maybe we might make some enemies, you know, we might, we might lose some funding, but, you know, what we might lose funding anyway if we, if we agree with everything that he said because it’s all up in the air, and, and Steve Bannon? and I don’t know if he even, you know, has even every walked in a library, but I’m, I’m probably, you know, he’s not going to be one of our best friends. But I do feel like we have some friends, and we can’t forget that, and we also have a lot of other groups that we can unite with and I think it’s going to be tough, I really do, but I’m, I also think we’re stubborn and we, we have right on our side and what we’re doing is the best for our society, our democratic society. We have been, you know, the, the people have stood for intellectual freedom, and for privacy and all the things that make our democracy great and not, and that’s what makes America great. It’s not what, you know, it’s not throwing people under the bus or throwing people out of our country that make America great.
So I, I feel like we’re going to have a tough time but I also feel really, really, really proud to be a librarian right now and I feel really proud of us when we stand up and say that’s wrong when you hurt transgender children and which is what ALA’s statement came out. So I’m, I’m proud of it, I think it’s going to be tough, but I also think that we are really united. I may, and one of my friends said, is that’s a conservative said how do you feel, put something on Facebook I think, and she said well, you know, would this bother your campaign that you put something as it was, you know, very liberal and I said, well I can actually say probably most, most librarians are on the liberal side and they said, and I’m not saying that any, but and I, and I respect if somebody has, I try not to challenge anybody has that voting thing, but I do challenge when it hurts other people. You know, they voted for, and that my friend probably did vote for that other person and that person, I can hardly stand to say his name, but I can, I mean that is, that was her choice and I’m proud, I’m glad that she has that right. But, it was funny to see that how, we’re very close friends and how much we didn’t agree on political issues. But that’s way off the subject. But anyway, I’m just saying I think that we, I’m very proud to be part of this group during this time.
Well, as you said, we can team up with all these other organizations to help bring these other viewpoints into, into, into our view. But, how, how do we promote diversity within our own profession because we want to reflect our own communities, but as we know as, whenever they do a survey of it, I mean it’s overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly, female, straight, all that stuff. How, so how do we get more people number one, you know into library schools and then just our paraprofessional staff as well. How do we get more diverse staff into our profession?
Well, you know, I’ve, I’ve been thinking about that and we really have to, so that’s a strategic plan, strategic area that ALA Council voted to add that as a strategic plan. But, you know, all these years that we’ve said this was so important as we’ve given to the Office of Diversity to take care of, one office for our whole association, and then expect something to change. So, I, we have to give, if we, if it’s really an, an area that we’re concerned about, and I really believe it is, we have to give it to every unit and every division and the American Library Association. So, we need to ask for, for example, the school librarians what are you doing to promote diversity in your profession? Because, we’re totally, I mean not totally, but I don’t know, I can’t even, I’m not going to guess a number, but let’s say 75% of us are white women, you know, that are school librarians, so what can we do? So, I think we have to give this to everybody to take part of and I think when we do that we’ll see some results. I really like the idea of working with some of the, with the ethnic caucuses.
I like the idea of doing some social, some, some career fairs. Maybe at, so I, I have a, this idea that I could help, not me personally, but some people that I could, get a group to, to develop some kind of campaigning PowerPoint and they take it on the road. So, I would be glad to go to my local university and talk to the students that are, the rising seniors that are going to career fairs, hey have you thought about librarianship? And, not, not just targeting, that would target a lot of kids. I mean you wouldn’t just go and say, only if you’re of color, or, but, but I’m saying that they don’t even think about that. They don’t think that because we haven’t advertised ourself well. And it wouldn’t even be, it wouldn’t even be, it wouldn’t be a thing that would cost anything cause I’m, I know we have volunteers in every, every college town that I know of has a, a librarian that’s a, that’s a member and that would be glad to spend a couple of evenings a year recruiting. So, that would be a really simple, easy thing.
I think about going to the, I think it’s called the, I, I looked this up before but there’s an association for Hispanic students, and, that, and, well it’s gone out of my head now, but, you know, they could, talk to them about, about doing some work with their, with their group because I don’t know that we’ve ever reached to them, like we’ve said Office of Diversity you taking care, you just take care of this and I think that’s why, that it hasn’t changed, and I think back from SCONSAR?, had, it’s been a wonderful program and we’ve gotten great people, but the numbers haven’t changed since that, the, since that was started. So, there’s ideas out there, I, I think about, there’s a really good, the, I’m going back to Twitter again, I’m sound like I’m a Twitter fanatic and I’m not that fanatic, but just that they, there’s just a lot of good ideas on there. But, one of them is that we need diverse books. Well, the, we need diverse books, why don’t we do one that says we need diverse librarians and start advertising on Twitter that we, you know, talk about what it means to be a librarian, about what a, a great profession it is, and I think we could do a lot, you could do, this would cost some money but I’m not, I’m not, I think we could get some funding, but if in every public library, every public librarian gets some kind of pack, promotional packet from ALA that talks to, that, that targets their patrons and says have you ever thought about librarianship as a career. And, and gives them some information about that.
So, I feel like we’ve just gotta all pitch in and stop saying oh, cause if you saw that, did you see the report from the task force on the diversity inclusion and equity report, it was still like, there was like 50 things on there and 35 of them were for the Office of Diversity to take care of. And that’s, that’s just one office, you know. So, we’ve all got to take it and that’s, sort of my idea with really promoting ALA as a, as a, as, as one strong powerful association that we’ve got to start taking care of each other and not living in our little silos to be reckoned with.
Right. So, another big thing around the news now is the whole idea of fake news and different people have different ideas of what that means, whether you’re a conservative or a liberal or Trumpy or whatever, whatever you are, different people have different ideas of that, but, librarians, as librarians we’ve always kind of thought about information literacy and it seems like that’s more important than ever now. How do you see the organization can help promote information literacy on a wider sense cause we sort of, in the schools and academic librarians, we get, we get that little bit more, but maybe we need to push that more in public libraries to make sure people in everyday life are continuing to think critically.
Right. Oh I’m telling ya, it’s, it’s so important and I, I just had these kids this, today we’re printing letters to our Senator McConnell and they were reading, whatever, and I’m really going to talk to the teacher about it, I tried to call her this afternoon but I did learn that, whatever they were reading was not what the story, they, they were not, they were either misinterpreting what they were reading or they were reading some, some junk, because one of them was about how glad he was that they were going to get rid of the, to change the Affordable Care Act because he was going to become a new father in the next few months and he needed to have health insurance and I’m like oh my gosh. And, and that his employer would provide, I’m, I’m like you didn’t even, you didn’t get it, you know. So, it’s, it’s, that’s critical that a kid that is 18 and is becoming a dad thinks that this is going to be good for him, you know.
So, yeah, I think we’d better do a lot of work with that and I just can’t. So, we’ve talking about this for years. We talk about, with high school students, I never have used the word fake news until Petergate? came out, but I have always talked about whether, how they could trust a source, you know, and how they could find out if they could trust a source and that’s even hard because there, the stuff like if it comes from Breitbart News and it’s a source, you know, so then you’ve got to talk about biases and all stuff. So, it’s a really complicated thing for kids I know and we’ve gotta do something, I don’t know if there, there could be some. You know the thing is with adults I’m not positive they want to know if they, I , so I think we’ve got our ideas made up and that’s why when you think how could they, somebody believe that and then they’re, you see them on TV and they’re like he did, he’s doing this great thing, you know this is going to be great, and not, how, how would you think that. So, they really don’t trust the, they don’t trust people that are the media, they don’t trust media unless it comes from a certain group and I don’t, so I don’t know how to fight that, except that we can’t just give up and that’s what I keep telling myself every day when I get up, I just, I can’t give up. I’ve got to keep talking, I’ve got to keep sharing, you know, and as an association that’s what we’ve got to do. We just can’t give up.
Yeah, cause you get, you have to fight that confirmation by some people just want to hear what they already believe, and they don’t believe in anything outside of that.
Right. And that’s, and that’s me on Twitter. I mean that’s exactly what I do. I, I only took, I, I don’t look at the people I, well I actually do sometimes because somebody will post something and I’ll look and see what they said because they’re usually saying something mean about what he said. But you know, that’s kind of the way, and but I’m thinking I’m the right guy, I’m doing the right way, you know, so I really, sometimes I feel bad that I don’t, I do, I do know what the other side is saying because it’s, that’s in the news. But I can’t, they’re not going to convince me that, that they’re right, you know? And so I’m thinking that other people are too. It’s just I feel like there’s more of us now that are wanting to speak out and that we were really, really quiet before. So, all these protests I think have, in, in all of these congressional town hall meetings, I think it’s been fantastic that people that have not be politically active are now. I mean, I could say that I’ve always known about political activism and I’ve always felt like I was, you know, I’ve always voted and, and campaigned for certain parties and certain people, but I’ve never been as involved I don’t think as I am now by keeping up with it everyday. So, you know, maybe there’s a good thing coming from all this. But, anyway.
All right, well.
We’ve got to keep on going. That’s just the thing, you know, just think every day you just, if we just and librarians are the ones, and we’re a trusted part, one of the most trusted professions, you know, so if we’re saying to people, I mean we can’t say you’re wrong, but we can say hey, here’s this or that, you know. I mean we can, especially in a public library, don’t think you can go in and tell people what they can read, cause that would be certainly not what we would hope to do. But, being informed is, I think, that’s, you know, important for all of us.
Right. So, do you have any last words that you’d like to leave for the listeners about your campaign or anything you’d like them to know about you or your campaign that we haven’t talked about yet?
Well, I do want to, I guess I could just say that I’ve been a school librarian for 28 years and I have loved every, most every day of it. But, I’ve also represented the Kentucky as a Kentucky Association school library, I mean the Kentucky Library Association President and I was also the Chapter Councilor for Kentucky Library Association, so I, I do recognize all, I think I could represent all, all librarian types and, so I do want to say too that a school librarian hasn’t been an actual, building another school librarian has not been an ALA President for almost 20 years so I think it’s time and I hope that people will be politically active and vote. I’ve been doing some research on school librarians, for example, the last 3 years there’s been about a thousand people voted out of the 7,000, you know, or almost 8,000 members. So, hopefully we can get numbers and maybe, you know, this other election that we’ve been through will help people to be more politically active and they’ll, they’ll make their voices known.
And, and I do feel like I’m running against some really fine and high caliber people and I, I hope that I win, but I wouldn’t, I won’t be brokenhearted, I won’t be, I won’t be embarrassed if one of them beats me cause they’re both very talented and, and very fine people as well. So.
Yeah, everybody just has their own strengths and so it’s not like the organization’s going to fall apart if it, any of them, any of the three of you don’t win, it’s not going to be like the end of libraries forever, so. Just go in different directions.
That’s always the nice part about the ALA elections, I think they’ve always put quality people on, you know, up to have it, to be able to chose from, so. I just feel, one more thing I might add is I think my experience going to be especially valuable because ALA will be selecting a new Executive Director and I think because of my long-term experience in the association, I think that will be a good plus for me, for the, for the association for me to have that experience.
All right, well, Terri Grief, thank you so much for coming on and talking to my listeners and letting them know more about your campaign, so everybody’s more educated and good luck in the election.
All right, thanks, Steve.
* * * * *
So now I’m talking with Scott Walter, he’s the university librarian at DePaul University. Scott, welcome to the show.
Thank you for having me.
People who listen regularly know that you’re, we talked briefly in the episode I had recorded at Midwinter, so this is going to be sort of a, a little more drawn version of that to get a little more detail. So if you want to listen to that for a little more information they can, but we’ll go over a couple of new things here. But, for people who didn’t listen to that one necessarily, let’s start with the big question of why did you want to run to be ALA President?
When, when you put your name forward for a candidate, or as a candidate for a professional position service opportunity, or, or even for ALA President, I think you do it because you believe the work is important. You believe that you have the experience, the skills, the imagination and the commitment to make a contribution to the good of the organization and, and because you want to make a difference in your world. I decided to run for ALA President because I believe the association has a critical role to play in defense of freedom of speech, equity of access to information, social justice, the public good and because I believe that each of these currently faces challenges that are unprecedented in my lifetime. I believe that ALA has the potential to develop, sustain and mobilize a powerful network of members at the local, state and national levels, and it has a responsibility to do this work and to do it in collaboration with other associations and with grassroots organizations in defense of our core values and the rights of library staff and library users.
I probably said that when we spoke at Midwinter, but certainly the environment for it has only increased in the weeks since, and in that context, I think library advocacy including advocacy for the rights of our staff, the people in our communities looks different in 2017 than it did in 2016 and all signs suggest that this change will only continue. In that time since Midwinter, we’ve seen challenge after challenge to our, the fundamental freedoms that we associate with intellectual freedom with access to information, access to information networks, to social institutions such as public schools, to civil society more broadly. ALA as an association has started to react effectively to these challenges and to position itself as an activist organization that will defend those rights. We saw that just this morning, as I record this with you, in ALA’s support for transgender students. But this is a marathon, not a sprint and, and we need to ensure that ALA leadership remains committed to this path for the long haul. I believe it is doing this now and I believe it will continue to do this under the leadership of President-Elect Jim Neal and I would be proud and excited to have the opportunity to continue to build on that work and to ensure that ALA is firmly established as a leader in defending our core values. The rights of our, the people in our communities and the role of our libraries as a public good. Those are the things that, that got me started in November/December and have kept me moving through this election process.
And, I always say I think I may have mentioned this to you at Mid-Winter and I mention it on the show I think every time I interview the candidates, that this is not like a typical, you know, presidency, political campaign where you are like “Loida and Terri will destroy our libraries if they win!” It’s a, we’re much more congenial than, as we are as a, as a profession. That we all kind of get along kind of thing. But, what do you see kind of as your strength that differentiates you as a candidate?
I think you’re right, that you know we do have three strong candidates and, and we are lucky in, in that way. I think things that differentiate me as a candidate, our experiences are different, certainly. I am working now, of course, not just as a librarian but as a librarian who is embedded in a, in a, in a organization, in a university that is very closely tied to many of these issues. A strong commitment to social justice, a strong commitment to the community, a strong commitment to building connections with a variety of grassroots organizations and networks here in the city of Chicago. That’s work that I’ve been doing here in Chicago for the last five years, it’s the potential that drew me to DePaul five years ago. And it’s that commitment and the opportunities that I think I’ve had to work across these networks in the city over the last few years that may be a, a, a special potential that I bring to this position, whether it’s again working with, with libraries, with, with other cultural heritage organizations, public schools, with community being, based groups that serve refugees, asylum seekers, that’s all work that we do here and it’s work that I am on the ground doing as a librarian and thinking about the library contribution to this, it’s also work that I’ve done, especially in support over the last several years in building coalitions around support for public school libraries, something that’s been very much challenged here in the city of Chicago and in other places over the last few years.
So, my orientation toward this idea of the association, rethinking and invigorating and expanding its advocacy message, taking a strong stance in support of our core values.
And, work, thinking creatively about the partnerships that we might bring to that work. I think those are, are capacities that I have. I don’t believe that I am unique in that, I think that, again, my, my colleagues in the, in the race also have some of these same strengths, but I would like to think that, that, that I do bring a, a particular capacity for particular commitment to it and a willingness that I think I’ve demonstrated to think creatively, to ask challenging questions and to really focus on what this association may need to do in the current environment to remain an active component in, in this advocacy network, in this activist network and to bring a, a message to the membership that will invigorate them, that will engage members across the association and really think powerfully about the connections of the association at the national level, as well as at the state and local level, to rethink that, that value proposition of what ALA means in the lives of its members.
Yes, so you’ve talked a little bit about, in both your answers there of the, the good things that ALA does. How do you communicate that to members and then not only that but how do you communicate that to the librarians who aren’t members in a way that should convince them, oh hey I should join ALA because my contribution matters, because?
Sure. What, there are two questions there. One, I think. One about improving communication to members and one about helping to engage people who are not currently members, or may have once been members and are no longer members to come back into the fold.
In, improving the communication is always an issue and ALA is a large and diverse organization. Both at the national level and at the state and local level and I think we’ve heard that quite a bit through this campaign. About how to improve communication between ALA as an association and individual members and how to improve ALA communication in terms of big ALA and ALA units like divisions and round tables, chapters. I, communication will always be a challenge in an organization of this size and diversity, but I believe it is crucial to make the promise of improved communication to your members at every level and to make good on that promise. That would always be true, but especially now. These are very unsettled times in many libraries. At the individual level, at the organizational level and at the level of the broader communities of which we are a part and in those unsettled times, communication becomes even more important. Now I think ALA has heard that message over the last several months. Big ALA. I think ALA’s done a good job, I mean starting to adjust to this new reality by communicating more regularly about policy issues and about the public positions that the association takes. I believe it established a successful test run at Mid-Winter of a Town Hall forum, at conference on a topic that drew a lot of concern among members and really did foster a broader communication among the people who were there and who were able of course to tune in through, through video.
I think the Office of Intellectual Freedom, which has suddenly become even more on the front lines than it was before, I think they have done good work in terms of stepping up their game, in terms of providing opportunities for communication, but there needs to be more and that communication to be more than one directional coming from ALA to the members, and it has to recognize that, the different levels of the association to which people are attuned and to which their communication networks are attuned. I think that, that thinking creatively about the way in which the big ALA, national ALA engages its units, its divisions, its round tables, its chapters, affiliates is critical to this effort to improve and enhance communication and to the effort to establish ALA as a significant player at the national and state levels where advocacy and activism of this type are going to be key in the coming years. That’s communication within the association. I think we’re doing good work, I think we need to do more and I think we need to establish mechanisms that, that recognize and build on the potential of the, the diversity of the association and its multiple layers.
Now, in terms of how you communicate the value of ALA membership to people who are not currently members. This is, is critical as well and, and when we talk about ALA we should distinguish between again national ALA and chapters and local representations of the association because we know from talking with our colleagues, from membership surveys, we know that those two things are different and that there are many people who chose to be involved in ALA at the state level, at the local level, and choose not to be involved at the national level, and that tells me that they appreciate the value of membership in that place where they live, and may not see as much the value of membership and active engagement at the national level. If that is the case, that’s something that we have to address and I think we address that in, in a couple of ways. We know that there are certain things that ALA members routinely say. They appreciate ALA for, and they come to ALA for. One of those things is certainly professional development and one of those things is certainly networking and the opportunity to work directly with your colleagues in order to learn more about the work you’re doing, to find new ideas, to improve your work and so on, and third, the opportunity for leadership and for service, and to do work that individuals see as meaningful to their lives. People can choose to do that at the state level in terms of ALA. In my case the Illinois Library Association. People can choose to do that the national level and I think ALA can do more work to really demonstrate why it is valuable to people, to continue to be involved and active and engaged as a member of the American Library Association at the national level. But we have to step up that game because people, I think, again, in these times people are making real choices, real choices about where they’re going to invest their time, where they’re going to invest their funds, where they’re going to invest their commitment to make a difference in things that really matter to them and the things that matter to them, of course, have become very diverse and, and again, in some cases under threat, you know. You’re, you’re, you may have a real commitment to women’s rights, you may have a real commitment to intellectual freedom, you may have a real commitment to public schools, you may have a real commitment to information policies that allow equitable access, you may have a real commitment to the idea of American society as one that flourishes when diverse views and diverse communities and immigrant communities are part of the fabric of our lives. And all of those commitments could take your full time effort at this point.
So, when we talk about why you should join ALA, I think the ask is very different for people today than it was when I joined in the late 1990’s. There was no question when I got out of library school in 1998 that I would be an ALA member, in fact I joined as a student, as, as many people did because there was no question that ALA was important for your professional development. And that you were going to gain something and you were going to be able to meaningful work by being part of ALA. Twenty years later, that value proposition is different and it’s different for a number of reasons and I think we have to recognize that and we have to think to ourselves not as if people naturally think of joining ALA as the, as I did, but that we will have to make clear the important work that ALA does as a national player in defense of these core values, in defense of these core principals of our profession and in terms of how it will prepare its members and help its members and benefit from the work that its members do to protect those values, to advance those policy initiatives and to help people to make more of a difference on the ground, in the work that they do in the communities where they live. And I think if we can make that case, then we can make a strong case for people to join or to rejoin or to move from a passive membership where one attends conferences and programs to a more active leadership, or a, I should say a more active membership where people are taking on those leadership roles and really using their work through ALA to do work that makes a difference in their lives.
Yeah, and I feel like that’s somewhat of the solution, or not part of the solution anyway to the not my ALA kind of movement is well what have you tried to move it? I mean obviously there may come a point when you just think that the organizations never going to change and you’re going to quit, but have you tried to make it change first before you just quit. I mean we have to make it our organization, you know it has to make it, you have to make it my ALA, you have to make it personal and work, work on it. You can’t just expect them to change without you helping.
That’s right and I think that we’ve already seen some movement, I think, you know, I think that ALA leadership heard the concerns that were raised in the fall and heard the concerns that were raised at Mid-Winter and have recognized that there is support within the membership for, for moving in certain directions, for taking a stand on certain positions, for not positioning the library as a neutral organization and, and I think that’s for the positive. I think the other thing that can happen is, is for us to really begin to recognize at the highest level of, of recognition within the association the great work that does happen at the state and local level. We do that and you see that, for example, when a, an effort that an individual library or state association has championed around, say the libraries transform campaign gets brought up to the, to the top level, the association gains recognition. There’s a lot of that sort of activity and not just around transform. There’s a lot of that sort of activity and initiative and creativity happening at the state and local level in part because many people are choosing to, to take on that leadership role or to have that more engaged membership at the state level and so when you start to see initiatives that have developed at the state level, that really are of the quality and of the impact and of the broad relevance that we might have 20 years ago associated with only the work that could be done at the national level, that needs to be championed, it needs to be recognized and ALA becomes not a parent/child relationship of national ALA and chapters or divisions, but really more of a woven spoke where, where big ALA is at the center of a really deeply engaged network of professional associations.
Some at the division level, some at the chapter level, and we’re really looking at this as the unique network that it is, of people working at these different levels, contributing at these different levels to the areas of their expertise or the areas of their personal commitment and, and looking at that entire perspective as what ALA is.
Right, well, Scott do you have any last words you want to give to potential voters?
I think that the last words that I would leave of course for the voters is to encourage them to vote. We’ve seen not just in ALA elections, but in recent national and state elections how important making your voice heard is through your vote. I think all of the candidates will say that. What I would hope that people would do if they think about the, the choice they want to make, is to think about the trajectory they would like to see ALA move in, the focus that they would like to see national ALA leadership take and the opportunities that they would like to see for themselves within the association. I’ve been a member for 20 years. ALA has always been important to me, but it has felt over the last six months like an association that has a, a, I said it before, critical role to play in the work that needs to be done. That’s the work that I’m committed to doing, that’s the work that I’m committed to working with a broad, and diverse representation of our members and, in terms of doing, and that is the work that I would like to see us do, bringing that national ALA and that local ALA together. Putting ALA at the center of a network of like-minded associations and organizations that want to do work that matters. That will protect not just our libraries, but the rights of our library staff and the rights of our library users, and our broader communities. That is the work that needs to be done, that is the work that we can do together and that is the work that I hope we will have the opportunity to do, should you choose to vote for me come, come election time. Regardless, I believe this is the work that we will do and I look forward to being able to do it in whatever capacity the association asks of me in the coming, in the coming years.
Scott Walter thank you for your time and for talking to my listeners.
Thank you, sir.