ALA Presidential Candidates (2018)

This is Circulating Ideas. I’m Steve Thomas. My two guests today are the 2018 candidates for American Library Association President. Peter Hepburn is the Head Librarian at the College of the Canyons, and Wanda Brown is the Director of Library Services for the C G O’Kelly Library at Winston Salem State University. Circulating Ideas is brought to you with support from listeners like you. Find out how you can help by going to

Peter, welcome to Circulating Ideas.

Thank you.

The big question, of course, when anybody runs for ALA President is, “Why do you want to be ALA President?”

[laughs] Because I think I have more that I can offer to the Association. I’ve spent 18 years in the Association doing increasingly greater involvement. Starting off in the round tables, working my way up to Council and the Executive Board. I’ve seen the work that the president does, it’s something I believe I can do and having worked closely with a few presidents in my time on the executive board, it’s a job that I want to do. I believe that I can contribute something to ALA, and this is the next step for me.

What unique skills would you bring to the position?

I have very good knowledge and familiarity with the Association having spent so much time working in the round tables and the divisions on various committees, working on finance committees, conference committees, governance, spending time on council. I have a very good overview of the Association that I can bring to the position, and I think that’s going to be very important in the 2019-2020 presidency year because that’s the year when a new Executive Director will be appointed for ALA to replace Mary Ghikas. So, I think that that new Executive Director will really benefit and be able to find their footing within ALA by having a partner in the president who does have that rich knowledge and experience within the Association.

So, you brought up the Executive Director, so I’ll ask you the one controversial question I have [laughs] which is, you know which one it is, should the Executive Director have an MLIS?

I believe that it should be preferred. I believe that it opens up the pool to a broader population that will include people such as other library workers, support staff, administrators, as well as trustees, friends of libraries. I know the argument that it’s necessary to have one of the two degrees that were required before, in order to demonstrate some commitment to ALA’s core values, but I think there are many people who work within libraries and who work for libraries, or alongside libraries who also demonstrate that value.

I see it as analogous to how in job descriptions that we post in our own libraries we often say X degree or a certain amount of work experience is necessary. It’s analogous to that for me and I think that it helps us take advantage of a much broader pool of people who have demonstrated that commitment to libraries.

You mentioned also earlier talking about working with previous ALA Presidents. Who’s somebody, it doesn’t have to be a previous president, but who’s somebody who’s inspired you in your professional career? And what’s something important that you kind of learned from them?

One person that has inspired me I worked with is Courtney Young. When she was president I was on the Executive Board. Courtney, I thought did a very, very smart thing for ALA. In past years there have been presidential initiatives that have come up year by year. Some of them have been really excellent, some of them have taken ALA in some new directions. I don’t think that’s what ALA needs right now. I think ALA is going through a period of transition where taking it off in some new direction based on my own particular interests in ALA is a bit of a mistake and what Courtney did was that she said that her, the people who came before her, Barb Stripling was her immediate past president, the work that was started under her predecessors was important to continue and rather than taking ALA off in some other direction, Courtney wanted to ensure that the work that was already being done came to fruition. I thought that was a really excellent model in that something that I want to emulate. There’s work going on in ALA right now, for example, with the task force on equity, diversity and inclusion. It’s recommendations are being implemented by a working group. I think it’s important that those be fully addressed before we go off in some new avenue. Similarly, there’s a task force on sustainability that’s about to deliver it’s results to the Executive Board at the annual conference in June.

So, I’d like to be able to work on what that task force outcome is rather than something entirely new. So, although I’ve worked with a number of people and taking a lot from many of them in terms of their style, the way that they manage meetings and that, Courtney is someone I really relate to and would like to emulate.

How would you work to increase diversity in the profession?

There’s sort of the global view which ALA would take, and I thought Jim Neal had a very interesting idea, and that’s to not necessarily go out to the universities and try to get people who are in their undergraduates interested in pursuing one of the masters degrees, but reach back even further into high school and start working with high school counselors and showing them that librarianship and other related fields is a valid career direction, it’s a really interesting career direction, and excite people in high school. And so, to be able to get the people, including people from diverse backgrounds, into the pipeline at that earlier age.

There’s also what I need to do locally. So, when I hire locally I need to work with HR more carefully. The last time we did a librarian search here at my college, we had, frankly, a very small pool, and the pool was almost entirely homogeneous. Without giving too much detail there, but it made me sit and wonder what is it about the job posting that we’re doing wrong. Because I reached out to the ethnic affiliates, my contacts within them and asked them to spread the word, but somehow we failed. And so, is it a failure locally with our language, with what we’re asking for? So I think there’s two things that need to happen. One is what ALA is doing for the entire profession, in terms of reaching out at the earlier age. But also what I’m going to implement locally; how I put my money where my mouth is so to speak.

As ALA President you would, of course, also be the President of the ALA-APA, the Allied Professional Association, which would allow you to work on issues that promote individual librarians and library workers whereas ALA, of course, is just libraries as a broader thing. How would you approach the ALA-APA side of the position? And what kinds of issues do you think you would want to champion in that role?

Goodness. You know, you’re the first person to have asked about ALA-APA in all these months of the campaign. ALA-APA, I think is, is underappreciated and underrated and what I really see them as doing, they not only have a role on behalf of librarians, but all library workers, and I think that last part is really important. Non-degreed library workers make up a significant proportion of ALA, I think I’ve heard something like 30-something percent. That’s not inconsiderable. The figure may be higher or lower but it’s still a substantial number, and often we find ourselves in the mindset that ALA is about librarians. So, one thing I would like for ALA-APA to push forward is – it’s doing its best in that I would need to push forward on its behalf – is advocacy on behalf of all library workers. Outside in our communities, in the libraries, you know, with the funding sources, but also, frankly, within our own associations, so that when we talk about ALA members we don’t just default to librarians as what we’re talking about, but everyone within ALA is taking into consideration the broad spectrum of library workers.

As ALA President you would be the face of the organization. What’s kind of a misconception that the wider world has about libraries that you… you’re going to be the person that when they ask for interviews with ALA, they’re going to set up with you, how, what’s the misconception that you could help change about libraries?

I’m going to guess that any library worker who hears this question will probably have a very similar response. It’s that people think libraries are no longer needed in a what, digital age, an internet age. How many times socially have we been in situations where we’re getting to meet new people and they say well what do you do and you say I’m a librarian, and they say oh, do people still use libraries? Oh goodness YES! People do still use libraries and that’s what we need to make clearer to so many people. Not only that people use libraries, but why aren’t they going into libraries, you know, what is it that they think libraries are limited to. Is it just a box of books to them? Do they understand the full range of programs and, and services that the libraries are offering to their communities simply beyond books on the shelves? And of course, books on the shelves are fantastic for people and their communities and their institutions, but that is the number one thing is to keep the word out there that we are, we aren’t just existing and getting along, we are thriving. And we are really doing so much for the people who use us.

And is there anything that you would want to tackle as far as the MLIS itself? Like the requirements, anything like that, think that you could improve, maybe even just from your experience from getting it. What would you like to see different in library schools?

Oh gosh, it feels like so long since I was in library school. I’ve had a lot of conversations in the past years with LIS faculty as part of task force work. There’s a really interesting struggle that goes on and when I’ve talked with recent graduates, new librarians, they all wish that LIS programs put more emphasis on what we might think of as training, and the educators are, of course, they’re presenting a Masters degree, there’s got to be a theoretical side of that. I suppose that there needs to be more of a connect and I’m sure that the educators feel that they’re doing the best the job they are, but the fact is so many people are coming out of the programs and don’t understand immediately how the theory that they’re learning can apply. And perhaps it’s not that it’s going to apply immediately, you know, they’re in the first week of their first job, they may not be putting all of those theories to play. But it will come along eventually. I took management courses in my program back in, in ‘98 to 2000, I took three different management courses, and it took me years before I was a department head and suddenly things started making sense. So, I think it’s not that the programs need to teach things differently, it’s that they need to work with the students better to help the students understand the long range view of what they’re learning and how it’s going to apply.

Yeah, when I was in library school we were still doing command-line Dialog, so…

Oh yes, yes, I remember that too.

I think it was a little beyond when we should have been doing that still, but we were still doing that, so…

You know, I came into my first job and we had both the web and, and, oh gosh I’m blanking on the term, editing and whatever it is, but we had the command line. We were able to do, Notis was our library system, and we were able to do the command line which is so much more powerful, but the students who came to the desk, it was hard to navigate them through that, so the website was what we used with them, but secretly, all the librarians would turn to the command line because we had results like in a heartbeat, you know, main thing.

Well, the last question I have for you is a general one, that is, why do you love being a librarian?

I love it because I get to work with the students here. Even though I’m the head librarian, it’s a community college, it’s not a very large operation and I get to spend my time on the reference desk, I get to do chat reference, I get to do instructions sessions, I really love the energy and the curiosity of the students. It’s such a great thing to come into work.

I almost shouldn’t admit this but I’m going to, I’m going to make a guilty confession: the least enjoyable part of my job are the faculty meetings that we have as a faculty member on campus because who wants to be tied up in meetings? But when you’re at the desk and you have all these students coming in and even if it’s a most basic question, “What is my book on course reserve?”, you’re helping them and it’s just so satisfying knowing that you have made some little or big difference in their education. I just think that’s amazing. I can only imagine what it’s like if I were working in a public library and had even wider range of people, or the school libraries where you’re really getting the kids at a young age, it’s so, so deeply wonderful to be able to interact with the users of my library.

If people have follow-up questions or want to learn more about your campaign, where can they go to find that information?

My campaign website is and that’s spelled out f-o-r, so “peter for ala dot org”. They’re welcome to read up more on my vision, I’ve got a blog on there, they can see what my experience is within ALA and otherwise professionally, and there is a contact form. I would gladly welcome anyone contacting me, asking me questions, and if they’re comfortable with me sharing it on my blog, I would be glad to take my response and turn into a blog entry so that more people might benefit from reading my answers.

All right, well, Peter, thank you so much for talking to me and good luck in the election.

Steve, thank you so much, I’ve really enjoyed it and I appreciate the opportunity.

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Wanda, welcome to the show.

Thank you, thank you, thank you Steve for having me.

So, you are running for ALA President, and the biggest question I guess for everybody would be, “Why do you want to be ALA President?”

Well, I decided to run for ALA President because I am committed to my Association. I am passionate about the work that we do as librarians and as library workers and I believe that I have a lot to give and so I decided to enter the race to make a difference in the lives of librarians over the next, what, couple of years.

Yeah, so what unique skills would you bring to the position?

Well I think when you ask me unique skills, I’d like to think that my strong leadership experience, having served as President of the North Carolina Library Association, having served as President of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. I’ve had experience dealing with associations. I’ve also been treasurer for both of those groups, so I think that my financial, I’m going to say familiarity, in working with associations, my leadership of those two associations also prepares me, I think, for this logical next step as you would say, under leadership progression, this should be the next step forward.

I also think that I bring the unique skill set of having passion and being a passionate person. I do believe that passion moves an organization forward, passionate people that is. So, passionate people have a tendency to energize and excite people that are around them, so the team that I would form would be equally as energized as I am, so I’d like to think that that’s a unique skill set. One that I look for in leaders and one that I look for in the people that I hire. I’m always excited to find people who are as excited about our profession as I am. So, I think that is a unique skill set that I bring to this campaign.

Yeah, and I think you bring up the idea that you’re going to build a team, and I think that’s a really important part of it too, is that it’s not just you, kind of on high saying what’s going to happen but you’ve got a team of advisers and things that will work with you too.

Right. It’s extremely important to surround yourself with people who know, just like in my campaign, I’ve pooled together a team of people to help me in the campaign because there’s no way I could know every single thing, or have expertise around every single item, so I tried to bring together a team of people that represented the library types, that represented different cultures, ethnicity, because I’m a people person, and I believe that the more voices I bring to the table, the better it is for all of us.

Well, is there somebody else in the profession that’s had that passion, that’s sort of inspired you?

I’ve had lots of people that I think inspired me in different categories that I’m not sure that I would say that I see them as passionate as myself. But, years ago when I first started working at Wake Forest University, my supervisor at that time, who has passed away, her name was Anne Nicholson, she wanted me and encouraged me to get active in our state association, and that time which was in the early 80’s, there weren’t a lot of people in the association that looked like me, most of the meetings I went to I was the only person of color that was there. But, she brought me, she took me there, so she invited me to make a difference, and I’d like to think I have made a difference in our state association as well as in the national association.

Well, that brings up another topic that I wanted to discuss which is diversity, and what would you do as president to help increase the diversity of the population of librarians because obviously we keep seeing those surveys that come out, and it’s still 90 plus percent white in the field. So how can we increase that?

One of the ideas that I have been thinking about is all the times when we see things around diversity and inclusion, we talk about differences and we talk about, oh you need to hire more people and what do you need to do when you get them there, but I think we should host more workshops around the whole interview bias, right? Cause see a lot of people apply, but they never get the call for the phone interview even, right? And then when they do get the call for the phone interview, I think people don’t understand that, success builds confidence.


Right? So, if you have been successful in all of your interviews, and things have been going your way, you speak like you’re rolling on water, everything’s exciting to you, everything is perfect, right? But if you have been struggling your whole life trying to get jobs, or trying to convince people to see you for who you are, your whole focus is, “Oh my god, I need to answer this question just right, oh my god I need to do this just right,” so my thing is let’s have workshops or institutes across the United States where we talk about the interview process, those biases that are unknown to many of us, that we bring to the table when we go to interview. Then, once associations or libraries hire people, sometimes they don’t make them feel comfortable, and they don’t know that they’re not doing this, right? And so I think a whole institute around hiring biases, but also how to make people feel comfortable, how to retain them once you get them, but we also have to go one step further and I would like to see us partner with high schools because I do believe if we introduce librarianship as more than what they see with their school librarians, I think we could invite more people to come to our profession. So, that’s kind of where my interests are, I know I’m all over the place, but those of kind are what my ideas are right now.

Okay, and that kind of relates to something I wanted to ask about which is that that when you’re ALA President, you’re also the President of the ALA-APA, which is the Allied Professional Association, so that’s really the kind of issue you could take on in that role, in that you couldn’t really from the ALA perspective since it’s more about libraries than librarians, but you’re the, you’re the co-President kind of of both those things.

Oh, that would be great, give me a foot in the door because one of the other things that I’m really passionate about is professional development, and so what I try to do here at Winston Salem State is encourage everybody to find a conference of their choice. Just this year I sent para-professionals to LITA, I sent two of my paraprofessionals to a marketing conference in Texas, so I’m investing money across the board with all my library staff, that they all can feel empowered, and the more they grow, the more we grow as an association, so I would be in a position to have that greater impact and maybe convince other people across the spectrum to consider my way of leading.

I was going to ask you about the one controversial thing I’m going to ask about [laughs]

Oh okay.

The whole thing about the ALA Executive Director, should they have an MLIS. So I want to get your take on that and why your position is important.

Okay. I’m going to start out by saying I understand both sides of this spectrum. I understand and nobody values my profession more than me. I tell people all the time, this is the absolute best profession you could be in, I. But having said that, I still believe that what we need in a leader of our association is good, solid leadership skills. The ability to manage, right? And I think that wherein I would be tickled pink to have a person with an MLIS, I don’t think it’s required, right? And I think that my HR training that I’ve had tells me that when I broaden my language, or soften it, that I’ve broadened the pool, right? So, we might just be able to entice one of our library champions, just for example, let’s say the head of Demco decided he was ready to step down from being the person at Demco, whatever, maybe not the head, but maybe one of the Vice-Presidents who attended every single conference we’ve had, who’d been working with the libraries and meeting with librarians for 15 years or so, and now suddenly he says you know, I’m ready to step down from that piece and I’d like to do this piece. Do we think that he or she wouldn’t be passionate about the work that we do? They’ve been our champions for, I don’t know how long, how many years, but that’s just one example of I think what softening the language can do.

I would like to say that softening the language around what we require and don’t require invites more applicants, but I would like to say in conclusion that I would ask people to trust the search committee, trust that committee to do the job that we, as an Association, have asked them to do. And so, if that committee felt that the language should be softened, then I would go along with the committee and then personally I do believe that wherein I would love to have an ALA Executive Director have an MLIS, I do not believe that it is required.

Okay. So, the last big question I’ve got is that the ALA President’s obviously the face of the organization. What’s a misconception the wider world has about libraries that, as the face of the organization, you think you could help work to change?

A misconception that people have about libraries, I think, is that we’re not valuable to the communities that we live in, you know? I think there’s so many people, the people who have the hands over the money, the IMLS funders, those people… they don’t understand what we mean to our communities, but I think that goes back to our ability to sell ourselves more, to sell our points more, and I know the flip side of that coin about the, requiring the MLIS comes up every time we talk about value, but I think, as you said, the ALA President is the face of the association. As the face of the association, yes, he has the degree and he or she is out there, you know, campaigning for libraries and doing that, so I do think that we have the opportunity right now to show that value across, by campaigning. I suggested to somebody the other day that we do the march on Washington for Legislative Day, maybe we take 50 buses, figure a bus from every state, where there’s people there and we’re not only meeting with our congresspeople (who we very rarely are in there, you always end up meeting with aides, there are very few who actually come out and at least the ones from North Carolina, let me prep. At the least the ones from North Carolina, you almost always meet with their aides).

So, maybe if we take it to Washington or take it there and come there with buses on, maybe people will see the impact that we have when we share it, right? So one of the things we did in North Carolina, as they was, we started taking videos on, we’d take a local laptop, a little iPad and we would take it to the congressman’s office and we would show him stories from students in elementary schools, students in high school, saying the impact that the libraries have had on their ability to do their work. We also took stories from public libraries, where people were saying the impact that their libraries had had on them. So, I do think that I could use my campaign or I could use my presidency to maybe come up with some kind of forum where we would take it nationally and we would maybe bombard everybody with lots of stories of how we made a difference in the lives of our communities.

So, my last question is, I just want to know what it is you love about being a librarian.

I love the people that I work with. I do think I think I have been most fortunate in my career, that I have worked with people who were truly passionate about the work that they did, right? You could see it in the way they came to work every day, the way they, whenever they would talk to somebody, the reference that they used, the circulation interview, or exchange, it always represents people who are passionate about what they do, so I’m going to say that in my last two years, I left Wake Forest and I’m now at Winston Salem State, and what I am enjoying the most about being here is the ability that I have to interact with students on a daily basis I can make a difference in the life of that student. I am teaching class, so I feel like until my recoups to librarianship that is the one thing profession where you can bring any skill set you have and it is welcomed, right? So, I enjoy working with people, you enjoy the HR experience, it’s there. If you enjoy IT, if you enjoy, say you’re a history buff, if you enjoy education, come, this profession can use it, you can use that, that knowledge you have, that passion you have to make a difference in the lives of others. So, that’s what I enjoy most, is making a difference, not only in the users of the library, but the people that I am, I guess, trusted to lead. I enjoy working with them and seeing people grow. This is why my campaign to my staff this year is okay yes we’re going to professions, but now I want you to look for opportunities to present cause I want you to give as much as you receive, and that’s what I love about this profession, I just love the ability to interact with people and to make a difference in their lives, to help people be successful in whatever it is that they’re working on, to help them learn how how to make informed decisions based upon the facts, to be able to be an advocate for freedom of speech and information literacy, it’s wonderful, I could go on and on. I just love what I do.

Great. So, if people want to follow up with you and ask any questions for find out more about your campaign, where can they go to find out more?

Well, you could go to my web page, it’s, so they can there and, or they can email me directly. I’m

All right, thanks so much Wanda, and good luck in the election.

You’re welcome. Thank you, Steve.