Hot Issues Drive ALA Presidential Priorities

March 30, 2012

The focus on electronic publishing and access through libraries to digital editions (ebooks) has been intense, particularly in recent months. The policies and practices of the “Big Six” publishers—Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, Random House, and Simon & Schuster—in relation to access to ebooks through libraries (or lack thereof), have elicited strong responses from across the library profession.  

As this column was written, Penguin announced suspension of its sales to libraries through intermediary OverDrive. Random House recently reaffirmed, to ALA and publicly, its commitment to make all of its titles, including frontlist and backlist selections, available to libraries, albeit with a price increase. HarperCollins shook up the library world a year ago after announcing that its ebooks would be licensed for only 26 circulations. At press time, the  other three publishers—Hachette, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster—were still not permitting access for libraries to their digital editions. These issues are a part of the focus of ALA’s new presidentially appointed Digital Content and Libraries Working Group. In addition, ALA leadership met in February with major publishing executives to discuss libraries and ebooks (AL E-Content blog, Feb. 8). We must find solutions to improve the current reality.

School Library Petition Drive Successful

During the past year, we have also seen real threats to school libraries as school districts identify options on how to reduce spending. Some have proposed that school libraries be closed and school librarians laid off. Others propose that  library spaces be kept open but staffed with volunteers rather than certified school librarians—not much of a library in the eyes of many.  

These proposals are dramatic and pose a real threat to young people growing up in a digital environment where information literacy is essential. These facts led to another ALA-wide presidentially appointed School Libraries Task Force, with representatives from all types of libraries. The recent successful White House Petition for School Libraries drive—the brainchild of ALA’s American Association of School Librarians President Carl Harvey that resulted in more than 27,000 signatures in a month—is another example of high-visibility issues driving action. We must identify approaches to address these ill-considered proposals.

Changing Agendas

ALA presidents and division presidents alike have the opportunity to choose areas of focus during their time in office. I chose to focus on advocacy and the development of diverse library leaders. Yet an ALA president must be prepared to lead on issues that dominate the immediate concerns of libraries. Some examples of ALA presidents and the issues that “chose” them are:  

  • Ann Symons (1998–1999), who spoke out against filtering and in support of unfettered internet access for libraries, a battle for which she was well prepared as a school librarian and a champion of intellectual freedom;
  • Carla Hayden (2003–2004), an eloquent spokesperson on fundamental democratic rights and library-related issues arising from the USA PATRIOT Act; and
  • Roberta Stevens (2010–2011), who responded to a multitude of media inquiries about the privatization of library management.  

In each of these cases, these issues “chose” the ALA president and, in each situation, the ALA president played a key leadership role in advancing the Association’s position and concerns shared by the library community.  

ALA presidents can choose to advance an ALA strategic priority by building on the work of former presidents. But, in the end, what will probably be most important during a presidential year are the issues that have far-reaching impact on the future of libraries—the issues that “choose” us. ALA presidents provide this leadership in partnership with the executive director and key staff, the Executive Board, Council, and ALA division and round table leadership.

MOLLY RAPHAEL is the retired director of Multnomah County (Oreg.) Library and the District of Columbia Public Library in Washington, D.C. Visit; email:


Click Here to Engage

Classroom response systems ease discussion and assessment

Let’s Put an End to Socialized Intellectual Property

What America needs are the best copyright laws that money can buy