Moving Forward

Reflecting on an eventful year of progress

June 1, 2021

From the President, by Julius C. Jefferson Jr.

With my final column as ALA president, I’d like to look back over the past year and offer thanks. I must first pay homage to ALA members who have paved the way for my journey as president, such as Alma Jacobs, the first African American to be elected to the ALA Executive Board (1964); Clara Stanton Jones, the first person of color and African American to be elected ALA president (1976); and E. J. Josey, the first African American man to be elected ALA president (1984). These trailblazers provided a blueprint for me to lead ALA with honesty, compassion, and integrity.

Thanks to all who joined me last summer on the virtual “Holding Space” tour, a conversation series with libraries. I will forever remember you as faithful partners and travel companions as we faced seemingly insurmountable difficulties. Thanks in part to our advocacy, libraries secured federal relief funding of historic proportions.

ALA staff and leadership managed major challenges—all while having our governance and membership meetings in a virtual environment. ALA developed a plan to address our finances and continued with the work of reenvisioning the operating agreement with our divisions. We heard from ALA’s Forward Together Working Group and are considering possibilities for a new, more responsive governance model. We increased member engagement, with so many answering the call to serve as committee chairs and members, and division and round table leaders.

Through a global pandemic we remained engaged with ALA Connect Live, monthly live events that brought together the library community to discuss issues and challenges. Thanks to the speakers for sharing their knowledge and insights, and thanks to all who connected with us.

Fueled by a passion that comes from personal experience, I focused on confronting the racism and white supremacy that has plagued the US for too long. I coached colleagues who have faced racism and white supremacy in their professional lives, including supporting those who have filed discrimination lawsuits against their employers. I have listened, empathized, and encouraged.

The positions supporting the rights of LGBTQ+ people and those who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color would not have been possible without an ALA Executive Board that believes in equity, diversity, and inclusion and the changes needed within ALA and in our communities.

I would not have survived this year without our valuable and dedicated ALA staffers, who assisted in making me comfortable and confident to represent ALA and advocate for libraries and library workers.

Thanks to my family, my wonderful presidential advisory committee, my social media director, my colleagues at the Library of Congress, and so many valued mentors who prepared and guided me for the unknown as a leader.

Finally, thank you for being an ALA member. I hope we have demonstrated the value of membership.

Even with a year of ups and downs, we have been resilient. As the great Bill Withers wrote on the cover art of his 1974 album +’Justments, “We will make some mistakes both in judgment and in fact. We will help some situations and hurt some situations. We will help some people and hurt some people and be left to live with it either way. We must then make some adjustments, or as the old people back home would call them, +’JUSTMENTS.”

As I pass the gavel to Patty Wong, there is so much work to be done in advocating for libraries, managing organizational challenges, and addressing racism. Let us continue to hold space for one another as we move forward.


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.

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From the President, by Julius C. Jefferson Jr.

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