It’s almost election time! ALA presidential candidate Jamie LaRue has graciously agreed answer a few questions about her thoughts on ALA’s role in library hiring. Voting instructions for ALA members will be sent out starting March 24. Visit this page for more details.
In broad strokes, what do you think the ALA’s role is in library hiring and employment?
ALA has at least four roles:
- first, to provide genuinely useful services for actively job-seeking librarians.
- second, to provide a place to size up professional issues – a head’s up on how to stay employable.
- third, a place to communicate those new skills and issues to library educators.
- fourth, a voice to advocate for the importance of our professionals generally.
How can ALA serve unemployed (or underemployed) librarians?
- ALA JobLIST is the right place to start. There are listings there not only of who is hiring, but career assessment tools, job interviews at conferences, ways to link up with recruiters, and more.
- places to hang out (inexpensively) and share tips. I note that ALA Think Tank has assumed a lot of this role. And that seems appropriate to me. ALA’s relatively modest staff can’t ensure employment for the thousands of jobseekers. Such services work better – will be fresher, more current, more alive – coming from the people who are engaged in the issues, rather than waiting for ALA to create and operate a service. But once those services spring up, ALA should acknowledge them, and work to refer people to them. State library associations – ALA chapters – are another important link in this chain of professional engagement.
- a more community-focused approach to advocacy. It’s clear that our advocacy efforts over the past 25 years haven’t really worked: while libraries see more and more use, their support has been stagnant or falling. I like the partnership with Harwood Institute, and its exploration of a new role for libraries. Ultimately, I think it helps demonstrate the significance of librarians not just to OUR institution, but to our larger authorizing environment. That’s what keeps jobs coming.
LIS job hunters are increasingly urged to look outside of libraries to careers in other aspects of information work. Why do you think this is, and should this be an impetus for any particular changes in ALA?
Library skills are broadly applicable to a lot of enterprises. So that makes sense on its own merits. A more immediate cause, however, is that library schools are under pressure to place students, preferably at good wages. That makes it easier for them to recruit new students. So broadening the search increases the odds of placement. What should ALA do? I think this goes back to the community advocacy idea, although I’ll say more about this later.
How can ALA support library students in order to help them be best situated for future employment?
ALA’s Leadership Institute and its Emerging Leaders program come to mind: a smart investment in the next generation of leadership. What would I like to see enacted? I’ve been doing a lot of mentoring lately – about three students a year. That could be a little more formal. I believe that it is the duty of leadership to lend a hand to those coming up.
A less obvious solution here is the accreditation committee. Again, if ALA wants valued professionals, then those professionals need to have skills that not only preserve the powerful legacy of our past, but point the way to the future. This (curricular change!) is often controversial, but including a little more of the things that make a Masters in Public Administration so valuable, would be worthy additions to the MLIS. Specifically, a master’s degree is often required in the US to be a library director – but the MLIS (in many schools) has only the most cursory overview of the management of people, budgets, and projects.
In general, are library schools adequately preparing students for work in today’s libraries? What are they doing right, and what could be improved on?
Librarians are trusted in our society, and that’s a rare and wonderful thing. So what’s right about library schools is that they still offer smart, passionate, committed professionals to their many communities. What could the schools do for the future? As adjunct faculty at the University of Denver, I’ve been working on that. My platform – and the basis for my classes – focuses on three planks:
- from gatekeeper to gardener. Libraries of all kinds can no longer be just links in the content distribution chain. We must be co-creators and publishers ourselves.
- from embedded reference librarian to community leader. Gone are the days when we can sit at desks and wait for people to think of us. We must actively explore, catalog, and help set the agenda for broader improvement. We can transform not just lives, but whole communities.
- from book deserts to book abundance. A book desert is a home with fewer than 25 books in it. Research has now shown, incontrovertibly, than book abundance (500 books in the home of a child between the ages of 0-5) can literally transform our whole society. We know that — but why doesn’t everyone else?
As ALA president, I would work to highlight these three ways that librarians at any stage of their careers can literally save the world.
What do you think is the secret to a successful career as a librarian?
To listen, to distill, to act, to tell the story. I really do believe this is the most exciting time in the history of our profession. But we have long been entirely too passive in too many ways. We must make the shift from library-centric to community-centric (where community can be town, school, university, or company). Librarians who dare have a greater likelihood of achieving. The caveat: not everything you try will work. And that’s ok, too. There is no learning, no accomplishment, without risk.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about ALA or your candidacy? Any advice specifically for library job hunters?
Whoever you vote for, VOTE. ALA, like any other institution, does some things well, and others not so well. But it remains the best voice we have to influence our society. Step up and claim your role in it.
My website is larueforpresident.com.
I’d like to thank Mr. LaRue for taking the time to answer my questions! I encourage you to visit his website, or to use the comments section to ask any questions you might have. Most of all though, I encourage you to make your voice heard and VOTE!