Let Our Legacy Be Justice

Confronting racism and prioritizing action

July 1, 2020

From the Executive Director by Tracie D. Hall

We are living in extraordinary times. A time when a pandemic has required that we distance ourselves from one another, and a time when the stand against racism and racial violence requires we come together.

Just as there was an outcry across the field to keep our staff and communities safe and protected from COVID-19, so too are we obligated to decry racism. As library and information workers, our resistance in both fights requires resilience.

The future of libraries rests on building institutions and developing leaders who will promote racial equity, confront racism, and recognize the fundamental truth that the Black lives of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Botham Jean, Charleena Lyles, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, and too many others to name—matter.

In 2026 ALA will turn 150 years old. That birthday will be a milestone in the evolution of our institutional legacy and what’s to come.

Let our legacy be justice.

I invite all of us to explore the role of the library as both a vehicle and driver of justice. What is our responsibility to justice when literacy and educational attainment are two key contributors to economic self-sufficiency—and their absence contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline, high unemployment, and cyclical poverty?

Because progress and change are the Association’s birthrights, I am issuing three calls for urgent action:

A call for universal broadband. If the first great wave of library services was concerned with reading literacy, and the second with technological literacy, then the third must be with universalizing broadband access and broadening digital literacy. The United Nations has identified universal internet access—which it defines as bringing 90% of the global population online—as a central goal. Experts say that breakthrough is at least 30 years away. We cannot wait. Alongside access to food, housing, social services, and medical care, access to broadband should be considered a determinant of individual and community viability, and, like the right to read, a human right.

A call for rapid diversification of the LIS field. According to surveys of the field, more than 80% of librarians are white. The profession’s inability to reflect its current and potential diverse user base limits its resonance and credibility. We must fund and expand library workforce diversity endeavors such as the Spectrum Scholarship Program to grow the ranks of librarians of color. Let’s also be intentional in the effort to retain and equitably promote people of color to decision-making positions within the field and the Association.

A call for additional funding to broaden library and information access. As we balance on the precipice of another recession, there is a need to resource innovative delivery models, such as a library and information services corps that can extend the reach of libraries even further into our communities. Previous projects—for example, the Works Progress Administration’s traveling libraries and the library service systems set up through the Civil Works Administration during the Great Depression—may provide blueprints. Evidence correlates socioeconomic mobility to information access and knowledge building. What if every low-income family was matched with an information navigator? Think of the return on impact investment in such a program could yield.

Embedded in each of these calls for action is the overarching call for justice: the desire for equity, universal well-being, and mutuality.

Where is ALA headed? Let it be toward justice. That is the star on the road map. Email me at thall@ala.org. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

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