Challenge, Change, Opportunity

Working together to move ALA, libraries toward shared goals

November 1, 2018

Mary Ghikas, ALA executive director

Libraries and associations are intertwined. Both are about the power of individuals to come together, to bring their unique stories and skills with them, to change lives and change communities.

Over the coming months, our Association will be engaged in difficult but essential work. The task will require that we work together in good faith, trusting one another’s commitment to the important job of library workers and the power of libraries to transform individuals and communities of all types.

The American Library Association (ALA) was founded more than 140 years ago and exists “to provide leadership for the development, promotion, and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.” That mission is fulfilled through the work of more than 58,000 members, representing a broad range of roles and specializations within and related to libraries. That critical mission is also carried forward by members in 57 ALA chapters, as well as affiliate groups of the American Association of School Librarians and chapters of the Association of College and Research Libraries; by 27 ALA-affiliated organizations that enhance the cultural and professional breadth of the “ALA community”; by library advocates in a wide range of organizations and businesses; and by ALA staff.

We—all of us—remain focused on the value of libraries, on the people who advocate for and deliver library services, and on the diverse individuals and communities who need those services. At the same time, libraries and library services have evolved, as have the work of library people, the range of specializations, and the skills required of them. What’s more, our communities have changed and continue to change.

Over the next few months, we will be looking at these changes, their impact, and their trajectory—and at the Association’s mission in this context. This is a process taking place in many other associations that represent various professions, institutions, and industries.

As we encounter changes to libraries, the tasks of library workers, and our communities, we need to ask: “How must the Association itself change to effectively address the opportunities and challenges of its mission in a complex world?”

To help address this question, the ALA Steering Committee on Organizational Effectiveness has begun its work. The group will meet in the Chicago area in late October. And discussions will continue at ALA Midwinter and beyond.

Collectively, we are in a moment of challenge, change, and great opportunity. To achieve what our time requires, we must continue to innovate, grow, and focus on our durable mission. That means the Association must not only be financially and operationally strong, it must also nourish strong collaborations and focus our resources—including the critical work of members, staff members, and allies—on work that moves us toward shared goals.

We will be working together on several simultaneous and related streams:

  • programmatic and infrastructure investment to build capacity in key areas
  • an organizational effectiveness and governance review
  • review of external studies of both communications and membership models
  • internal reorganization and review
  • exploration of a national advocacy network, in close collaboration with ALA chapters and other library-related state associations

Together we can build an even stronger support network for libraries and library workers.


Mary Ghikas, ALA executive director

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