LJ Talks to 2025–26 ALA Presidential Candidates Sam Helmick and Ray Pun

Voting for the American Library Association (ALA) 2025–26 presidential campaign opens March 11, and ALA members in good standing can cast their ballots through April 3. LJ invited candidates Sam Helmick, community and access services coordinator at Iowa City Public Library; and Ray Pun, academic and research librarian at the Alder Graduate School of Education, Redwood City, CA, to weigh in on some key issues.

head shots of Sam Helmick and Ray Pun on ALA background
Sam Helmick and Ray Pun
Image courtesy of American Libraries 

Voting for the American Library Association (ALA) 2025–26 presidential campaign opens March 11, and ALA members in good standing can cast their ballots through April 3. LJ invited candidates Sam Helmick, community and access services coordinator at Iowa City Public Library; and Ray Pun, academic and research librarian at the Alder Graduate School of Education, Redwood City, CA, to weigh in on some key issues.

Helmick, a current member of the ALA Executive Board, is president of the Iowa Library Association. They previously served as chair-elect on the Freedom to Read Foundation and chair of the Iowa Governor’s Commission of Libraries, as well as serving on committees for the Network of the National Library of Medicine, Stonewall Book Awards, ALA Policy Monitoring Committee, Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) Michael L. Printz Committee, Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) Sophie Brody Award Committee, and the YALSA Fundraising Task Force.

Pun currently serves as immediate past president of the Chinese American Librarians Association (CALA) and was past president of the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA), in addition to serving on ALA Council, ALA Policy Corps, and as a member of the advisory committees for two ALA past presidents. He is a member of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), and the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL).

Further information about the candidates and other items on the ballot can be found on ALA’s Election Information page .

LJ: What would your presidential priorities be if elected?

Ray Pun: We are seeing emerging and ongoing issues affecting our colleagues and libraries simultaneously. These matters include book bans, generative artificial intelligence, climate crises, surveillance, digital content price gouging, job burnout, workplace safety, and more. These issues also bring us together in community and solidarity. As ALA President, I have three priorities building on what we are seeing today and what leaders have been working on:

● Support and showcase library workers as they confront unprecedented challenges and conditions

● Build stronger working relationships between ALA and its chapters and affiliates

● Expand ALA’s engagement in the international library community

I see an opportunity for us to gather and tell our stories nationally to the general public on how we confront these challenges and conditions affecting libraries, library workers, and communities. What are our “hidden” superpowers in combating these issues for and with our communities? Sharing our “brief but spectacular stories” as best practices can inspire others to act and address these issues in their communities. We need to highlight how our work in libraries transforms lives for the better.

Second, I strive to build a stronger working relationship between ALA, ALA organizational and individual members, state and regional chapters, and affiliates. We want to ensure that communications are open across the ALA ecosystem, especially regarding timely issues affecting libraries and library workers that require advocacy engagement (e.g., contacting state/federal legislators) and to share ALA resources like the Unite Against Book Bans Campaign Action Toolkit to support library workers and advocates. I see an opportunity for us to highlight the benefits of being organizational members through gathering data from State Chapters and organizational members to tell community stories that demonstrate ALA’s impact in advocating for funds from IMLS, LSTA, or partnerships. It would be a great way to highlight and share these efforts across the ALA ecosystem.

Finally, I aim to increase ALA’s engagement with the international library community. Based on my experiences working abroad and serving in the ALA International Relations Round Table (IRRT), REFORMA’s International Relations Committee, and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), I see opportunities to engage ALA’s work globally by hosting virtual orientations and programming in partnership with other groups and in regional/local languages of interest (e.g., Spanish, French, Arabic, Mandarin-Chinese, etc.). In my past work as the ACRL Convener for International Perspectives on Academic and Research Libraries Discussion Group (2018–20), I invited academic library workers from Egypt to Vanuatu to present their projects, challenges, and trends to the LIS community. We can continue these collaborative programming efforts to promote ALA’s work and to engage with international and prospective members.

Sam Helmick:This week library advocates defeated a bill which would have eliminated all codified funding for public libraries in my state and close several small and rural libraries serving marginalized and vulnerable populations. Iowa library workers galvanized to ensure state legislators heard from us—through media coverage, phone calls, emails (thank you, ALA, for access to One Click Politics), and an advocacy training for over 700 library trustees across the state. The subcommittee canceled their hearing. The legislators listened to us. They choose to table that bill!

My experience activating affinity groups in media, law, social justice, and community action launched a campaign that made this happen. I want to bring those skills and experience to the role of ALA President.

We know our ALA chapters are doing tremendous work right now on the ground responding to book challenges, threats to the safety of library workers, personal attacks, and legislation aimed at dismantling libraries. I know firsthand that these struggles require grassroots organization and mobilization. Strengthening ALA chapters is THE priority of my presidency. By directing resources to ALA’s Chapter Relations Office, we can increase training for chapter leaders and ALA members on media relations, power mapping, and advocacy campaigns. We can create more opportunities like the December 2023 ALA Chapter Advocacy Bootcamp to include our affiliates, committees, round tables, and divisions to learn together, raise awareness, and enhance access to the existing resources that ALA provides. This work must be inclusive and intersectional. We do this work together and ALA provides us with the tools, resources, and opportunities to do it.

This is a challenging time for ALA. How do you plan to help support the association during your presidency?

SH: As a knowledge expert on First Amendment, privacy, and access policies, I work closely with school boards, public libraries, major library systems, advocacy groups, and fellow professionals to uphold the principles of intellectual freedom, storytelling, and story sharing. We know that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color [BIPOC]—as well as LGBTQIA+—representation in education and libraries is crucial to learning, belonging, and our very right to exist. Any conversation about intellectual freedom, any discourse regarding the future of our association and professional field, must be intersectional and include the people whose stories, identities, and safety are under attack.

It is essential that we play “joyful offense” against unmitigated censorship, mischaracterization, and private competition to provide information access by sharing our stories. By taking a proactive approach to promote the value of libraries, we can effectively combat threats to intellectual freedom and the dismantling of our profession. We can remind our stakeholders and the public who resource us through policy, funding, and social capital of our inherent value to the future of society. We can reclaim the national narrative about libraries to remind the world that we make it a better place. We need to hear more of the positive stories that are happening every day across libraries.

We tell our library users that the best place to start their advocacy is by simply using their library. I say to our library workers that a tremendous form of self-advocacy is by sharing stories and by seeking the impactful stories of those they serve. My presidential support would come in the forms of learning, curating, and then celebrating and amplifying our stories. When we face the Sisyphean sensation that our work is never done, when we struggle to find purchase to lift ourselves from burnout, when we face polarization and mistrust, our stories remind of who we are and why we are committed to librarianship.

RP: My goal is to bring everyone together to ensure input from all stakeholders. We may not agree on everything, but we have different perspectives, and it is an opportunity to share thoughts, listen to one another, and see what we can do to address these issues together.

As ALA President, I plan to engage with the new ALA Executive Director and strengthen a collaborative working relationship to ensure their and ALA’s success. I see an opportunity to collaborate with the ALA Executive Board to empower the Executive Director to engage with 200+ ALA staff. The staff at ALA are true gems in partnering with member leaders in carrying out ALA’s work and priorities. I recognize and thank the staff for their hard work and service. Many have recently retired or transitioned from ALA, meaning there are institutional knowledge and history gaps. We need to cultivate opportunities to support and recognize the staff.

Another area is to think of ways to engage with membership. One significant opportunity coming up is ALA’s 150th anniversary in 2026. There may be moments for ALA to engage with membership and prospective members with its long and evolving history. I would welcome opportunities from the ALA’s 150th-anniversary steering committee to engage and partner with internal and external groups to promote how ALA has been a vibrant community, constantly evolving, and committed to supporting critical issues impacting readers, library advocates, libraries, and library workers. I would facilitate conversations and share resources and connections to ensure that our 150th anniversary becomes highly successful and memorable.

How can ALA better support libraries and library workers faced with book challenges and threats of violence?

RP: I am deeply sympathetic to our authors, illustrators, readers, and library colleagues, especially those working in school and public libraries experiencing criminalization, harassment, and violence due to book challenges, bans, and censorship. As a result, we see an increasing level of demoralization and resignation, burnout, and workplace safety issues. Some libraries have had to close, while others have experienced traumatic moments. These horrible situations are not unique and have arisen before in library history, yet we see people coming together to push back and support intellectual freedom in various ways.

There are many groups within ALA focused on these issues. From what I see, we need to engage with our state and regional chapters through ALA’s Chapter Relations Office and ALA Affiliates and other channels and share critical resources like the Merritt Humanitarian Fund. Providing additional resources and support to the ALA Chapter Relations Office is key. We may want to partner with these groups to host media training or letter/op-ed writing/FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request workshops to train library workers and the community to take action when and before these issues come up, and to uncover book challenges. We should be monitoring U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) cases from librarians who were terminated because they refused to remove books, especially books centering on LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC experiences; they have filed workplace discrimination claims with EEOC and the results are pending.

ALA may also want to consider partnering with other groups to offer digital safety and anti-doxxing workshops to ensure that we can protect library workers and their private information from malicious users who are attempting to expose such sensitive information to the public. In addition, collaborating with authors, illustrators, and publishers through social media to highlight these issues may also help raise awareness of book challenges to the broader public. All of us must come together to do this emotionally challenging but necessary work because we believe in intellectual freedom and that “free people read freely.”

SH: As a library worker who has navigated both a bomb threat and a story time protest in the last year at the Iowa City Public Library, I continue to learn, think, and feel so much about the emotional, physical, and social tolls of this profession.

ALA can better support libraries and library workers facing book challenges and threats of violence by actively promoting and disseminating best practices developed by library workers who have successfully navigated such situations. Sharing these experiences, case studies, and practical strategies through ALA’s communication channels can empower libraries to proactively address challenges to intellectual freedom while promoting the safety of both workers and patrons. ALA has organized training sessions, webinars, and workshops that focus on de-escalation techniques, conflict resolution, and fostering inclusive spaces within libraries, but I believe hosting these initiatives for our partners and stakeholders is a way to educate the public about these universal issues too. Leaning into expert institutions like the National Institute of Workers Rights , Center for Workers’ Rights, and National Employment Law Project (NELP) can help us best delegate the three jobs each library worker currently performs: library worker, library advocate, and self-advocate.

Collaboration and resource-sharing among broader communities are crucial. ALA is facilitating space for this by establishing a centralized platform for the exchange of information and resources related to book challenges (United Against Book Bans) and can support partners who are developing resources related to violence threats, for example PEN American’s 2022 Tip Sheet for Librarians Facing Harassment. Encouraging a community of practice where library workers can share insights and support each other in addressing these issues will contribute to a more resilient and informed library community. ALA-APA (Allied Professional Association) can expand its mission to include a focus on workers’ rights and safety best practices by actively advocating for policies that protect library workers in challenging situations, conducting research on workplace safety in libraries, and providing resources and training programs to enhance the well-being of library professionals and those we serve.

You’re both powerful advocates for other library workers. How do you want to bring this work to the larger association?

SH: One of my campaign values is We Do This Work Together. The work of libraries is best conducted in community. Together, our diverse perspectives and talents shape the impact of library services and enable us to directly understand and answer informational needs. Because libraries are reflections of the communities they serve, the work is often complex (even messy). However, through policies, procedures, and processes, all are welcome and invited to the table to conduct the good (often difficult) work of libraries. Identifying shared values, the importance of access, and the impact of free people reading freely are viable bridges of partnership in this work.

During my service as the Iowa Library Association President, our state faced the second-most library adverse bills in the nation, our association changed service management providers, our member leaders coordinated our annual conference without staff support, and we managed to steer our finances outside of debt for the first time in nine years. As a leader, I recognized how facilitating opportunities to grow together, inviting everyone to the table, encouraging members to partner inside and outside the organization to support our mission, and resourcing those performing incredible work are my key functions.

As an ALA Executive Board member, I recognize how resourcing membership and staff efforts is crucial to the sustainability of our association and profession. As ALA President, I would support the Executive Board in the hiring of the new ALA Executive Director and seek to resource their role, which is to uplift the voice of membership, by rehiring a Director of Development to focus on financing ALA’s future, and a Director of the Public Policy and Advocacy Office to craft and influence policy which directly funds and sustains our field.

RP: I want to ensure that ALA strives to be an association where people feel valued through positive connections with others, are able to be authentic, and have a sense of belonging in this space. It is not perfect by any means, but I know there are opportunities to continue shaping the conversation and ensuring that ALA continues to integrate and sustain the values of equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility within the association and as best practices to engage with our communities.

I see an opportunity to highlight resources and opportunities from ALA-APA. We may hold more conversations about matters impacting library workers, like the gender pay gap, anti-burnout measures, recognizing and mitigating toxic workplaces, and self-preservation. These conversations could become free webinars and an online conference to highlight these issues in discussion and engage with the profession at large.

How would you want to steer ALA’s legislative priorities during your term?

RP: Many ongoing legislative priorities are in discussion, and other issues may come up suddenly. I want to name an unknown variable I am monitoring closely: the upcoming 2024 U.S. presidential, House, Senate, and state elections, and how those outcomes may impact library advocacy and legislative work in various ways. This also means that we must strengthen our relationships with stakeholders and work from previous years in securing federal funds to sustain essential programs like IMLS or LSTA that support libraries nationally and locally.

For my own experiences, I serve as a member of the ALA Policy Corps and in the California Library Association’s (CLA) Advocacy and Legislative Committee, where I advocate for state and federal funds for libraries. I see the critical need for library funds when cuts are happening from New York City to the state of Oregon; libraries are reducing service hours, significantly impacting the communities they serve. I had an opportunity to meet with legislators’ aides regarding relevant bills such as the More Social Workers in Libraries Act, because library advocacy work benefits everyone.

My approach would be to hold more conversations and encourage all of us as library advocates to engage with legislative processes at the city, state, and federal levels, and be aware of acts or bills that may affect libraries, such as the Artificial Intelligence Accountability Act, the Digital Equity Act, the Fight Book Bans Act, or A Stronger Workforce for America Act . In addition, other important issues are happening at the state level, such as consumer privacy acts or ebook bills, that may help us understand and address the evolving digital landscape impacting our work, values, and users.

SH: Resourcing and supporting the work of the ALA Council Committee or Legislation is absolutely essential, and requires a commitment of human capital by hiring the next Director of the Public Policy and Advocacy Office. Legislative priorities in many aspects are determined by the bills that are filed and our agility to respond at federal, state, and local levels. By directing resources and staff to support membership in coalition building, productive communications, and media relations, I think we can stratify our responses at the state and local levels (where most library funding and policymaking occurs) to better compliment the federal priorities in play.

Additionally, by promoting comprehensive launches of library-friendly legislation like ebook pricing bills, freedom to read bills, and library worker protections bills, we can transition the narrative to how legislators can unite to strengthen information access and contribute to positive outcomes. The more states that can contribute to this legal canon, the more impetus and momentum the federal legislative bodies have to support these initiatives too.

If elected, what would each of you want to sit down with the other and find out to make your work stronger?

SH: Ray and I have served ALA for many years together. Sharing this slate with him is the professional honor of a lifetime and I recognize that the success of my presidency (the success of our association and profession) hinges on continuing to work, learn, and serve together. Several of our presidential priorities dovetail into the larger strategic initiatives which must unfold ALA to thrive for the next 150 years.

Supporting Ray to develop coalitions and containers to strengthen our international relationships would be an edifying conversation starter. I can hardly wait to sit down to talk more about developing our voice in the discourse and policymaking regarding artificial intelligence. I am excited to ideate ways we can create intersectional training and resource sharing between ALA affiliates and chapters for advocacy and organizing.

RP: Outside of ALA, Sam and I are part of the Library Freedom Project. This program teaches library workers about surveillance threats, privacy rights, and digital tools to disrupt surveillance. I greatly respect and admire Sam, their leadership, and their work promoting intellectual freedom and combating book censorship issues in Iowa and elsewhere. I would welcome Sam and their expertise in strategizing ways to address censorship issues happening across the country and help identify collaborative opportunities to support state chapters in these efforts through media/op-ed training and ALA resources on intellectual freedom. I have appreciated the chance to get to know Sam throughout this campaign process. Regardless of the outcome, I fully support Sam and will do my best to ensure their success.

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Lisa Peet


Lisa Peet is Executive Editor for Library Journal.

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