A Little Light to See By

Self-renewal and institutional impact go hand in hand

July 8, 2021

From the Executive Director by Tracie D. Hall

A confession: I had intended to write about the strategic planning work that we have been engaged in across the Association for the past year. It’s work that centers on the financial stability and membership growth required to achieve ALA’s goals of universal broadband (and the educational, employment, and public health access that depend on it); racial and ethnic diversity in library services, and equity and inclusion in its workforce and leadership ranks; and the preservation of, and funding for, libraries of all kinds.

I was almost through with a first draft when a nagging truth asserted itself, insisting I speak to it: that the challenges, uncertainties, and indeed, opportunities we have faced during and emerging from the pandemic have taken their toll on us, in the form of worry, fatigue, and stress. And yes, though I firmly and sincerely believe that better days lie ahead for ALA, libraries, and the LIS workforce, I recognize that the constant course correction, solution-finding, and unpacking of what authors adrienne maree brown and Henry Mintzberg, separately, have called emergent strategy—or the unplanned patterns that develop in an organization over time—have made workdays feel interminable and weekends nearly indistinguishable from the workweek.

So, before I talk about the pivot strategy that will guide the Association’s path to transformation over the next few years, leading up to its 150th anniversary, I have to speak to the pre­requisite most essential to its success: focused and energized members, leaders, and staff.

Author Anne Lamott reminds us of the order in which effective change-making must come: “First find a path, and a little light to see by. Then push up your sleeves and start helping.”

As someone innately attracted to meaningful, people- and community-centered work and galvanized by opportunities to help and to serve, I sometimes have to be reminded how essential it is that I take time to nurture the fire that lights the way. When library leaders and stewards allow our light to dim, the path forward becomes harder to discern and serves no one.

In her book Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good, brown writes, “I have seen, over and over, the connection between tuning in to what brings aliveness into our systems and being able to access personal, relational, and communal power. Conversely, I have seen how denying our full, complex selves—denying our aliveness and our needs as living, sensual beings—increases the chance that we will be at odds with ourselves, our loved ones, our coworkers, and our neighbors on this planet.”

As I slowly reconnect with friends and colleagues I have not seen since before the pandemic, I am struck by the paths people have followed to ignite their spirits and keep themselves grounded. There’s the corporate manager, for instance, who, in the midst of shifting at top speed, decided to finally pursue the yoga certification—now virtual—they had been bucket-listing for years. Or the nonprofit leader who, after learning that a grand­father who’d died before their birth had not only operated a small brewery but also created a beer for a world’s fair, unearthed the recipe, partnered with a local beer distributor, and reissued the beer with zero prior experience, all during the course of the pandemic. “I had to do something to pull myself out of a slump,” they shared.

So, though my next two columns will be about the strategy we are building to ensure ALA is in the best possible position to help library workers and the libraries and institutions they power remain strong, this one must begin with the reminder that our institutions are only as viable as the people who guide them.

How are you lighting your way?

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