ALA Presidential Candidates (2023)

Steve Thomas: Cindy, welcome to Circulating Ideas. Thank you for coming on the show.

Cindy Hohl: Thank you. It’s a delight to be here.

Steve Thomas: We’re on the show today to talk about the race for the ALA presidency. And so the first good question I think is why do you want to be ALA president?

Cindy Hohl: I appreciate the question. I have always been drawn to leadership, and I have always been asked to lead in various capacities throughout my life. So for me, when I’m called to do something, I always step up and see how I can help. I am very much someone who enjoys supporting other people, especially in their careers, and at this time especially, I have continued to help support professionals across the information field as we talk about matters in libraries that really have an impact on our communities and on our colleagues as well. So I believe that it’s always the right time to stand up for the voice of the people and to make sure that you’re connecting and working with others. So for me, it’s just a natural fit into my daily career.

Steve Thomas: And you have some previous leadership experience within professional organizations as well?

Cindy Hohl: Yes, I do. I am the past president of the American Indian Library Association. I am currently treasurer of the Freedom to Read Foundation, and I sit on several committees working through diversity, equity, inclusion, anti-racism, social justice matters, always looking at how I can expand my scope of knowledge so that I can share that information. And as a connector, I like to help bring people together. So it’s something that is very important to me.

Steve Thomas: Obviously book challenges is kind of the big thing in the news about libraries and they’ve been dramatically and publicly on the rise. What do you think ALA’s response has been so far and how do you think the organization could do more to help library staff with this issue?

Cindy Hohl: Well, the Unite against book bands initiative started and ALA was quick to organize that information and pull it all together, so I think that that’s something that is a very helpful resource for librarians. Looking at the toolkit, looking at the resources, that information is only going to continue to have that need on demand, and it’s nice to be able to see that starting point. With ALA and all of the other organizations that are supporting this industry and this field that we can continue to offer support through webinars, discussions, making sure that newsletters are timely and that they’re really touching upon these areas of concern. As we know, bills continue to pop up across the country, and in some areas it’s more so than others. So it’s important that we are offering that information and support so that librarians can reach out to fellow colleagues who are also going through these challenging times.

Steve Thomas: Yeah. It’s those connections again that you talked about, just knowing somebody else that’s out there is going through what you’re going through.

Cindy Hohl: Absolutely. ALA has always offered that support and information through the Office of Intellectual Freedom, and so looking at how we can scale up is always a matter of building our network and reaching out in those times of need. It’s very important that we are reporting incidents as they arise so that we can continue to monitor those trends and to be able to look at how resources need to be allocated.

Steve Thomas: These recent book challenges are challenging on a number of levels, but one of them that we have not really ever seen before is this harassment and intimidation of library staff themselves, of calling them groomers and just really going after them. So, how have you personally, in your workplace, addressed the issue of staff safety?

Cindy Hohl: Well, you know, that is truly problematic, and it is unfortunate to hear. I think that it was quite a surprise for many in the profession because when we’re in graduate school and learning about the foundations of literacy and how we’re going to support our community, we didn’t think that we would have to take Defense 101. We didn’t think that we were going to have to learn public relations in a crisis communications format for the day in the life of a library. When we’re looking at how we support everyone, it’s important that our staff knows what the policies are and that they have supports in place. We should have managers on the front lines that are there to help with escalations. We need to make sure that our policies are sound so that we can refer our public back to them, and absolutely that’s what we do.

Our focus at the Kansas City Public Library is that we are the People’s Library. We are here to make sure that everyone has equal access to information, program services and materials. So we have some policies in place and we want to make sure that we’re always remaining on top of any kind of developments that change within the state and within the field. It’s a balancing act. We’re looking at all of those different things. We’re making sure that we’re reviewing our policy, making sure we have sound procedures, and always talking to our staff and our public, making sure that everyone knows what the library is here for and how we can help connect them to information that they need to live their best lives.

Steve Thomas: In what ways can libraries provide more equitable services to their communities, and what kind of barriers to those services do libraries face?

Cindy Hohl: Well, of course the biggest barrier is always funding, and in times like these, it is interesting to see how people respond. We either have strong advocates who believe in the value of libraries and that they know that everyone should have that equal access to their public library and to their school library.

Then we also have the barriers of people not having accurate information and making decisions based on what they read in social media. That veil of misinformation, disinformation, malinformation, we need to combat against that as well. And that’s what librarians are trusted to do. We are here to help everyone access credible information from accurate sources, and in that work, we want to make sure that we are always helping everyone look for the information that they need for them and their families. Looking at that individual basis is a really good starting point. We want to make sure that we’re connecting people to the information that they need to be successful in their life, whether that’s educational, entertainment purposes, or for reference and research.

Librarians are here to help. It’s so important that we remember that that is what we’re called to do. We’re here to serve our public and in any library type, whether it’s public, academic, special school, tribal, those libraries exist because there’s a need in the community to access information, and that’s what always we’re going to be here to do. We’re prepared to serve, and we’re here to answer any questions, even if they’re tricky, even if it feels like this is challenging. Unfortunately, we are having to spend more time than we have in the past with these matters, but again, it comes down to misinformation. If people are concerned, well, we love to hear that. We want to hear that people care about the library and the services and what’s being offered there, but we want to make sure that they have the accurate information that they need to help really understand what we’re talking about. Is this really about sensationalizing specific titles? Librarians are now being questioned as to what kind of content we are making available, what kind of programs we are developing. I’m hoping that it’s always going to be one that is collaborative in nature, where we’re working with our community to bring them information that they need. And for libraries, again, the barrier being resources, we need everyone to understand that this is an investment, a reinvestment into your community and those funding opportunities that are available for libraries hopefully will continue to be in that place where everyone can understand there’s a need. And while some individuals can afford access to the internet and to their reading materials and to entertainment all on their own, there is a bigger community here that we need to consider, and there are other people who rely on the library and whether that’s just because that’s a part of their lifestyle and they were raised to understand the value of this community resource it’s all a balancing act, so we really need to make sure that we understand what these issues are, how we can identify the challenges together, and how we can provide everyone with that information so that they can make decisions for them and their families.

Steve Thomas: This year, both candidates for ALA President work in public libraries, so no matter who wins, it’s going to be a public librarian. What kind of steps would you take to make sure other types of libraries know that you’re working for their needs as well?

Cindy Hohl: At the Kansas City Public Library, we have always worked closely with our school librarians and our academic partners in the community as well. Kansas City has several different library systems supporting our residents in the metropolitan area. So for me personally, I will always use my platform to represent the voice of the voiceless or those who just weren’t contacted for the interview. There are oftentimes we will have media requests that come and they hear some new development, they hear a question that they believe the public has an interest in, and I’m happy to speak on behalf of public librarians, school librarians, academic librarians, because I’m fully invested in our profession and I care deeply about the role of the librarian and the community.

I have spoken out in the media on behalf of school librarians, especially when the Senate Bill 775 came about, and again, now there’s a new iteration where the language has been updated again. When the initial bill was proposed and it came out, we were hearing that school librarians could be incarcerated for providing access to materials in their school libraries. They could be fined $2,000. What a world we’re living in when librarians have to consider being removed from their library or being jailed or fined. I don’t believe that the true intention behind those concerns, if they’re real, that they’re targeting the right person in that scenario. When you’re looking at academic librarians who are also being targeted, critical race theory is often taught in secondary education. Again, misinformation is abound and so there are many opportunities for people to get it wrong, but librarians are here to help you get it right, and we want to make sure that everyone has that equal opportunity to do so.

In my time as president of the American Indian Library Association, that is an association that helps librarians that serve Native American communities all across the country so many different library types within that association as well. So for me it, it’s a matter of using your voice, sharing that platform, and making sure that everyone is represented well. I don’t have all the answers, I don’t think anyone, one person does, but I will surely find them out.

Steve Thomas: Speaking of some of your work within the association, what is some of the most personally rewarding work that you’ve done within the organization?

Cindy Hohl: Well, I am a Spectrum Scholar from 2016 representing the Santee Sioux Nation, and so of course, being a Spectrum scholar, that is near and dear to my heart. I have served in every committee that the Spectrum Scholarship Program has, and I’m currently the co-chair of the Spectrum Advisory Council. We bring this year’s cohort together, and we have an institute at the annual conference in June. This is something that is very rewarding to me because I was brought into this field in a good way. I had some really strong leaders at my first library who were wonderful mentors, and I really appreciated the opportunity that they gave me to learn about ALA, to get involved, to become a part of a committee.

My first committee was serving on the Rural, Native, Tribal, Libraries of All Kinds Committee. It’s a smaller group, but has a large impact because there are a lot of needs in rural areas. And so, rural libraries, in small communities, in tribal communities, it’s something where you need to scale up, so you do that through networking. My most important part of building my network over the first nine years of my career here has been that I continue to learn and grow from colleagues, from all different kinds of libraries, from all different areas across the country.

And it was a very rewarding experience to be on President Patty Wong’s Advisory Council, where for her year, we met every month and we supported her plan and we made sure that she had all the information that she needed as she guided the Association and she represented us. So I’ve been a part of a lot of really fun projects and I’m proud of all of it and I’m always happy to continue to learn and grow.

Steve Thomas: I think probably most listeners will know, but could you just briefly say what the Spectrum scholarship is?

Cindy Hohl: Yes. The Spectrum Scholarship started 25 years ago, and it is a scholarship program to diversify the field. Scholars are selected every year and receive funding support to travel to the annual conference, and you’re a part of a cohort. In that experience, you’re immersed into ALA. You learn all about ALA, you learn about the different areas that are available with resources and support in different committees and how to get involved.

The Spectrum Scholarship Program started to help bring more diverse perspectives into the field, and a few leaders started this diversity scholarship program to attract and retain diverse candidates into the field. And so it’s something where we all have different backgrounds, experiences, education, and so it is a scholarship program for Black, Indigenous, people of color.

Steve Thomas: I feel like a lot of the efforts that we hear about is getting people just in the pipeline, but then I hear a lot from people that they get into libraries and then they don’t feel like they’re part of the group. What are some things that libraries can do to make their work environments more inclusive so that once you get the people in the field, they feel like they want to stay?

Cindy Hohl: Well, I believe it starts with culture. We really need to focus on the culture of the library within that setting within your community. So looking at your community, the makeup, looking at the demographics. Does your staff mirror what the demographics is that you serve? If you’re 50% this, and 40% that, and 10% other, does your staff represent that? That’s probably a good place to start looking at how you can build a team of professionals who share those different life experiences, background, education, because we know that there’s great strength in diversity, and it’s important that we’re very intentional in our recruiting and in doing so, we’ll be able to build these inclusive library spaces where diversity is valued.

First, we need to start by welcoming everyone in though. If someone doesn’t see someone who looks like them working in the library, where they don’t know what opportunities are available to work in this field, that’s up to us. We need to make sure that we’re sharing that information through job fairs, our website, any ways that we have to recruit. We want to make sure that everyone understands, this is a place where you also belong. We need to get to that place of belonging throughout the field, and ALA is a vast Association is what I keep hearing, but at the end of the day, is it really that big? You know, there’s 58,000 members and for some people that sounds like a lot, but when you look at the scale of things, it’s really a connected group of professionals where the more you do good work and the more that you contribute and get involved, the more you’re going to be able to see the value of your career rise, and you can see yourself in this field having a successful career, contributing at the level that you want to, and making sure that you do put in the work to help everyone become engaged, making sure that you’re welcoming colleagues to join you in your work and so that we can create that space of belonging. ALA can do it; libraries can do it. I have great faith in our ability to do so. When you look at the statistics, of course, it has been a slow process. It’s one that is worth consideration and as we continue to move forward looking at how information moves through communities and brings everyone together, I think it’s just going to be an even easier path for us to navigate together.

Steve Thomas: Definitely something that we need to keep working on. So what are your thoughts on neutrality and how do you balance the core value of intellectual freedom with also providing safe, inclusive environments for people?

Cindy Hohl: Well, intellectual freedom is near and dear to my heart. As a Dakota person, there was a time in our country where we were not allowed to speak, read, or write our language, and that actually didn’t stop until the 1980s. A lot of people don’t know that, and so censorship has been very real in my lifetime, and I’ve seen the impacts of that. I’ve seen what it means when someone forces assimilation of another and it’s not healthy, it’s not productive, and I don’t believe we need to silence anyone’s voice.

So it’s so important that when we’re looking at how a library serves a community, we make sure that everyone absolutely has a voice and has an opportunity to be heard and seen because when we’re looking at how we create library systems, we know how to develop a collection. We have a process in place. We know how to secure a facility. We have funding available in some areas, and then in others it’s well established and they have their different facilities, but when we’re looking at the experience, that’s really where we can create the libraries that we need. And so we’re trusted partners in the community. We are the trust institution of the community, and our community needs to be able to know that they can trust the library and that they can attend, their children can attend, and it’s going to be a safe and healthy space for all.

So when we’re looking at our policies, they need to be sound, and they need to be inclusive. We need to make sure that everyone has that equal opportunity to access the library. Now when we’re looking at the code of conduct, there are certain rules of the road in any public space, and that’s what we need to maintain and uphold. It’s important that we don’t get confused as to what neutrality means. I served on the Intellectual Freedom and Social Justice Working Group, and there was quite a discussion and several debates over not only vernacular, but definitions. And while I can appreciate semantics, sometimes we need to talk about what is the experience and what is the actual impact. When we’re looking at the intention of this work, it’s important that we’re always making sure that fairness and equity is the foundation of this work.

Steve Thomas: Yeah, I think that happens a lot. I think it’s just our librarian brains want to categorize things and it’s like, “Well, do you call it this or do you call it that? What’s the exact definition of this, that, and the other?” And yeah, it can make a discussion non-productive sometimes.

 So what are some ways that the ALA can make itself more attractive to new members to grow membership, and then how do you get the word out about, like, New Members Round Table is always a good thing for a new member, but how do new members even know what to do once they’ve started? How can we better help them get involved in the organization?

Cindy Hohl: I found success through mentorship. I had mentors who brought me into ALA and who helped me see how that information was so valuable that was available in this network. I was a member of New Members Round Table, of course, and I believe that when anyone registers to become a member of ALA, they should be able to access that information and understand what are the divisions, what are the round tables, how can I become involved, where do these groups meet, when do they meet? I think that when we set up membership profiles, it’s important that everyone knows what these different groups are and where these communities exist. So perhaps we need to do a little bit more encouragement of that, just helping everyone see that you can find your fit.

Having just like a member highlight, if someone’s comfortable sharing their profile, not everyone is, but that’s what ALA Connect is for, but of course, they receive that access after they become members. It’s important that we’re ahead of that and that we let them know once you become a member, these are the benefits, this is the community. This is how you network. It’s just like with other professional groups, I often see people will put everything on lockdown, and you can’t always grow a network if people don’t know your email address and can’t just email you. There’s something to be said about really considering what privacy looks like in your professional career and making sure that, of course we seek confidentiality, but at the same time, if you’re here to network and grow, you need to be a little bit open so that people can connect with you.

I love it when I receive connection requests from someone who maybe I haven’t even worked with yet, but they’re interested in some work that I’ve done, or they want to collaborate with me on something. To me, that’s the ultimate experience. That’s what I’m here for. So I encourage everyone to mentor their colleagues, help others see the value of belonging to ALA because I believe there is so much that ALA offers, sometimes people maybe don’t know everything that’s available to them. It’s a great investment in their career.

Steve Thomas: Well, if listeners want to hear more about you and your candidacy, how could they find out some more information?

Cindy Hohl: Well, my website is and they can also email me at

Steve Thomas: Well, thank you so much for coming on the show to talk about your candidacy and all the things we’ve discussed here today and good luck in the election. Thank you for your time.

Cindy Hohl: Thank you, Steve. I appreciate it. Take care.

Steve Thomas: Eric Suess. Welcome to Circulating Ideas.

Eric Suess: Thank you for having me. Glad to be here.

Steve Thomas: I wanted to get started with the core question of why do you want to be ALA president?

Eric Suess: Well, you know, there’s the apocryphal curse, you know, may you live in interesting times. We are in interesting times. It’s a pivotal time for librarianship, among other things, and it’s a time where some strong leadership and experience is necessary to help guide the Library Association forward. A lot is changing right now, and a lot of critical things are happening, both within the organization and around the country. So somebody who is willing to spend the time working on these critical issues, I’m willing to do that.

When I was approached to consider running for the position, I had to consider it pretty carefully, and checked with my wife first to make sure that she was good and other parties involved with my staff and with the city and with my board. And they were all enthusiastically supportive, and so I’m happy to serve if I’m asked to do so.

Steve Thomas: Yeah, you always got to make sure you’ve got your people on board with you cuz that because it is, especially at your workplace, cuz it is going to take up a chunk of your time.

Eric Suess: Yeah, there’s a significant amount of time away from the job. That’s part of the role when you’re the face of American libraries, essentially, at least a year. It’s challenging and very busy, and people have to be willing to put up with you, if you will, for that time because there’s a lot of work that goes into that.

Steve Thomas: Yeah, but I’m sure you have trust in your staff around you that if you were to win that you’ve got a staff that can keep everything running.

Eric Suess: Yeah, very much so, and the city is very happy supporting me as well through that, so I’m fortunate to be in a setting far enough in my career and in a place that works well, that I can trust the people that I’ve got working with me, and I look forward to hopefully serving the people of the American Library Association and doing some good things.

Steve Thomas: Yep. So, book challenges have been dramatically, publicly on the rise. What do you think about ALA’s response so far, and what do you think the organization could be doing more of to help with this challenge we’ve got?

Eric Suess: Well, they clearly are at least an epidemic level, if you will, I’m not going to use the pandemic word if I can help it, but certainly there’s a huge upswing in the number of challenges that are taking place. We actually have that going on right here at my own library. There’s a group that has been classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group that is coming down specifically in our library. So I’m battling it locally and nationally. ALA’s, I think, taking the good route here. The Unite Against Book Bans campaign has the right idea because these groups that are doing these challenges are very vocal, they’re very organized, they’re politically motivated. They are a minority, however, and the United Against Book Ban’s effort, among others, is to take the power of the majority and be equally vocal, equally organized, equally dedicated to their side of things. Harnessing the power of the majority is the right way to go here because clearly the challenges while vocal and while pretty strong in their efforts are really, truly, a minority of folks, and so harnessing the power of the majority is the right way. ALA’s been pushing that, and I think that’s exactly the right message to be pushing.

I’ve been dealing with book challenges since high school. I hate to date myself here, but back in 1978-79, they had a group in my high school that was challenging the book Of Mice and Men, and I was actually asked to help be part of the defense for that challenge, and so it’s been something I’ve done for a very long time and it’s part of who I am. As a former chair of the Intellectual Freedom Round Table, I have that experience as well. I’ve always been a member of the Freedom to Read Foundation, so that whole concept of protecting our values, protecting the diversity of thoughts and experiences that are out there is really critical to me and something I’ve been working with for years and years.

Steve Thomas: Did you know pretty early on that you wanted to work in libraries? I mean, because like even in school, you’re already working with book challenges.

Eric Suess: Absolutely not. I got into libraries sort of entirely by accident actually. My father, when he went to Notre Dame, worked at the library as a student, and when I went to get a student job figuring it was probably working at the dining hall or whatever I happened to talk to the secretary outside the office of the person who’s responsible for student employment, and said, “Oh yeah, when my dad was here, he worked in the library” and I came back through after talking to the person in charge and the secretary said, “Well, I’m on the phone here, but that’s the library. And since you said you wanted to work at a library, I’m going to send you over right now. There’s a job available.” I never said that, but I’m thinking, “Dining hall… library… I think a library seems pretty good,” so that’s how I started just sort of by accident, and I worked there at Notre Dame in circulation and acquisitions, in government documents and in the chemistry physics library, and still didn’t decide that that was my profession.

I went off and did a couple of things and then came back talking to the personnel director at Notre Dame who I got along with very well and said, “Is there a call for this profession? Is this a good profession to be part of?” And she said, “Yes, and University of Michigan is just down the road. They’ve got a great library school and you should go do that.” And so I did. I got into this profession pretty much by accident, and I’m so thrilled that that little conversation I had with the secretary in an office while I was a student essentially changed the course of my life. It’s been extremely fulfilling, and I thoroughly enjoy coming into work every day. That doesn’t mean every day’s easy or doesn’t have its challenges, but it’s nice to be part of a career where you look forward to going into work every single day.

Steve Thomas: Yeah. So those recent book challenges, and you may have experienced this, but they’ve escalated and they’re including harassment, intimidation of library staff. Has your workplace seen this kind of thing? How has your workplace addressed the issue of staff safety in general, if not specifically to this?

Eric Suess: Well, it’s really critical that we look at staff security and staff support. We haven’t gotten to that ugly level yet, but I’m not convinced it’s not going to get that way before it’s over. We’re still sort of at the beginning phase of this and we’ll get through it, and we’ve got enough support from the city and from the board and from the citizens that we’ll weather it, but it could get ugly and very personal before it’s over. I hope to take as much of it on myself as opposed to my staff. I’ve got thick enough skin and enough understanding of where things really stand that I’m not so worried about that, but understanding that it can get ugly and personal before it gets better is helpful. They get harassing and intimidating phone calls and various things, and it does affect them. It’s clear that my role is to lend as much support as possible and let them know that they are supported.

Yeah. And that’s how I’ve always worked. We’ve got a dialogue going between myself and all my staff members. I treat them as people first and employees second, and that’s how I’ve always run things. And so we talk. As much as we can, I can assure them that although things are going to be challenging, in the end, they’re supported by city legal and by myself.

Even as president of ALA, I wouldn’t see it as a group of 50,000 members, but a number of individuals’ stories. We just talked about my story, my background, and various things. Everybody has their stories, everybody has a life, and those are very important to me. And so, I can look at things on the whole, but I tend to prefer looking at things as individuals, not as a group.

Steve Thomas: Yeah. In what ways can libraries provide more equitable services to their communities, and what barriers have they been facing up until now of providing those services?

Eric Suess: Libraries in general have a lot of different kinds of communities. Some are pretty homogeneous; some are extremely mixed. It depends on your individual community, and I think there is no one approach that works best for a library. It depends on what your situation is, and you read that and know what it is that you have to work with, and what you have available to you, and that changes from library to library, from library type to library type. School libraries face different issues than academics do, than public do. You really have to know your community, and that’s what it comes down to. What is your community’s strengths? What is your community’s makeup, and how do you work within that community to provide the best service? There is no one answer.

For our community, we have American Indian tribe, we have a number of Hispanic residents, and so we have to work within those parameters and provide the best kind of service that we can based on our population. Other places have different challenges, and it’s just really understanding who your community is and what their strengths are and how you can reach out to them, what support you have, and what opportunities you have is really the answer. There’s no one way that you can best assure equity. It really depends on your community, but equity needs to be part of your plan, and it’s critical that you understand that you have to reach as many different kinds of folks out there in their various experiences as you can, and it’s critical that you plan for that, but what that plan is, is going to differ depending on what your community is.

Steve Thomas: And sometimes libraries have ideals of what they would like to do, but you are constrained by budget sometimes, like, I know a lot of libraries want to get rid of overdue fees, and that’s great, except that is money, and it’s hard to sometimes justify to your funders, “By the way, we don’t want this $50,000 year anymore” or something, but I think you’re right that you, thinking of it, of having it in the plan no matter what, that’s a consideration, a lens you’re looking through every time you’re doing your strategic planning or figuring out a new services to make sure we’re thinking about this.

Eric Suess: That’s exactly it. And you know, in our case actually, we were able to eliminate fines for minors. We still have fines in place for adults. It’s a compromise we’re able to make with our budgeting folks and with finance department and with the city council, and they went for that and we took what we could take because we feel that’s important. We’d love to get rid of ’em altogether, but we have to work within our framework.

Steve Thomas: Yeah. Well, and compromise will be something that you would have to use as ALA President cuz obviously, like you said, there’s 50,000 people-ish in the organization. You have to be able to work with all of them and not please all of them, obviously all the time.

Eric Suess: And I never will, and I won’t strive to be everyone’s favorite president. That’s not the point, and I think part of being on the Council of the American Library Association for 12 years as an at-large counselor is helpful because I didn’t have a specific constituency. I’m not a public library counselor. I’m not a counselor for a specific thing. My goal really was to focus on all the different kinds. I supported school libraries as much as I supported public as much as I supported academic or special or trustees or any of the other parts of the equation, and so I’ve always looked at the larger picture and the necessity of trying to make sure that you’re looking at everything, not just one section, not one silo, if you will.

Steve Thomas: Well that kind of leads to the next question I was going to ask that may be part of this, but what’s been some of your most personally rewarding work that you’ve done within the organization?

Eric Suess: I think the Council has been really a lot of it. It’s given me the opportunity to meet a number of amazing colleagues and to work with some really incredible leaders. It’s also given me a chance to talk to a lot of people and find out what’s of importance to them, and how I can best support that. So 12 years is a lot of time to spend doing that, and not everybody enjoys being on Council. A lot of times people get on and then want to get off pretty quickly because it’s just not for them. But for me, I found a home there, and some amazing, amazing colleagues, so that’s what I’ve enjoyed most.

 As I attend conference in person and I get a chance to network with colleagues from around the profession, from all different kinds and sides of the profession, academics and schools and publics and everything, and from people, you know, who have been doing this for years or who are just starting, people that I can be mentored to or people that I can be mentored by, it’s really been an amazing experience, and I’ve appreciated that.

I will also say I really enjoyed a couple of my committee assignments. The Committee on Legislation, which I was on for a total of five years, really gave me some insights as to how ALA works within the framework of the legislative process. And I think that’s really critical to understand. I also served four years on the Committee on Organization, which gave me a whole lot of information about the structure of ALA, where it’s been, where it is now, and where it can be. Those two, I think specifically, those committee assignments were really very valuable, and so I appreciated those opportunities.

Steve Thomas: It sounds like the organization is working a little bit to shift, so I’m sure that committee is really hard at work now.

Eric Suess: Yeah, the Committee on Organization is certainly very, very busy right now, especially with the bylaws changes that have been passed by Council and are going to be sent to the membership in the spring.

Steve Thomas: Yeah. What are some of those new things coming through Council that excited you to hear about that library that they’re making as changes to the organization?

Eric Suess: Well, you know, a lot of it has to do with the role of divisions and round tables, but also the makeup of council and the makeup of Council is probably the biggest thing. There was originally a push to eliminate Council and that morphed over time and became a decision to go down to, instead of 100 counselors at large, moving that down to 18, and it moved up to 36, while we were in the meeting at LibLearnX. And I think that’s good. It downsizes, but still has a significant number of folks representing various pieces and parts of the ALA picture. I think that’ll work just fine.

The big picture of Big ALA versus the individual divisions and the round tables in various units, is still to be decided. The operating agreement is not been voted on or decided yet. Maggie Farrell has her description of the proposed operating agreement that’s out there, and it’ll probably be tweaked a few times before it’s over, but the whole concept is really one that some divisions have challenges with because they initially and up to this point have had their own individual funds and the various things that they’ve developed by themselves for themselves, and they’ve had access to, that are now going to be part of one ALA fund, at least as proposed. And the question is, what’s the incentive if we do all this and it goes into a big pot instead of being ours? But I think really when it comes down to it, it’s really important that a strong ALA means strong divisions and round tables and strong round tables and divisions mean a strong ALA. It’s a symbiotic relationship that’s really critical and I think it’s a good way of looking at that. Nobody’s losing anything, nobody’s losing the funds that they’ve raised. They’re just not earmarked specifically in their columns, if you will. I think it’s important that we focus on the health of the large organization because as strong as ALA as a whole is, the stronger the divisions and the round tables in other units can be, and I think working in that sense is really important. It’s been controversial for some, but I think, in the end, that focus is really strong and really good, and I think that’ll prevail.

Steve Thomas: Yeah. It’s funny, I had Tracie Hall on a couple a year or two ago, and she talked about, she doesn’t even like that term Big ALA and like I know a lot of people use it and you just used it, and it’s like, she wants there to just be…

Eric Suess: One ALA, I guess, One ALA, but, you know, ALA can seem pretty monolithic, and it’s best really seen as a great combination of excellent parts and pieces that happen to make up the greater ALA.

Steve Thomas: Right, focus on similarities and how we work together, not the differences.

Eric Suess: Well, and that’s even in the real world, if you will, not just within the Association, what happens in libraries in the school system, translates up with what happens in public libraries and what happens in academic libraries, and if you lose school librarians, as has happened in a number of places, they feel it at the academic level, up in universities and colleges, the lack of training that that goes with that. So we’re all part of that same system, and we all feed into each other and work with each other. It’s not really best viewed as individual silos. It really is a continuum, if you will, and it’s really critical that we remember that that’s the case, that we’re all part of the same ecosystem, if you will.

Steve Thomas: Well along those lines, what are some ways that the organization can make itself more attractive to new members to get some more members back on board, and then once they’ve joined, how do you make it attractive for them to get involved in the organization?

Eric Suess: Like I said, I was very fortunate to be drawn into ALA really early on in my career, so I appreciate that I had that opportunity and that I’ve had a chance to run with it. There’s a couple of things, a couple of initiatives that I’d like to push for, and we’ll see how that goes, but at least in my head right now, I’d like to bring more members of diversity into the profession and to bring as many people as we can who are strong, passionate, and sharp, so I’d like to work with ACRL among others to identify undergraduates who have potential to be amazing library leaders.

I’m a disciple of EJ Josie, former ALA President, and who is probably more responsible for bringing people of color into the profession than any one particular person. He was amazing, and he actually tried to get me to go to library school at Pittsburgh, but he’s a testament to the power that one person can have in bringing people into the profession. And I’d like to work on really pushing that. Let’s have folks who are there on the ground working with students that they identify as being sharp, strong, and passionate, that would make excellent librarians, and let’s ask them if they want to be part of the profession, let’s invite them in, let’s get people thinking about it in the same way that EJ did. He suggested to folks that this is a place for you that would be really valuable and, and rewarding, and an opportunity. We haven’t done that. We do it to some extent. We have the Spectrum Scholarship, which I have supported year after year and has brought a lot of great people into the profession. But we need to do more, and it needs to be a consistent approach throughout the country on identifying and locating and encouraging folks to become part of the profession.

Okay, so then the next question is, yes, how do you get them involved and how do you keep them? In my library, I’m fortunate to be able to have a benefit where I can really help pay for most of a library school’s cost through the city. And so we have minted several new librarians here. I’ve only got 26 people working in my library besides me, so it’s not a big library and yet we have created several new professionals because we have that opportunity. But when they want to become involved in the profession, again, ALA can seem very monolithic and very hard to find your way about and really understand what’s there that I can do. Personally I know my way around ALA, and I’ve been able to help folks find things that are really useful, and interesting for them. New Members Round Table is great. They’re excellent at pushing people into the profession, into places where they might find satisfaction, but in general it’s hard to look at the gigantic ALA and think, what can I do? Because it’s not really clear.

So, I’ve been able to help folks out. I had a young lady here who was my management assistant who got her library degree. She’s now a director at another library close by, and she, with my conversation, decided to join three different committees of ALA and she loves the metadata thing. That’s not my area of passion. That’s not it at all. And yet that’s for her, something she’s really interested in and she finds great satisfaction being part of that. And I think we need to figure out how to do that for other people in general, to help them quickly find an area that is of strong interest to them, where they can find a home and figure out how to become involved quickly so that they can very quickly identify what in ALA makes them tick, if you will. And if you can find that quickly, I think there’s a better chance that you will find that place that will keep you there for a long time. So those two initiatives of bringing people into the profession and then helping them find their way quickly, are really what I’d like to work toward.

Steve Thomas: You had mentioned earlier that you were on the Intellectual Freedom Round Table, so I wanted to get your thoughts on the idea of neutrality in libraries, which is kind of a buzz thing going around the profession. How do we balance our core values of intellectual freedom with providing safe, inclusive environments for everyone?

Eric Suess: Sure. I don’t think libraries have to be neutral on everything. In general, it’s good to be balanced as best you can, but there are certain ideas and certain things that you don’t want to support. Hate speech, I’m never going to be neutral toward. It’s not going to be acceptable, and the old “good people on both sides,” not always. It’s not the library’s place to make everybody happy, and it never will be, or it shouldn’t be. We need to balance what is acceptable, and what is legal, and those kinds of things, but there are certain things that don’t belong in a library and hate speech as an example is one of those. It’s not something that I’m going to provide equal time for.

So the concept of libraries being completely neutral is an outdated concept. Certainly we ought to provide as many different experiences as possible to our community, but that doesn’t mean every single experience, and it doesn’t mean that we need to support all ideas. I don’t think that’s really true, and I don’t think ever been actually fully true? It’s easy to say that we should be neutral in the idea that we should have competing ideas available so that people can read or study or research and find what makes sense for them and to understand both sides of issues, but it doesn’t mean that we need to support all ideas. I don’t think that makes sense.

Steve Thomas: Yeah. We’re always providing access and building communities. You can’t build a community if somebody’s trying to break the infrastructure underneath your community.

Eric Suess: Yeah, that doesn’t make any sense.

Steve Thomas: Well, Eric, thank you so much for coming on. How can listeners find out more about you and your candidacy?

Eric Suess: Well, I’m having trouble with my website right now, but I’m going to send out a blast before the end of the month that’ll give a lot of information about what’s going on in my thoughts and my ideas and welcoming input. They can always email me, they can always get in touch with me on Facebook or various other things, so I’m out there. I’m going to make it fairly clear what I find is important and, and how we can work together to achieve that.

I just ask that you consider me as a candidate and, and I think my experience is really important. The primary role of the President is actually to preside over Council, and I have years of experience with Council, and so I know how that’s done. I think that’s really, really critical, but experience and understanding the structure of where ALA is, where it has been, where it is, and where it can be. I think that’s important. And 35 years of ALA under my belt later, I think I’ve got a lot of that, and I hope to be able to serve folks as best we can. I think that’s the great thing, a model of service that libraries have. We’re always looking to try to serve our communities, whatever they be, as best we can, and that’s my philosophy for the Presidency is, is how best can I serve and what can I do to take care of not only degreed librarians can attend conference, but libraries as a whole and library workers. I think that’s really critical.

Steve Thomas: Thank you so much, Eric. I appreciate your time.

Eric Suess: Thank you for having me.

Steve Thomas: Good luck in the elections.

Eric Suess: I appreciate it.