A Librarian Must Lead ALA: Be Sure You Vote in March | Blatant Berry

If this headline seems familiar, there’s a good reason: one year ago I said something very similar in “The Devalued MLIS.” At the time, I was addressing the upcoming vote of the American Library Association (ALA) Council on whether ALA should require candidates for its open executive director spot to hold a master’s degree in library science.

If this headline seems familiar, there’s a good reason: one year ago I said something very similar in “The Devalued MLIS.” At the time, I was addressing the upcoming vote of the American Library Association (ALA) Council on whether ALA should require candidates for its open executive director spot to hold a master’s degree in library science. Following a contentious debate at last year’s Midwinter, Council narrowly voted to require the credential. Yet one year later, we’re essentially back where we started. After the search committee declared a failed search this past fall, the Council voted to reverse its earlier decision, changing the degree from required to preferred by a 77 percent margin. (A report on the process was provided at the Council/Membership Information Session at Midwinter in Denver.)

A petition was posted to put a measure on ALA’s spring 2018 ballot to overturn the Council action and received enough signatures to do so (at least one percent of the voting membership). I was first summoned to this fight by longtime comrade in arms Pat Schuman, a former president of ALA. When I spoke with former ALA president Mitch Freedman, he saw the decision as part of the larger trend to remove the word library and convert our graduate programs to “iSchools” and ALA into the American Information Association. I urge all ALA members to vote to reverse the Council action and continue to require the MLIS.

It is impossible to understand why the organization’s leaders have chosen to remove the requirement that the new executive director (ED) hold an ALA-accredited master’s degree or a CAEP-accredited master’s degree with a specialty in school library media. Obviously, there are hundreds, indeed thousands, of qualified, competent, exceptional managers and leaders among the hundreds of thousands of credentialed librarians in the United States.

For nearly a century, every ALA ED has been a credentialed librarian. ALA has grown to its current strength, influence, and position of leadership with these individuals at the helm. There is no valid reason to change that requirement and a host of reasons not to. The move is incredibly destructive to ALA, library education, and all credentialed librarians in the country.

It is our professional duty to protect ALA from such actions and to elect leaders who understand why our libraries and our educational programs, accredited as they are by ALA, need our defense and constant vigilance to ensure they are not undermined.

It took our profession more than a century to get to this level of excellence and to build the organizations and educational institutions to support it. To put someone who is not a credentialed librarian in the post of ALA ED will set that work back decades. It will do great damage to our efforts to strengthen the position of librarians and libraries in our society. It has been a long, difficult road to make the practice of librarianship into a recognized profession, and it will take continued struggle to maintain that status.

To overturn the unconscionable Council action, 25 percent of ALA’s voting members, or about 11,975 people, must vote. A simple majority determines the outcome. So if you are a member in good standing, please do so. The ballot opens on Monday, March 12, and closes Wednesday, April 4. Results will be announced on April 11.

I hope ALA members will come out in sufficient numbers to reverse this choice. Even if they don’t, it is possible that ALA’s search leaders will appoint one of our great librarians to be ED. Such an appointment would do a lot to restore the standing of librarians, reaffirm the relevance of ALA, and undo the damage to library education.

I will, of course, continue to belong to the organization and work to foster it no matter who is appointed ED. If a credentialed librarian gets the post, I will work to support that individual with heartfelt enthusiasm and deeper effort.

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No longer dues paying ALA bc of stuff like this

As an MLIS-holding librarian who has worked for non-profit associations, exactly like ALA, for the past few years, it is extremely short-sighted to make the degree a requirement. Just because a CEO/ED does not have a degree does not mean they are not for the association's mission. This is an association, not a library branch/system. An experienced individual with a CAE and MBA would be the perfect candidate.

Posted : Feb 27, 2018 09:13


Go ahead, withhold your ALA dues. Who are you going to whine to when the major advocate for library funding is cut off at the knees and your library is closed?

Posted : Feb 27, 2018 09:13

Diedre Conkling

Actually, I meant to say agents of change, not change makers.

Posted : Feb 21, 2018 05:05

Diedre Conkling

I really value my degree and the values, ethics, and tools that go with it. I also know that being a librarian is not the only value an individual would bring to the Executive Director position but a very important value. I suspect the most qualified person will be someone with the library degree and lots of other training and experience running large organizations. The most qualified value continuing to learn to do the best job they can. The core of that experience is the library degree. I am finding it interesting that people saying that requiring the library degree is discriminatory and not recognizing the value of others. At the same time they express a lack of appreciation for people who have been in ALA for many years. I hope they are investigating the individuals that are being labeled the “old guard.” If they are learning more they will find that many of these people have been the change makers in our association during the entire time they have been in ALA. I value their thoughts and vision.

Posted : Feb 21, 2018 05:03

Patricia Schuman

Thank you John. ALA has been successfully led into the second decade of the 21st Century by Executive Directors who ensured that library values underly ALA's programs and activities. We have many skilled experts working within ALA — managers, financial experts, public relations experts, editors and publishers. The ALA ED is the person who ensures that all of this works— and who represents librarianship to the world on a continuing basis. While finding the right librarian to fill this role from the hundreds of thousands among us will not be easy, it must be our goal. I urge all ALA members to Vote Librarian! Pat Schuman ALA Past President and Treasurer Lifetime Board Member, United for Libraries Honorary Member Founder, Neal - Schuman Publishers

Posted : Feb 19, 2018 07:17

John DeSantis

Thank you, John, for this timely and cogent editorial. I hope that all ALA members will vote in the upcoming election and speak out on this issue. Now more than ever it's important for the association to reaffirm its professional values.

Posted : Feb 19, 2018 06:19

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