This is Circulating Ideas, Episode 100! I’m Steve Thomas. My guest for this very special episode is the American Library Association’s Executive Director, Keith Michael-Fiels.
Keith, welcome to the show.
A great pleasure to be joining you.
I wanted to start out, you are now the Executive Director of the American Library Association and have been for quite a while now. So, what led you to librarianship in the first place?
Well, like, wow that’s a great story, thank you, no one has ever asked me that. I was, I owe it all first of all to my mother and that is that she, we had a little sort-of home library and used to read together and I got interested in reading through her. But the breakthrough on this is rather odd though. My grandfather was an ambulance driver for the Veterans Administration Hospital in Buffalo, New York. And he, one summer, was given the assignment of picking up people’s libraries and when they had, were donating them to the Veterans Administration. So, he would pick them up and he would go and the librarians there would pick out the books that they wanted to, or wanted to use for patients at the hospital and then they would send him off to dump these books in the landfill. And he stopped at the house at least three times and let me take as many books off of the ambulance as I could.
So, next thing you knew I had a library of about 2,000 books. My father built me some bookshelves under the basement stairs and the rest is history. I just, I had an insatiable appetite, I read all sorts of bizarre things. The libraries contained everything from Shakespeare to The How And Why Club. You know, the old book of knowledge from the 20’s. So I would say that my love of reading and, you know, I had, I was one of the few kids in the neighborhood that had their own home library. I subsequently got involved in the local public library and started using that. I think by the time I was in college, I was at least potentially interested in librarianship. I did graduate ultimately with a degree in philosophy and I always tell the story that I was, had absolutely no prospect whatsoever of ever earning a living as a philosophy major, but I was philosophical about it! And I will tell you that I was across campus one day, and this was in the very, very late 1960s, and a guy named Wild Bill Rosenburg, who looked like he just came off of a wagon train with a fringed buckskin jacket and, you know, shoulder length hair said, and I quote him, “There’s money in library science dude.” So, I rushed over to the libraries office and actually was able to receive a national defense fellowship. And that’s how I got into library school. I started out as a school librarian, I’ve worked in a public library. I won’t go through all of the details but that’s the long and the long of it.
And how did Wild Bill’s prediction work out? Are you now a bajillionaire too because there’s money in libraries?
Well, I think he meant that they had scholarships.
Yeah, I don’t, I’m not a bazilionaire. I want that to be. I do think, I always say that it was a national defense fellowship. And I do feel that I have contributed materially to our nation’s security by helping to make libraries better. I’m very, very comfortable with having earned that scholarship.
Well, when you were in library school, I mean we won’t go through step-by-step what your employment or anything, but what were your. I don’t know that anybody when they’re in the library school says I’m going to be the Executive Director of the ALA when I get, that’s my ultimate plan. What was your, what was kind of your professional plans as you were in library school? Were you thinking school libraries, public libraries, you wanted to be a director? Like, what were you thinking, what were you thinking as like your ten year plan? Twenty year plan? Something like that.
Well, I’ll probably get in trouble for this. I originally, well always envisaged a certain way, let’s say a D H Lawrence kind of librarian. You know, with a pipe and a tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbows. I, I certainly was interested in academic librarianship and potentially archival work. I ultimately went to an ALA conference and I did get an offer from a university library. But, at the same time I ran into a group of people from a public library in Michigan City, Indiana, that I would contend was one of the most progressive libraries in the United States at that point. And that’s one of those, and there are a few points I think in everyone’s career where it was just a road not taken. I, the people intrigued me, it was just an absolutely great run, as I said, you talk about things like community engagement. I, you know, electronic resources, bringing technology, running local history projects, doing public programming.
We really did it all, it was just a great experience and I think that that kind of really was a turning point for me. As far as the career goes, I, you know, have been a, as I said a school librarian, a public librarian. I then went back for a year of post-graduate, then got hired by EJ Josie at the New York State Library and for those of your listeners who are following EJ, really was the leader in integrating the American Library Association back in the, the uh early and mid 60s. I did work there with community based planning. Went to the New Jersey State Library, became a System Director and then ultimately the Director of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners which is the stage agency in Massachusetts that is responsible for all state and federal programs for libraries there.
It was when I was in Michigan City that I got a job as a, a photo editor for an ALA publication and got to come to ALA once a week for a couple of months researching photographs to illustrate a publication in the ALA files and I got to meet Bob Wedgeworth and I would have to say that ALA was such an interesting place, the people were wonderful, that did stick with me.
I’ve been an active member of ALA for a long time now, probably been to, you know what 80 straight conferences or 90 straight conferences, but at a certain point when the opportunity came to serve as the Executive Director, I have so much respect for ALA and I know what it did for my career, it just, I really want to do anything I can to boost. I see us as serving the profession which certainly affected me directly, serving libraries which I think has helped to build stronger libraries in this country and then the public. Things like our positions in intellectual freedom, privacy and copyright and access to public information I think really make a difference on people’s lives on a daily basis and that, that gives me enormous pleasure.
Right, I think one of the questions that people have had about your position, not you specifically but the position is can you talk kind of, vaguely about what it is exactly that you do and how you work, kind of what the ALA Presidents, I mean I know it helps to have somebody there that’s kind of there because the presidents are one year at a time, you’re kind of the continuity I think between those and work to, work with their strengths and. What, how would you describe your job to somebody who didn’t haven any idea what it was?
I think here you’re focusing in at where the rubber kind of hits the road. We do, we work and try and engage as many members as we can involve in developing a strategic plan for the association and that gives us a broad framework. So, for instance, at this point information policy, advocacy and professional leadership development are, are three areas of focus and the programs, individual programs support that. Each President comes in with their particular strengths and interests and I see it as a matter of aligning interests and resources. The President is a very powerful force, a positive force. For instance, last year Sarah Feldman is President, very much interested in public awareness and the Libraries Transform campaign really was, she was the driving force behind it. The fact is that it matched very closely with our strategic plan priority which was a public awareness campaign. So, part of it is trying to work with the President to kind of match up and find ways in which we can take individual interests and strengths and align them so that we’re really doing as much as we can to advance the goals that we set for ourselves as an association.
Working with a new President every year is um, certainly that it’s interesting, probably not for everyone. We do work together for a year as President Elect and then as past President they continue to serve on the Executive Board and a lot of it is how do we take what’s been a good idea that’s advanced us and how to make it something that becomes a permanent part of the association. So, I have not seen, I know that at some points in the past this whole issue of well individual initiatives versus overall goals. I think that’s worked pretty smoothly, certainly that’s been my experience.
Well it seems like a lot of times they, they’re individual initiatives kind of feed into each other and work to either towards the strategic plan or just toward goals in general because I was going back and reading some stuff up on stuff that you’ve written and some other stuff the ALA has been running and transformation has been sort of a goal and been talked about for even, I think six, seven years back, I was seeing things written about that. So, it’s kind of the Libraries Transform campaign was like maybe a, a summit of that but it’s not like it just came out of nowhere and Sari was just like oh I want to do this , and so we just changed committee direction and did that. It’s just, it fit in a great way that matched the goals already.
Absolutely. I couldn’t state it better.
So, as, the Libraries Transform campaign I believe from my perspective seems to be pretty successful. How do you all, within ALA, feel that it’s going?
Well, I would say it’s say it’s going very, very well. There’s a couple of, just to sort of go over the goal of the campaign and this is where the because statements and working with Little Jack, which is the creative firm that we’ve been working with on this. The goal is to create I’ll call them sort of content packages and you can call them because statement that, that are maybe a little challenging, maybe a little off-beat, maybe a little bit out of the ordinary. We see this enormous potential with social media for getting messages out. So, the, I think the primary driving force on this is some of our social media platforms. We have 85,000 followers on Facebook, we’re looking for people to tweet and retweet some of these messages. So, part of what we’ve been doing is to try and craft each week there’s, we throw another because statement or another factoid out to see if we can go viral. We had one very large hit this year where we had about 4 million people ended up seeing a sign that a library in Michigan had put out the front of the library and it basically said “because not everything on the Internet is true.” So, part of it is to really use the, the packaging which is I think very smart and very thoughtful, to try and get us out into new spaces where a traditional library message wouldn’t exist. And I think by being a little bit out of the ordinary, by being a little bit challenging, by maybe getting people’s curiosity up we do then have a website which has been getting a lot of traffic which then provides people with maybe some background on the because statement because most of them are really based on something that is transforming within libraries, or something that libraries do that’s transformative to the lives of individuals or communities. So, the goal here is to provide people with an avenue through the because statements and through our, our social media work to kind of invite people in to places like I Love My Library which is our website for the public and to the Libraries Transform website.
So, the other half of this then are the local libraries and we were, I think very pleasantly surprised when the first time we sent out some information on this in the fall we didn’t get a giant pick up, but when we sent some messages out related to national library week we ended up with about 3,000 libraries and library supporters becoming part of the campaign, meaning they were using the graphics, they were using the because statements, they were tweeting and sharing on Facebook, messages in their local communities. So, I would say the pick up for year one has been really great and we’re working on a really strong year two on this. Julie Todaro is taking the focus in the direction of the expert in the library which is a little bit of a focus this year on the role that librarians play in this whole transformational effort. So, we’ve got some new because statements that focus on librarians as the, you know, the best search engine in the library. The goal being to get the message out into new audiences and to give local libraries something that they can use then in local campaigns and local public awareness efforts in libraries of all types.
Yeah, and I appreciate that the, the expert in the library thing kind of fits in with the larger Libraries Transform campaign because it kind of does fight against that what you’ve talked about a little bit of some of the people think that oh a President comes in, they just completely do something different but not it’s just another, I guess transformation of the campaign. I mean it’s just, it’s another step in that so it’s.
Yeah, and Julie Todaro’s been great, she’s very thoughtful and she’s a community college librarian from a gigantic community college, 41,000 students and I think, I’m going to get this wrong, like a dozen campuses in Austin, Texas. So, she is very, very experienced in working with diverse communities and she’s just been great in take, helping take the campaign forward in the second year.
That’s great. So, as, I think we all agree, all librarians agree that libraries have to transform to keep moving in the 21st century, we can’t just be what we were, we have to kind of keep up with the times, but I always kind of struggle with the idea of like what’s something that’s core to librarianship that we don’t ever want to lose? Like, how can you see a library 50 years ago and a library today and a library in 50 years from now and still be able to point to it and say that’s a library, like we don’t want to become just a community center but we obviously want to take on some of that. Do you have any ideas on that? Of how, what you think is like core to librarianship itself that as we transform and become a lot different, that we don’t lose that core?
Yeah. I think that this is really a good point and it’s one of the ones where I’m, I frequently um, I certainly have some strong opinions on this and this is for instance, we’re actively pursuing e-books and electronic resources at the same time as the publishing industry can tell you e-books had a fabulous period of growth but we seem to have entered into a period now where people read e-books and regular books. E-book sales have kind of leveled off as an overall percentage, so I think there are some signs that printed materials are probably not, you know if you followed the initial timeline for, or the trajectory for e-books, people were saying that we would no longer have print books after 10 years. Well, I think that has proven not to be true. So, I think your understanding of the fact that we need to bounce these things. So, let me talk then about some of the things. I think that the work we do with children, for instance, is something that we tend to, we’re very modest about it, but I think if the truth be known we are the primary institutions in our communities that are supporting our early childhood literacy. If you really think of, you know and the, you know there’s a, some, especially the Ben’s Society or Ben Foundation study, parents understand that taking their child to the library is synonymous with being a good parent. So, I think that the role that libraries play in helping children to develop an early love of reading is really critical. I think that the role that libraries play and especially school libraries, but libraries of all types in taking students and helping them to become independent readers and independent learners is, it’s huge in its impact on our society.
I do think that the role that libraries play at this point, we provide essentially an access to e-government as more and more services are available online, as fewer and fewer services are available either face-to-face or in a printed form, you are seeing that libraries increasingly are the places where people are coming to interact with government. I, you know, the most dramatic example of that I think is after Hurricane Katrina, when you could only get FEMA assistance by filling out an online form and you had people that had been driven out of their houses, that every library within a, you know, several hundred mile radius of New Orleans had people standing in line and librarians were helping them to then access essential services. So, I think those are just some examples. I do think that, you know, the role of, of browsing, the role of, of readers advisory is something that’s changing in its form, but in the final analysis a lot of libraries are now doing online readers advisory for community groups and whatever. I think these are things that libraries maybe did in person at one point and at this point now are increasingly doing through social media and through interactions out in community groups.
I think other things such as service to the elderly, service to the handicapped, service to new immigrants, these are things that are very, I think very, very central to our value and I don’t see them changing very quickly. You know, I sometimes I’ve done programs on the future of libraries and I do point out that for the foreseeable future we are predicting that people will still have bodies and as humans, they will need to put them somewhere and I think everybody being down in their parent’s basement with their, their handheld device is, so that the whole notion of libraries as places where people come to be with people of all ages, to learn, to pursue their intellectual curiosity, it is still a very powerful thing and I just, I don’t, you know. Let me say that I, I don’t believe it will change. I sometimes say that we have to be a good association today, tomorrow or next week, next year. I also think we need to have a strong association a hundred years from now because I believe that there will be libraries because communities created libraries and they’re sustained by I think community aspirations and community needs. I think it’s a great invention with a long, long life ahead of it.
How do you see the association itself transforming to meet the needs of 21st century libraries?
Well, obviously the, the biggest opportunity has to do with the online engagement and, you know, you, let’s say at conference you may have, even if you have 20,000 people attending conference, it still is maybe a quarter or a third of the ALA membership and I think that people who are able to come to an ALA conference or Mid Winter meeting or PLA or ACRL or AASL meeting, or an ALSK institute are certainly going to benefit from that. I think we’re really trying to look at ways in which we can extend that engagement. We have people who’s preferred method of interaction may be through social media or through working together in virtual groups and there’s a lot of experimentation going around at this point. Not everyone wants to be engaged in the same fashion. I think the other thing we want to have is to make sure that people have good options, that they’re receiving ongoing information from us so that it helps them to do their jobs better. I think the networking is kind of a key factor in that it’s, it’s difficult. I do think that interactions with other professionals with what’s going on in other libraries really helps you to be a better librarian, even if you stay in the same job your whole life. You need creativity and new ideas coming in in order to be the best you can.
You talked earlier about working with integrate libraries back in the 60s and I wanted to ask you now that, that still diversity is still an issue in the profession I think? I think we’ve done, we’ve done a lot of things to try to improve that. Do you have ideas of how the ALA can continue to do that, to try to improve diversity because we’re still, I think, at the last surveys I saw were still pretty overwhelmingly white, predominantly female, how you kind of get outside that and bring more people into the profession?
Yeah, I think that you know a spectrum has really had an impact if you look at it we’re pushing a thousand graduates for the life of the program. If there are in fact, let’s say the figure we’re using is about a hundred and twenty, a hundred and fifty thousand professionals working in libraries, we’re approaching one percent which is not bad. I do believe based on what I’m seeing in library schools that in fact the profession is changing. I’m certainly seeing a much more diverse student body, so I am optimistic. I do think that we need to be, it can’t just be ALA. We need the library schools and we need employers to work with us. I know a number of libraries have, many people have homegrown talent that doesn’t necessarily have the credentials and I think many of the most successful libraries have created programs that allow people who may have community roots, who have are, are really outstanding in, within the library. And I think those libraries that have found ways to help them to, to credentials so that they can advance in their careers, have really had an impact. So, I do believe that the associations working with the library schools and with, you know employers which is to say libraries, it’s going to need the three of those groups working together and continuing pressure on this. I do think that the pace of change is now accelerating. But it certain has been, I think frustrating at how slowly it’s been in the past.
Right. So, school libraries are another group that’s kind of in trouble now. How can ALA help support them and make them seem to see, to be seen as more essential to their administration because obviously within the profession we see what’s important about school libraries but it seems like a lot of the bills that come out of Congress have cut out school libraries from the specific funding and. How do we make them be seen as essential more often? And what can we do?
Right. There is actually some really good news and that is that just this past year, with the reauthorisation of the Elementary and Secondary Act, ESA, for the first time since that libraries were disappeared, when No Child Left Behind was passed about a decade ago, school libraries are at least back on the map. Now, the law provides some support for school library services, particularly for urban districts, but it also provides for what’s called an effective school library program and as a result ASL working the Office for Advocacy and the Washington Office, at this point is, has undertaken a national program because what we need to do is to go out to the individual states and we’ll be there at Chapter Conferences, we’ll be there at stand alone planning workshops. Because library supporters in each of the states now need to work with the state Department of Education and with local communities to actually then promote specifically what is now at least for the first time in, as I said more than a decade, part of the definition of poverty educations.
So, I, it’s one of these deals where we’ve managed to now create, and this really took a lot of work, of librarians of all types, we’ve created a framework nationally that now supports efforts at the statewide and local level. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us because states are beginning to develop plans, we’re going to need to offer training, we’re going to need to help support the chapters and the chapter affiliates. We need to bring in members of the public on this at both the national and particularly now the statewide level. It is now going to have to be fought one state at a time, but I think that we have the best opportunity that we’ve had in, in many, many years.
That’s, that’s great to hear. So that we do have a national library legislative day, do you feel like that kind of thing helps connect librarians with those that, those on Capitol Hill?
Oh, I certainly do. I, you know, people are like well, you know, just one day and you have one meeting or whatever. Um, it, if anyone who’s ever been to our nation’s capital knows that it is literally overflowing with people that are trying to promote their goals and seek support from Congress for what they’re trying to do. I think it’s very important that, you know, 500 or, you know, 600 people show up and have an opportunity to keep Congress aware of the fact that, you know, we know where they live, we have stories to tell, very convincing stories about how libraries are helping people. I think that LSTA program in particular is a very, very good program in that the states really do make sure that those funds work at the statewide level which is where the majority of impact occurs. E-rate is huge, it’s probably, you know, somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 million dollars in support for libraries to obtain technology. So, I do think that it’s important, we always say it’s great can you meet in the district, and better still can you get the Congressman or the Senator into a library. Others have plenty of opportunities to show them the wonderful things that people are doing at the local level. And that’s clearly where, you know, the basic relationship building occurs. And the more they understand about how libraries impact people’s lives, this is such a small amount of money. I mean, it’s a rounding error in the defense budget. It is, I was in Massachusetts and the big dig was eleven billion dollars in a year. And we managed to get an appropriation. We ultimately got about 250 million dollars for public library construction, we were able to rebuild most of the 350 public libraries in Massachusetts. At this point I think they’ve probably even begun to work on those remaining libraries, they’ve begun to work on branches. But I think at one point I calculated that what they were spending on library construction and a eleven minute delay in the big dig would build another library. So, it, I think it illustrates that we are a very, very, very, very good investment of public funds and I think that certainly in Massachusetts we have very strong Republican support and very strong Democratic support. Once in while they even competed with each other to see who could do more for libraries and I think that, that’s very heartening, that people understand, you know, they make very, very big decisions that involve a lot of money. I think, again libraries are very, very small and are a very, very, very important investment.
And I think people dismiss too easily that face-to-face and that, that conversation that you have because I know there have been things that I’ve written to my local Congressperson about, and they actually do respond back and that’s just an e-mail to them. So, I mean they, if people actually talked to them then they will give you some kind of response. I mean I didn’t actually talk to the Congressman themselves, but somebody from their office would write me back and say oh we’d like to hear more about, what do you hear about this issue or whatever, so. A lot of them, I mean that, make, it is important to actually to just engage with them.
Right. And I, you know, they, a lot of what they deal with are complaints. I, obviously, as we all do. But I think that this is where we have, there’s so many heartening and really compelling stories about how libraries are affecting people’s lives. And that’s where the local library people, local trustees, friends, can do such a good job by really helping people who have access to, or can make resources available. Understand how good the work is that those resources do.
Well I know one of the things that I had written to my Congressman about was about getting Carla Hayden confirmed. And I wonder if, did that make, I assume the atmosphere in at ALA was very good when she was nominated finally, that.
We were absolutely delighted, yes.
Former ALA President and just obviously a friend of librarians and a librarian herself. I know, one thing that I know that a lot of people said was oh she’s an actual librarian but I feel like that’s a little, that’s skewing a little bit because you don’t necessarily need the MLIS to be Librarian of Congress but you need to, need to understand librarians and I, I’m not going to bad-talk the previous Librarian of Congress but I know that Carla… Dr Hayden, I shouldn’t be that informal with her… Dr Hayden will do a great job of that. I mean she understands librarianship, so.
The other thing I think that she’s, Library of Congress always has a sort of an identity crisis in that they’re, have this tremendous storehouse of information. The question always becomes how do they serve the people of this country. And I think one of her perspectives, I think that will really be critical is just an untiring interest in making those resources accessible. So, I think that her basic orientation toward how do we make sure that the work we’re doing is meeting the needs of people, is serving communities all over this country. I think a Library of Congress that’s willing to play a little bit more of a leadership role in the library world is something that could really, really serve us well because they’re a great illustration of many of the sort of transformative trends that are occurring. They are sort of the flagship for libraries and I think somebody who gets libraries has an opportunity to really position them in a position that could really, really be very, very strong in helping to, to further the work we’re trying to do.
Yeah, I mean cause people who went to library school, we all of course know that technically it’s not the, it’s not the national library but everybody, most civilians think it’s the national library so it’s, it is the, it is the library of the United States according to most, probably 95% of people you would ask in the United States, but. So yes, she’s, she’s the, she’s our figurehead sort of now, so.
I did want to ask about, um you talked about the advocacy portion of the strategic plan. What, how, how would, can you give a progress report on sort of the rest of strategic plan? Like I mean information policy and the leadership development.
Yeah, great, okay, thank you for asking. The, in the advocacy portion, the first of our strategies is the national public awareness campaign. Advocacy training and building a broader network of advocates, advocates are really the next two objectives or strategies. This year you’re going to see a much stronger push from ALA to provide advocacy training. We have a thing called Advocacy Bootcamp which is launching this fall in a couple of states and that will be to help kind of train the next generation of advocates and OIF, Office of Intellectual Freedom and the Office for Library Advocacy are going to work together and what it will help to do is talk about how to advocate for support for libraries, how to advocate for intellectual freedom and really share sort of, how to do it, experiences that will help people to more effectively advocate And this work we expect to see, we’d like to offer this in all of the states. I also talked about the asset training so that’s another really a major push that ASL is going to be leading this year. Information policy is, I think going very, very strong. We’ve been working with the assistance from a Gates grant on something called the Policy Revolution! And the goal in this is to refresh and to focus our messages so that we can create stronger link between our policy efforts and the impact that they have on society. So there’s been a focus on employment, education, empowerment and the goal being to create new messages that we can use in working with policy makers to help them understand that some of the issues that we’re fighting for, let’s say fairer access, are not just academic matters or matters that are business matters. But that they really have a, an impact as I said we talked about e-government, for instance, as a way in which libraries deliver that. So, I would say at this point that the information policy piece, it is going very strong, and again I want to thank Gates for helping to give us a boost as we move forward on that. We’re offering more and more workshops and sessions and webinars for members because we really need to do and want to do a much better job of helping people to explain how things like copyright actually impact their ability to do their day-to-day job and why it’s important for us to advocate for them because it’s in the interest of people that we’re trying to serve.
Professional leadership development is the third of our strategic directions. We have a couple of things that we’re working on this year. The first is that we are going to be launching our e-learning space and that is a, a place where all of the continuing education, and there’s quite a bit of it as you probably have guessed in ALA, will be easier to locate, easier to find, easier to register for, easier to share. One of the things that we have is the, if you look at the broad range of education that’s being offered through ALA and we’re talking about face-to-face conferences, we’re talking about webinars, we’re talking about publications, we’re talking about subscriptions, that. One of the things that we’re working to bring together is to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together and let me explain what I mean by that. We have, for instance, a competences of for librarianship. These translate into curricula, those curricula translate into training programs. So, part of what we’re trying to do is to allow people to identify courses of study, to be able to maintain information so that they can acquire credentials, whether it’s certifications or badges, or other means of documenting their learning experiences. We also, at this point, are, we’re looking at those areas where education and training is absolutely essential.
And let me give you an example of this, I call it the sort-of model T concept. There are probably 25 or 40,000 people that get hired each year to work in libraries, and one of the things that we would like to be able to offer is a very, very low cost basic online course that people can take in what are the basic issues in learning to work with people who have disabilities, for instance. And this is something that you can’t just magically acquire, and that it is isn’t something for individual libraries to try and put training together, it can be very difficult. So we’re, we’re trying to look at areas intellectual freedom is another one, some of these would be free, some would be very, very low cost so that, you know $25 so that we could then actually be able to offer training that really helps not just hundreds or even thousands of people because we have thousands of people at this point who are involved in doing ALA training. But, I, you know, tens of thousands or really reaching everybody.
I think the other area where we’re, we’re very strong and continuing to, to develop is in things like, you take Booklist which ten years ago was a print subscription, now Booklist is really a multidimensional learning environment where people who are interested in literature, who are interested in readers advisory can gather together and learn and find out what’s creative, what’s innovative and that the pieces of the ALA puzzle which is to say publishing conferences and online learning fit together more seamlessly.
Well, I want to, I want to wrap up with what I think is a softball question for you. Basically talking up the ALA. So, how, how do you frame the ALA in a way that convinces librarians to want to join, to want to renew and want to become active in the organization? How, what do you tell librarians to get them excited about the organization?
Wow, no-one’s ever asked that before… no I’m just teasing. I say that you have to invest in yourself and if you look at the overall numbers, about half of the people in the field are ALA members. I would really argue, and this is based on my own experience because I spent the first five years of my career not being a member and I was really isolated. I would say that becoming a member makes the difference between a career and a job. And again, I know that there are many, many good people who for whatever reason have not joined, but joining the association provides you with an opportunity to learn, to network, to develop relationships that are going to sustain you through your whole career, that are going to keep you fresh and creative. Let me, I always say that ALA is not 60,000 people, it’s the half-dozen people that you’re going to, that are going to meet who will share your particular brand of insanity. And that really is the case, that you come in and you say oh I never thought anyone else was interested in X or Y or Z and there are just so many opportunities and so many interest groups within the association that I would, you’re hard-pressed to find something, that there is an interest group around and if you don’t find one then I think you might as well just start an interest group. So part of it is, it allows you to establish relationships with people that maybe at the next community over, they may be the other side of the country in many instances now, increasingly they’re going to be international. So that you can learn, so that you have people that can help to, to feed your energy, that can come to keep you inspired, you know as we all face our day-to-day challenges. I also say that if you do go to a conference or an institute and you don’t come back with three ideas that make you look absolutely brilliant, then you are spending too much time in the local bar.
So, there are, there’s just, you know, it’s impossible to go to a conference and not come back with brilliant ideas. And personally I, let’s say that the, I generally had to pay for part of my, always all of my membership and usually about half of my conference attendance. It was the, the best investment that I ever made because it made a difference for me in terms of my, you need something to inspire you, to challenge you, it’s a rapidly changing field. It’s the best way I think to, to tap into something that’s going to sustain you going forward. And again, with more and more online opportunities, even if you can’t fly across the country to go to San Francisco for a conference, there’s plenty of ways in which you can participate and benefit from what is just the most fabulous network of amazing people. And that’s the members.
Well, Keith, thank you so much for speaking to me today for the show. I think that was very educational for me and I think it probably is for all the other listeners as well.
Steve, you’re very, very kind. You’re such a good host, I probably should be paying you. I appreciate your thoughtful questions, this has really been fun for me and I hope it will be somewhat fun for others as well.
If people wanted to get in touch with you, do you have some contact information that they could?
Yeah, I’m at kfiels, firstname.lastname@example.org.
All right, well, follow up with Keith if you have any other questions, so. Keith, thanks so much.
Okay, great, thank you, Steve.
Yeah, bye, bye.