What I Learned

ALA presidential runner-up reflects on the campaign

September 11, 2015

Joseph Janes

Hmmm, where was I?

Ah yes, running for president. That was, to say the least, quite the ride. I got to meet and talk with lots of great people and share my vision for the profession with many of you, so I have to say I enjoyed most of it. Right up until the end. Losing … was hard, particularly as close as it was (22 votes, for those who are counting). And I won’t lie, it still hurts a little. None of which diminishes my gratitude for the opportunity or my genuine best wishes to President-Elect Julie Todaro for a successful and enjoyable term.

I’m forever asking my students, at revelatory moments, “So what do we learn from this?” Now that the idiomatic shoe is on the other foot, it’s my turn: What did I learn?

ALA is a big organization, with lots of constituencies and interests. During the course of the campaign, the other candidates and I were posed numerous questions from various divisions, round tables, groups, bloggers, and press. Fascinating stuff, mainly because many of these questions were quite specifically—even narrowly—focused on matters that are of deep, if not broad, interest. A few of these were of the “What should ALA do about …” variety, and I knew full well that if any ALA presidential candidate were to say “ALA should do something about …” people would scream bloody murder about overreaching.

One theme emerged in numerous guises: concerns about representativeness and diversity. I wholeheartedly agree that we have work to do in recruiting and preparing librarians that better reflect and represent our communities, which is everybody’s responsibility, including mine as an educator. The power and strength of ALA lie not only in its size but also in the scope and reach of our work and institutions and the commonalities of that work; there is much more that binds us together than divides us.

There is great passion, depth of feeling, energy, generosity, and ­vitality in our Association, and our profession. There is also great apathy, scorn, anger, disconnectedness, even despair and, most perniciously, indifference. Harnessing the former while counterbalancing and countering the latter is a tall order and absolutely crucial.

The power and strength of ALA lie not only in its size but also in the scope and reach of our work and the commonalities of that work.

I’d like to offer a few words, which will likely sound like sour grapes, but aren’t, to the 40,000 eligible folks who didn’t vote. We all know that the most popular sport in our Association is kvetching about it, about how it’s too unresponsive, too sclerotic, too diffuse, does too much (or too little, or the wrong things), is too expensive, too dumb, too whatever. True or not, there were four candidates with a wide variety of backgrounds, interests, perspectives, and goals, and there should have been somebody you could support to try to make it better. You didn’t vote. Fine, that’s your choice, but as my dad always said, “If you don’t vote, you can’t bitch.”

Regardless of how (or if) you voted, I hope more members take an interest and role in the shape and future of ALA. It’ll only get better if people of goodwill step up and do the hard and necessary work.

Finally, and most important, I learned what I already knew: that I have great friends. I was buoyed by the support of so many of them, longtime and new, including my colleagues at the University of Washington. One last time, I want to thank all my supporters and every­body who voted for me; I also want to thank the staff at ALA (especially the indispensable JoAnne Kempf in Governance) for their help and professionalism and my fellow candidates for a spirited campaign. And of course my beloved husband Terry, who was there through thick and thin and snow and sun, and who made it all so much easier.

Now, I’m back, ready to find some new kind of trouble to get into … but that’s another story.