Reenvisioning ALA

Reviewing and supporting our strategic goals

January 14, 2013

Keith Michael Fiels

Over the past few months, the ALA Executive Board has been involved in a range of discussions that reflect some of the more urgent issues facing libraries, and the Association’s strategic priorities.

“bright idea” light-bulb drawing on a blackboardBecause the Association, like libraries, must change and evolve to best serve our communities, a series of brainstorming meetings this fall asked both the ALA Executive Board and the division leadership to “rethink” ALA. They did this by asking: “What opportunities exist for the Association?” “What are our aspirations?” and “What results would we like to see in five years?” They then asked how the answers might suggest changes in the way we operate. The discussion will continue at Midwinter 2013, with a number of opportunities for members to contribute their ideas and suggestions in the coming months.

Digital content and libraries, and most urgently the issue of ebooks, continues to be a focus. In October, President Maureen Sullivan issued a statement that strongly criticized the lack of progress by the largest publishers that were not yet making ebooks available to libraries. Her statement received national media attention, and ALA has followed up with a toolkit for use by local libraries. It is designed to make communities and users aware of the issue and to bring positive pressure to bear on publishers who continue to withhold ebooks from libraries. (See President’s Message on how you can make a difference.)

The transformation of libraries of all types involves much more than just the digital revolution, of course. A rapidly growing Transforming Libraries site now provides “one stop” access to information on resources, publications, webinars, and online discussion groups, and communities—all created by librarians—related to the many aspects of library transformation: ebooks and digital content, community relationships, user expectations, library services, physical space, library leadership, and the library workforce.

The board also discussed the new Libraries Matter portal, which supports our strategic goal of “increasing research and evaluation documenting the value and impact of libraries.” The site now allows access to information on hundreds of studies that document the impact of public, academic, and school libraries, and is designed to help local advocates use these studies to make the case for library support. Specific areas covered include the impact on: the local economy, community development, and literacy and education.

The ALA Office for Research and Statistics released an updated Diversity Counts study in September 2012, showing that diversity in the library profession has grown only slightly since the 2000 census. With a two-year Spectrum Presidential initiative just completed, the board discussed the “next generation” diversity plan, which would involve the ALA ethnic affiliates, other associations, library schools, and employers. While ALA members can be proud of the 700 Spectrum scholars we have supported, much work still lies ahead. A meeting with the ethnic affiliates is planned for Midwinter to continue discussions.

The ALA Executive Board and members are all looking at ways to support our strategic goal of increasing the availability of continuing education, career development, and certification opportunities. The new ALA Online Learning site now makes it easy to find out about the many webinars and online courses offered by divisions, round tables, offices, and ALA Publishing. New courses are being developed by a growing array of ALA member experts. New certification programs offer credentials for those involved in online training programs. Continuing Education Units (CEUs) are now available for a growing number of ALA online courses. The question is: How can these pieces work together to bring the collective knowledge and expertise of ALA members to your local laptop, tablet, or handheld?

For more information on the ALA 2015 Strategic Plan and the fall board meeting, see

KEITH MICHAEL FIELS is executive director of the American Library Association, headquartered in Chicago.


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