When Maureen Sullivan becomes ALA president on June 26, one thing that is certain to continue from Molly Raphael’s presidency is the thematic focus on “Transforming Libraries.”
“Since ALA leaders build on the work of their predecessors, it is particularly fortuitous that Maureen and I have been able to work closely together,” Raphael said. “Our shared vision around community engagement and transforming libraries will move forward without a break.”
Raphael added that the Association is uniquely positioned to contribute to efforts underway all over the country—indeed the world—to transform libraries into places that engage with the communities they serve.
During her time as ALA president, Raphael appointed what she describes as “a talented and diverse team” to work on her Empowering Voices, Transforming Communities initiative. “We have used approaches that help libraries identify the different populations of their communities, figure out how to engage with the varied groups to understand their priorities, adjust library services to serve those groups, and then motivate those communities to speak out about the value of the libraries,” she said.
Transformation happens, she said, when libraries engage in new behaviors and develop programs to support the priorities and aspirations of those communities. “This is different from a needs-assessment approach,” Raphael said. “It is based more on what communities’ dreams are.”
This means anything from changes in the physical structure of buildings to new services to accommodate changing technology to adapting the management and staffing of a library to better serve patrons, according to the Transforming Libraries website.
Over the past 18 months, the Association developed resources, presented programs and preconferences at various conferences, and offered web-based learning opportunities “to understand how we can truly engage with our library communities to understand their priorities and aspirations,” Raphael said. And it was clear the demand for such information was there. Hundreds of people attended conversations at the January ALA Midwinter Meeting in Dallas to better understand how their communities are changing and what libraries—and librarianship—need to do to respond.
At Midwinter, Rich Harwood, president and founder of the nonprofit Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, presented an approach for community engagement that involves libraries and other organizations to turn outward, not inward. As he has traveled the country, he said he hears the same message. “People want to reengage and connect with one another,” he said. “They want to come back into the public square. They want to join with each other to make a difference, not only in their own lives, but in our common lives.” In fact, Raphael credits Harwood for helping to inspire the Association’s approach. “Libraries have been turning outward,” she said, “but we have tended to look at needs rather than build on positive elements within our communities.”
The focus on transformation will continue throughout the spring and summer. Webinars will showcase models of how to engage communities and convene community conversations. Online tools will include continuing education e-courses such as “Demystifying Copyright: How to Educate Your Staff and Community”; the Young Adult Library Services Association webinar on “Best Practices in Teen Space Design”; and the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services e-forum on “Transforming Collections.” Librarians and library staff can also find information on discussion groups focusing on transliteracy, search engine optimization, mobile computing, and internet resources and services, as well as receive information on guidelines and standards, suggested publications, and research tools.
The work continues
As for Maureen Sullivan’s part, the incoming ALA president said she will build on the foundation Raphael laid. Using the title “The Promise of Libraries in Transforming Communities,” Sullivan plans to develop a sustainable program that supports library leaders and next-generation librarians to engage their communities in innovative ways.
While exact details of the focus are being finalized, Sullivan said, “I want ALA to have a meaningful and sustainable program available to all members. Through this effort, I hope ALA and our members will discover new partners and new possibilities for involvement in our communities.”