Libraries Change Lives

Individuals and communities have a right to libraries

August 19, 2013

Barbara Stripling

As a child, I dreamed of changing the world. And then I encountered Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy: “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” I realized that dreams become reality only when we take action. So I embarked on a lifelong path to “being” the change through librarianship.

I am deeply honored to be president of the American Library Association. My presidential initiative, Libraries Change Lives, is based on a fundamental principle that we, as individuals, communities, and a democratic nation, have a right to libraries. The initiative is designed to build public goodwill for America’s right to libraries and to highlight and sustain ALA support for three areas of transformative practice in our libraries, where we are changing lives every day: literacy, innovation, and community engagement.

Literacy might be called the cornerstone of all libraries. Certainly learning to read. Literacy in libraries means that we pay attention to individuals and help each of them unlock the doors of discovery. How can ALA help our libraries change the literacy lives of those we serve? In my presidential initiative, we plan to strengthen ALA literacy initiatives and collaborate with the ethnic affiliates on family literacy models. We hope to host a national summit on digital literacy and libraries in the spring.

The second strand of Libraries Change Lives is innovation. Libraries are leading innovation by providing opportunities (both physical and virtual) for collaboration, invention, and creation and by transforming our own practices. Libraries are becoming innovation zones. Libraries Change Lives will enable libraries of all types to share their innovative practices through webinars, stories of makerspaces and learning labs, and TEDx talks and forums.

The third strand of my presidential initiative will continue ALA’s focus on community engagement by building on the Promise of Libraries collaboration with the Harwood Institute and enabling libraries to turn outward and facilitate conversations with community members about their aspirations and priorities.

Americans have a right to effective school, public, academic, and special libraries. As a part of Libraries Change Lives, we have developed a Declaration for the Right to Libraries to serve as a strong public statement of the value of libraries to empower individuals, strengthen families, build communities, and protect our right to know. Libraries are the Great Equalizer, preserving our nation’s cultural heritage and helping us better understand each other. In the next year, libraries will hold signing ceremonies where community members can visibly declare their right to have vibrant school, public, academic, and special libraries in their community.

Two other issues will be ALA priorities this year. ALA has been involved in substantive conversations with publishers and authors for the last two years on issues surrounding the availability of and access to ebooks in libraries. ALA leadership, in collaboration with the very effective Digital Content and Libraries Working Group, will continue to be a national voice for equitable and fair access to e-content through our libraries.

School libraries across the country are at a critical point. ALA is planning a multifaceted campaign for school libraries. The bottom line for our school library campaign is our shared understanding that all types of libraries form an ecosystem that impacts the success of whole communities and the individuals within them. We must stand together and demand strong school libraries. No child in America should be deprived of that right.

Join me on my presidential initiative journey. We know that Libraries Change Lives. We must take action, tell our stories, and build the public will to demand every individual’s right to a library. And we must start today.

BARBARA K. STRIPLING is assistant professor of practice at Syracuse (N.Y.) University. Email: bstripling[at]