Our ALA executive director Keith Michael Fiels often talks about how ALA is the “seven to 10 people who share your passion”. As a member, I certainly have shared this approach to thinking about what ALA means to me. My experience serving as president-elect, and now as president, has made me want to expand on the executive director’s axiom and note that, in addition to being a large and complex organization that works on behalf of its members, libraries of all types, and the public, ALA is also made up of the staff members who work in your areas of interest, whether in reference, children’s services, diversity, or other subjects.
ALA’s staff member experience ranges from brand new–such as the executive director for ALCTS, who began in mid-January of this year–to employees with more than 40 years at the Association (38% of our staff have a decade or more). While many ALA staff members come to the Association with a wealth and variety of educational experience, many employees take advantage of the tuition reimbursement program to complete college degrees, and even pursue an MLIS. Twenty-two percent of ALA’s staff are also personal members of ALA.
They are just as passionate about the libraries, their users, and members as those of us working the front lines. They pay attention to trends, issues, our “SWOTs”–strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats–and are committed to the diversity of the profession and diversity of access.
Professional social networks? Many members are also active in other professional associations, be they library-related, industry sector, or community-based; serve on their local library boards; and participate in LIS alumni organizations.
Elected officials in ALA or its divisions are, by definition, relative short-timers. For things like division or round table history, expertise maps within the organization, and how best to get from here to there, we officers would be lost indeed without our staffers, who are the human repositories of institutional memory for our Association–walking wikis, if you will–and I do not know an elected official who has not been grateful for the knowledge they have come to possess.
ALA staffers are with us every step of the way. They champion the issues that are close to our hearts. They frequently look for partnership opportunities with organizations within and beyond the library profession.
They do a lot of work on our behalf. When ALA Council, the governing body of the Association, passes a resolution, ALA staffers are the ones who make sure a letter stating our support for the execution a strategy or plan, or that a memorial or tribute communication is sent. They begin implementing the actions that we as members decide upon.
ALA staffers also look for opportunities for growth. For example, ALA staffers participated in Harwood Institute’s Intentionality Forums, learning Harwood’s “turning outward” approach, which entails revising your decision-making processes and outlook to better serve the needs and aspirations of your community. The training focused on how to improve the ALA member experience.
As ALA President I get an opportunity to witness first-hand the hard work and dedication of these people more closely than most, as we work together on press releases, interviews, legislative updates, and other projects. Since so much of their work is behind the scenes, many members have not had a true sense of all they do. I hope this peek behind the curtain encourages you to get to know some of the staffers.
Please join me in thanking ALA staff for being with us to champion libraries, diversity, and literacy as we work to grow our profession.