Libraries are essential for the health of our democracy, our communities, and our future. But too often we hear from elected officials and regular citizens alike that libraries are relics that are no longer necessary in our modern culture.
The American Library Association’s (ALA) strength in representing and advocating for librarians and library workers is likewise critical. However, the feedback we frequently receive is that getting involved in an association as complex as ours is daunting and that our Byzantine structure often leads to exclusion and confusion.
Over the course of my presidential year, I will work to promote both the value of libraries and ALA, broadly speaking, through a lens of social justice and inclusion.
First, I will embark on a project to understand the library’s role in addressing social and economic inequity. This is of particular interest to me for two reasons. Forsyth County, North Carolina—where Winston-Salem State University is located and where I serve as director of library services—is one of the least economically mobile communities in the country. If you are born in poverty in Forsyth County, your chances of climbing the ladder of prosperity are dismally low.
I also know that economic advancement is possible. I saw it in my own family. When I was a little girl, I was adopted by a man who could neither read nor write. He worked hard to gain those skills and better himself and his family’s life. His efforts inspired me throughout my life, including my career in librarianship.
I will convene selected ALA and external groups to discuss collaborative approaches and strategies to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately affects young men of color. I will create tools for use by libraries to help ensure that they serve as safe spaces for these vulnerable populations.
Second, I believe strongly in the opportunities and obligations inherent in being a member of ALA. I would not be where I am today without the guidance and mentorship of the Black Caucus of the ALA, as well as countless others who have taken time to encourage me along the way. That isn’t everyone’s experience, though, and I recognize that an association like ours can be overwhelming to new members and intimidating to others.
That’s why I’ve launched Finding Your ALA. This initiative is about including all voices at the table—a role I take seriously as I stand on the shoulders of previous ALA leaders, who, like me, have been people of color. My goal is to connect students and new library staff with ALA and help them find a place within the Association that furthers their careers and their ambitions.
In order to be represented, we must have a seat at the table. My hope is to create a welcoming association that grows with the strengths and interests of its members. At the same time, the staffers who support the work of member leaders like me are experiencing a series of changes—including a new executive director and the possibility of a move from ALA headquarters on Huron Street in Chicago. To ensure they feel prepared to meet the needs of an evolving Association, I’m also using part of my presidential program to establish adequate change management training.
We have a busy year ahead and an ambitious agenda, but I am confident we can tackle big issues and effect real change. Thank you for trusting me to lead the Association during a challenging—and exciting—time for libraries, librarians, and library workers.