A Welcoming Space

Celebrating the strength and transformative power of libraries

September 1, 2023

Photo of ALA President Emily Drabinski

For me, the best part of any library visit is entering through the front door.

Whether it’s marveling at the dome inside Carnegie-Stout Public Library in Dubuque, Iowa, the vibrant entrepreneurship lab at University of Rhode Island in Kingston, or the bright carpets and colorful student art at P.S. 28 in Manhattan, those first few moments through the door always call home the magic that happens inside our buildings.

We circulate bicycle repair kits in Cascade, Idaho; publish local history in Quezon City, Philippines; and host tango nights in New York City. The programming and resources we offer our communities may be different, but we all offer space, welcoming our communities to join us.

The Library Design Showcase in the September/October issue celebrates some of the best of these library spaces. The ALA/AIA Library Building Awards honor distinguished accomplishments in library architecture, and next year’s ALA/IIDA Library Interior Design Awards will highlight the best indoor spaces of the past two years.

As someone who has worked in libraries that looked like castles (Jefferson Market branch of New York Public Library), modernist triangles (Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York), and old department stores (Graduate Center of City University of New York), I am excited to feast my eyes on this year’s selection.

Wendy Tressler, president of ALA’s Core division, shared with me the history of these prizes. In 1957, the awards were transferred from ALA to its new Library Administration Division. After several name changes spanning over 60 years, in 2020, the Library Leadership and Management Association merged with two other ALA divisions—Association for Library Collections and Technical Services and Library Information Technology Association—to become Core. At the end of October, Core will celebrate its second in-person forum, in New Orleans. I attended last year and encourage everyone who can to make the trip—you will learn so much about the systems and structures that make libraries go.

This history also reminds us that ALA, just like our libraries and communities, is always changing. Last spring, members affirmed a revised set of bylaws in a process shepherded by ALA Past President Lessa Kanani‘opua Pelayo-Lozada. The Executive Board and Council, alongside ALA’s committed staff members, are implementing those changes now. They are intended to make our governance structures more accessible and the Association more nimble, so that we can better respond to challenges as they emerge.

As library workers face pressing challenges related to climate change, funding, intellectual freedom, and, yes, the perennial need for more and better buildings and interiors, a stronger ALA is as important as ever.

In July 2022, I had the honor of visiting with Cheryl Heid, director of Grimes (Iowa) Public Library (GPL). ALA Executive Board member Sam Helmick and I donned hard hats and walked through the bones of a new building that quadruples the size of the library, with a sensory room, multiple meeting rooms that can be reserved after library hours, and a drive-through circulation window. Its roof is shaped like an open book that beckons from the highway. Heid told us about the dozens of conversations she had with patrons, community members, civic leaders, and government officials over the years to garner support for the new library. Just as much as it’s being built nail by nail, GPL is also built handshake by handshake, phone call by phone call.

And that’s how we’ll build the power of the American Library Association too.


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