Stand Up, Speak Out

Let’s carry on the legacy of the late civil rights activist John Lewis

September 1, 2020

From the President, by Julius C. Jefferson Jr.

As I write this, many of us are reflecting on the life of the “boy from Troy,” US Rep. John Lewis. Over the years, Lewis became a friend of ALA. Many of us listened to him tell the stories behind his celebrated graphic novel series March, which documents his experiences serving on the front lines of the civil rights movement, or the story of how, as a small child, he was unable to go to the public library in his hometown because Blacks were not allowed.

For 60 years Lewis served and advocated for our collective humanity. What many may not know is that his wife, Lillian, who passed in 2012, was his chief advisor and a librarian.

Lewis’s legacy reminds me that service is the fundamental reason libraries exist and that reading and access to information—which are human rights—are necessary for full participation in our democracy.

To carry on that legacy, how will we advocate for participation by all and serve all our communities? Or, as Lewis asked: “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”

I have been inspired by the innovative work of libraries and library workers across the country during this moment of change and struggle. However, libraries affected by the economic challenges of local governments face shrinking budgets and furloughs.

Libraries need a coordinated national effort to provide support during the pandemic, and our best opportunity for that support is the Library Stabilization Fund Act (LSFA). This COVID-­19 relief package would provide $2 billion in federal funds to libraries and provide resources to retain library workers and safely reopen. Our champions in Congress know that libraries are central to community resilience across this nation. We must advocate to extend that understanding to other elected officials at all levels of government.

Also, as of this writing, I am preparing to take a coast-to-coast virtual tour of 12 libraries. The idea was inspired by the 1991 “Rally for America’s Libraries / Caravan on Wheels”—a demonstration that traveled from Atlanta to Washington, D.C., and encouraged library workers to tell their stories to local media.

The 2020 “Holding Space” tour began as the idea to visit libraries that are providing the best service, yet are the least heard. The aim has been to connect with the library community beyond conferences and big meetings, to bring ALA to places we have not been present enough. I wanted to talk about issues that excite library workers. (And once you get a librarian talking about the work they love, there are no quiet librarians.)

I wanted to hear firsthand from colleagues and stakeholders about the incredible work their libraries are doing to serve communities that are under-resourced and often overlooked.

What innovative ways are library workers engaging their poor, white, Black, Brown, LGBTQIA+, rural, tribal, and urban communities, for example?

The sense of urgency on this tour is even greater than it was when I was elected ALA president more than a year ago.

Now is not the time for quiet librarians. Now is the time for every member of the library community—and those whose lives are affected by libraries—to advocate for the essential work that must continue. Now is the time to support LSFA. Now is the time to share stories of how libraries impact your community.

Stand up, speak out, and join me on behalf of libraries and library workers.

In the words of Rep. Lewis, let’s “get in good trouble” together.


From the President, by Julius C. Jefferson Jr.

Black Lives Matter

Leading in tumultuous times

Clockwise from top left: Karina Quilantan of Jaime Escalante Middle School, Pharr, Texas; Bill Chapman of Jarrell Independent School District; Kristi Starr of Coronado High School, Lubbock; Heather Lamb of Castleberry Independent School District, Fort Worth; Roger Ceballos of Benjamin Franklin International Exploratory Academy, Dallas; Tamiko Brown of Fort Bend Independent School District, Sugar Land; Stephanie Galvan Russell of Gorzycki Middle School, Austin; Rosenid Hernandez-Badia of Benjamin Franklin International Exploratory Academy, Dallas; and Julius C. Jefferson Jr.

“Libraries Are Holding Space for Their Communities”

ALA president’s cross-country tour wraps up