LJ Talks to the 2022–23 ALA Presidential Candidates

As voting for the American Library Association (ALA) 2022–23 presidential campaign continues, LJ invited candidates Stacey Aldrich, state librarian at the Hawaii State Public Library System in Honolulu; Ed Garcia, director of Cranston Public Library, RI; and Lessa Pelayo-Lozada, adult services assistant manager at Palos Verdes Library District in Rolling Hills Estates, CA, to weigh in on some key issues pertaining to ALA and librarianship; further information can be found on ALA’s Election Information page.

head shots of Stacey Aldrich, Ed Garcia, Lessa Pelayo-Lozada
l.-r.: Stacey Aldrich, Ed Garcia, Lessa Palayo-Lozada

Voting for the American Library Association (ALA) 2022–23 presidential campaign opened on March 8, and ALA members in good standing can cast their ballots through April 7. Results will be announced following the Election Committee’s count on April 14.

LJ invited candidates Stacey Aldrich, state librarian at the Hawaii State Public Library System in Honolulu; Ed Garcia, director of Cranston Public Library, RI; and Lessa Pelayo-Lozada, adult services assistant manager at Palos Verdes Library District in Rolling Hills Estates, CA, to weigh in on some key issues pertaining to ALA and librarianship; further information can be found on ALA’s Election Information page.

LJ : How can ALA-APA (Allied Professional Association) help advocate for library workers in health, safety, wages, unionization, and other issues?

Stacey Aldrich: Education and awareness of the important work that library staff do each day to support the ever-changing needs of communities. There is still a very basic mental model of libraries that needs to be rebooted for many. During the pandemic, library staff were incredibly creative and resilient in figuring out ways to support their communities safely. We need a TV show (like the Australian comedy in the early 2000s The Librarians); articles; interviews; nurturing ongoing relationships with our local, state, and federal leaders; and maybe a special edition of WIRED on the future of libraries. The story of libraries and the people who work in them must be in the forefront to help our communities better know and support us.

Ed Garcia: As libraries reopen across the country we need to advocate for the safety, job security, and wellness of library workers. As a 501(c)6, ALA-APA can directly advocate for library workers and can engage in activities that ALA can’t do as a 501(c)3. This will take a major investment in time, money, and member engagement and is something I want to initiate. I envision ALA-APA moving beyond its traditional activities of certification of credentials and providing infrequent salary survey data into direct lobbying for library workers. I see ALA-APA directly lobbying for pay equity for library workers on the federal and state level, lobbying for the elimination of student debt for library workers, and providing legal assistance to library workers who have lost their jobs or have been furloughed during the pandemic. We can work to create opportunities to teach library workers to advocate within their own institutions for pay equity and safe, equitable work environments. The investment should also be made to conduct the ALA-APA Salary Survey more frequently. The last available data for librarians was released in 2019 after a five-year gap. For non-MLS library workers, the last survey was 2007. Increasing the scope of ALA-APA activities will need some strategic discussion and planning, but the potential is there.

Lessa Pelayo-Lozada: As ALA’s companion 501(c)6, ALA-APA’s primary focus has been on certification programs, salary studies, and promoting wellness among library workers. As we’ve seen during the pandemic, this is not enough for our library workers who may not have power to ensure they have safe working environments. I believe if we appropriately fund and resource ALA-APA we can leverage our 501(c)6 status to help our library workers nationwide with these issues. Some components I could potentially see ALA-APA providing in the near feature are courses on leveraging the power of unions in the workplace, unionizing, understanding your rights as a library worker, speaking to administration, and advocating for yourself and your colleagues. In order to accomplish this shift towards advocacy, we need to ensure that ALA-APA has the staffing and support to move forward and promote the interests of library workers as we need it to today.

How do you feel ALA events should be formatted in the future, once in-person events are an option again? What parts of the virtual meetings would you like to keep?

EG: I will be very happy when we are able to see each other in person again! But moving forward, ALA can utilize virtual platforms for some portion of our events to increase participation from those who are unable to attend in person. We gained valuable experience from our recent virtual conferences that can be applied to create a hybrid concept, with predominantly in-person attendance but with options for virtual participation. With the conference committee and conference services staff, we can look to create a model in which some of the larger events and speakers can be streamed live. Virtual platforms can also be used to allow for greater participation in ALA governance. ALA Council, membership meetings, and candidates’ forums can be made available virtually, an increase in member engagement. To help offset the costs of virtual participation, an experience can be created to allow for meaningful vendor engagement with virtual attendees. I also believe that we should take a more strategic approach to creating new models for event engagement. We should develop an association-wide strategic approach, working with our divisions. There is much to be learned from the best practices and experience of successful conferences put on by our divisions that could be applied across the association.

LPL: I am all for continuing hybrid in-person and virtual conferences and meetings. As a library worker who has had to pay for conference attendance out of pocket throughout my entire career, the option to participate in a conference at a lower rate while still covering a reference desk or doing story time in between is essential to ensuring our professional development opportunities are inclusive and accessible. Providing virtual networking opportunities throughout the year is important, but especially so when there are exciting things to connect and bond over during a conference. Key speakers, panels, and poster sessions would be wonderful to continue livestreaming in real time, and having a component for those who are only participating virtually to participate in and contribute to programs and posters is an exciting idea as well. Additionally, recognizing that some thrive in virtual environments over in-person ones opens up our concept of what is possible, pushing us to continue to improve and meet the ever-evolving needs of our members.

SA: I think the future is blended. We are human and still need to have places where we can all gather and connect in person, but being able to open up virtual too means that more people will be able to participate. I think we need to look at what works well virtually and what kinds of activities are more important to be together in real time. It may be that we have one big in-person ALA Conference each year and virtual learnings and meetings in between. Perhaps we could think about regional meetings and work with our chapters to also create in-person events. I think we can find that balance together.

How can ALA strengthen its equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) work? What’s missing from the equation that you’d like to see?

LPL: As someone who has been deeply involved in [EDI] work in libraries since the beginning of her career and within ALA and the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA), one of the key issues I’ve seen is that we are not all speaking the same language. Implementation of EDI and social justice within our association are across the board and often replicated where there can be collaboration. As we hold ourselves more accountable to living out all of our values, but especially EDI, and providing more education around what we mean when we talk about and create action around these concepts, I see us reaching the antiracist institution I know we can become. This work will continue to take a long time, but I believe we are poised to make real change. We need to all challenge ourselves and our colleagues to do the real work, get uncomfortable, and be clear about the expectation of what an EDI core value looks like, not just within the Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services or those groups working on EDI, but throughout every facet of ALA.

SA: I am proud to be in a profession that believes in the importance of [EDI]. Most parts of the organization have formulated statements and begun EDI work, and I think we need to develop an ALA strategy with goals that will help us grow and demonstrate our commitment. We need to answer three basic questions: What is our vision? What do ALA, our profession, and our communities look like if EDI is fully practiced? What work do we need to do? How will we know we have made progress?

EG: We, as an association, should strive for a more inclusive library community, which means continuing to promote [EDI] at all levels of ALA and our profession. Our libraries and our association should reflect the communities we serve. We should be intentional in our efforts to strengthen EDI within ALA by:

  • ensuring equitable representation at all levels of leadership within ALA;
  • ensuring that ALA staff, especially at the senior management level, reflects the diversity of our membership;
  • making a strong commitment to accessibility. Participation in ALA and at ALA events should be accessible to all of our members. ALA can also be a model to help libraries across the country adopt best practices for accessible buildings, programs, and services;
  • reviewing all ALA policies and processes with an EDI lens.

As Forward Together continues to evolve, what do you feel is the best governance structure for the organization to adopt? Do you support the abolition of a voting Council, or preserving it? What about the ratio of appointed to elected members on the proposed expanded Executive Board?

SA: First, I would like to thank all of my colleagues who worked on Forward Together. They spent a lot of time gathering feedback from across the organization, analyzing potential models, debating, and offering suggestions to help our organization thrive. In order for ALA to survive in the 21st century, it must have an organizational structure that is nimble and financially and organizationally supportable. If you look at the organizational structures of some of the largest professional organizations (300,000+ members), they do not have large governing bodies. I know it is possible to build structures that provide opportunities for voices to be heard, and are smaller in the number of people in leadership like an expanded Executive Board, which can reach to members and other parts of the organization. Change is difficult. It does not mean that we don’t appreciate the work of our colleagues or the past structures. It means that we care enough about our organization to adapt to support the future of ALA.

EG: As a member of the Executive Board and the Forward Together Working Group, I have been engaged in the ongoing work of designing a more effective and responsive governance structure for ALA. As ALA president, my role would not be to influence the process but to preside over the Council to make sure the process moves forward with members having the opportunity to have their voices heard.

We need a governance structure that focuses more on action than on process, that can be nimble and responsive and that is more equitable in its representation. One major decision to be made is what size will our policymaking body be? Do we want the policymaking power of the Association concentrated in a small board of directors with advisory assemblies, or in our current larger Council structure? After several years of discussions, I believe that the Association is better served by having a larger, more representative policymaking body modeled on our current Council. In our current structure any member, through the membership meeting or Council, can affect policy change by convincing enough Councilors of their position through rigorous debate. With policymaking power concentrated in a 12–17 member board, that opportunity will be lost. The Council should be evaluated and remodeled to be more effective and responsive. To remove barriers and make Council more equitable, the requirement to attend Council meetings in person and allow for virtual participation could be implemented. Instead of meeting only twice a year, Council could meet virtually several times throughout the year to be more responsive to evolving issues in our profession. We need to also make sure we do not create more silos in our governance and ensure we have equitable representation for our chapters, divisions, roundtables, and from all types of librarians and library workers.

LPL: As a member of the original ALA Executive Board working group and chair of the beginnings of Forward Together, the Steering Committee on Organizational Effectiveness (SCOE), I have seen my role as one of facilitator for difficult conversations and processes, taking my personal opinions out of the equation. My focus is and has been on what the collective and collaborative good for ALA will be based on the voices of our members. From that lens, and as the current Forward Together Resolutions Working Group refines the details of proposed resolutions, I want to see final proposals and hear what members think to evaluate what should be ALA’s governance structure. So much of our world has changed since the original Forward Together recommendations were released and as president, I will lead together for change with our members, creating collaboration and consensus around this decision-making process, rather than inserting my personal opinions at this stage. I look forward to bringing this work that I’ve spent a lot of time with to the voting and implementation stages.

COVID-19 has created or exposed fractures between library leadership and frontline workers in some systems. How can ALA and the profession effectively promote better communication and collaboration?

EG: We successfully reopened the Cranston Public Library last June after being closed for three months. It was an intentional collaboration between the administration and our staff. Our team was involved in each step and were able to offer feedback and suggestions on how to proceed. We have built a relationship of trust and respect over several years between the administration and the staff. That relationship made it possible to reopen in a way that was as safe as possible for our staff and for us to be unified in our efforts to offer library service to our community during a very difficult time. I think ALA can help foster conversations that could help to promote that type of trust between leadership and frontline workers. Frontline workers need to know that their concerns for a safe workplace, along with job security and pay equity, are heard and understood by their administration. Library administrators should be able to discuss their financial and political pressures with their staff, but should also fight for their workers and strive to ensure a collaborative relationship built on trust. At the recent Library Journal winter summit, I was a panelist at a session on this topic. I see ALA hosting a series of discussions modeled on that event and the current Connect Live series. Honest conversations with speakers representing library leadership and frontline workers could help find solutions and promote better communication and collaboration.

LPL: As an association leader and as a middle manager, I’ve found the best way to promote effective communication and collaboration is by ensuring that all those who have a stake in the decision have an opportunity to make their voices heard, offer suggestions, and be part of the process. I’ve found that often the leadership or management training we receive over the years separates “leadership” from “frontline workers” as though we are working toward different goals and want different outcomes. I believe that by incorporating different types of leadership styles into our training, and certifications for leadership that view our colleagues at all levels as just that—colleagues—we can improve not only communication and collaboration, but inherently shift how we operate not just in times of crisis but in times of maintenance and growth.

SA: The pandemic has no handbook. Leaders are doing their best to do what they were hired to do and make sure communities are connected through libraries and keep their colleagues safe. Frontline workers continue serve the communities that they care about and be as safe as possible.

Given the experiences of the pandemic, I would start with the following: 1) Provide opportunities for library leadership and frontline workers to share challenges, successes, and learnings. By listening we can better understand and find new ways to support each other. 2) Continue to offer leadership and “leading from any position” professional development to support members in their organizations. And 3) Engage in conversation about the future of organizations. What structures do we need to support the success of a future library? What does communication look like? Let’s start building foundations for future resilient organizations.

What would your presidential priorities be, if elected, and how do you plan to pursue them in light of ALA’s need to cut expenses and raise additional revenue?

LPL: As ALA president, I will lead together for change and an association that:

  • practices and models racial equity, inclusion, and antiracism;
  • models organizational excellence and sustainability;
  • and commits to our core values through partnerships that amplify our ideals in conjunction with strong advocacy work.

Much of this work is already occurring within ALA but as a very siloed organization, it is not applied consistently throughout, does not always have a common understanding or end goal, or has been put on the back burner due to other competing issues and association needs. I plan on building on the work already occurring and engaging our members to elevate and move forward our new ALA, taking into consideration what financial commitments are necessary, what can be absorbed, and how we can best work with ALA staff to make these goals realities. We have so much experience and knowledge within our ranks that remains underutilized and I look forward toward truly collaborative work, leading together for change with all of our members.

SA: Future Curiosity would be the key theme of my presidency. With all of the accelerated changes in our world due to the pandemic, we need to get ready for continued transitions that will impact our ALA organization, libraries, and communities. Join me in a yearlong journey of intentional future curiosity, thinking, questioning, and building strategies to infuse ALA, our profession, and library supporters with future thinking skills and ongoing practice to create our future. At the end of the year, we will have our first ALA Futures Guide, which will be a key piece for developing our strategies and roadmap for the future, and a vehicle for conversation with our stakeholders.

But that is not all. I am committed to: 1) Building a nimble organization that creates opportunities for all members to connect and feel heard. 2) Finding new models for membership. 3) Creating clear pathways for members to navigate and find their place in ALA. 4) Supporting goals that demonstrate our commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion. And 5) Advocating for literacy, digital equity and access, intellectual freedom, accessibility, and school libraries.

I think these priorities can be met within a simple budget and us all working together. I also think there are some partnership and sponsorship opportunities that could also support for these priorities.

EG: As your ALA president, I am committed to move ALA forward:

  • by working with the Executive Board to build financial stability through the creation of new revenue streams and strong fiscal controls;
  • by fostering an atmosphere of openness through transparent and timely communications;
  • by continuing to promote equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility in our association and our profession.

As your ALA President I will:

  • utilize ALA-APA to advocate for the safety, job security, and wellness of library workers;
  • amplify our advocacy efforts and work for increased federal funding for libraries, universal broadband, net neutrality, and the elimination of student debt for library workers;
  • start a national conversation working with AASL to promote the importance of school librarians and advocate at the federal, state, and district level to retain and adequately fund these vital positions;
  • visit LIS programs across the country to engage with our student ALA members and help new members of our profession find their path in ALA.
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Lisa Peet

lpeet@mediasourceinc.com

Lisa Peet is News Editor for Library Journal.

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