Representing ALA

Looking back, looking forward

June 1, 2013

Maureen Sullivan

It has been a privilege this year to serve as your president. The experience exceeded my expectations in so many ways. I especially enjoyed representing ALA in the larger world. One of the special joys was working closely with Immediate Past President Molly Raphael and President-Elect Barbara Stripling to ensure continuity across our terms to fulfill our shared vision. I now look forward to having Courtney Young join in this effort.

One of our ongoing visions is of the library as a community conversation center, a place where people come to share their ideas and learn from others. Highlighted by 2000–2001 ALA President Nancy Kranich, the library is a place to promote civic engagement, open access, and free expression. This year, with a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, ALA joined with the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation in the project “The Promise of Libraries Transforming Communities” to develop a sustainable program to enable librarians to be effective leaders and conveners of community engagement.

Another ongoing project has been the effort to “reimagine” ALA. With considerable member input, the ALA Executive Board, the Council, divisions, and ALA staff were challenged to identify ways to improve the Association and make it more flexible, nimble, and responsive to changing needs. The effects of some of those changes will take time to be noticed, and the effort is ongoing.

We stepped up efforts to engage the large publishers in discussion about the need to make their ebooks available for sale to libraries at a reasonable price. The story isn’t complete on this issue, but significant progress was made with some publishers, notably the recent decision by Penguin to sell its front list to libraries.

Another area of concern is the role of school libraries and librarians. In 2011, Molly Raphael appointed the School Libraries Task Force, and the work moved forward this year under the leadership of cochairs Susan Ballard and Patricia Tumulty. One important result is a campaign to raise public awareness and gain public support.

It was a pleasure to be part of a group invited by then–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to make the artifacts and rich history of the State Department Diplomatic Reception Rooms more accessible to our citizens. If you cannot take the guided tour, you can visit the beautiful website.

The first “Leading to the Future” ALA Leadership Institute will be held this August, and the Harvard Graduate School of Education has already begun planning a second “Library Leadership in a Digital Age” institute for 2014. ALA’s support of the Digital Public Library of America continues. DPLA Executive Director Dan Cohen will join me in the President’s Program at the 2013 ALA Annual Conference.

I enjoyed meeting so many of you at conferences and events around the country, getting to know ALA staff and many of the wonderful people who serve as chapter and division officers and leaders. ALA is a large and complex organization with much work to do. It takes all of us to do it well.

Many ALA presidents stay involved long after their terms have ended. I will support Barbara in her presidency and will continue to work in the areas I can contribute best. I especially look forward to being involved in the “Leading to the Future” institute in August.

The challenges we face are complex. Yet this is a time of great opportunity for us to engage our communities to pursue our shared aspirations. I urge all ALA members to embrace our leadership role as conveners of community engagement.

MAUREEN SULLIVAN is an organization development consultant to libraries and professor of practice in the Managerial Leadership in the Information Professions doctoral program of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College in Boston. Email:



Reading the Carnegie Longlist

This list provides an ideal snapshot of a year in publishing

Keith Michael Fiels

Rethinking, Reinventing

Working together to strengthen our Association for the future