I want to thank Steve Thomas, who produces the Circulating Ideas podcast, for his collaboration with me to create a transcript from the ALA president candidate interviews podcast in order to provide access for people with hearing disabilities. Steve is working to post a complete transcript of the podcast but in the interim has allowed me to post the transcript of my section. Lisa
Circulating Ideas, Episode 86
2016 ALA Presidential Candidates
Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe
Steve: Lisa, welcome to the show.
Lisa: Thank you.
Steve: Obviously, you are on the show because you are running for ALA President. Why do you want to be ALA President?
Lisa: Well, thank you for having me and really it’s a great honor to have been nominated to stand for election for the position at ALA President. When one accepts this kind of invitation you spend a lot of time thinking about why do I want to do this and really am I the right person for the position at this point in time.
So, the first part of my answer is I believe that I’m the right person for what ALA needs in a president at this time, which is a president who is thinking about the future of the association and where the profession will be in say 20 years, which is, I think, as we can see all the trends obviously we’re moving to a more digital future, we’re moving to a more distributed future, and a future that really, absolutely needs to engage our newer and younger members so that the association has long-term vitality. So that’s the first part of my answer of why I want to be president.
Secondly, I believe I have the capacity to do this. I have a track record of helping associations, both my own organization through strategic planning as well as my time as president of the Association of College and Research Libraries, of helping an association move towards a future that is really vibrant and reflects an exciting vision for where things could be in the future, building on the successes of the past.
Finally, it’s a good time in my own career as I’ve had a lot of things that have wrapped up recently and it’s a good time to be able to devote really a very intensive three years to the kind of effort that this position requires and I’m very pleased to say that I have the support of my library and my library administration to devote this kind of effort to our profession.
Steve: I’ve done these kinds of interviews with the candidates the past few years and I’ve mentioned this kind of every time, that it’s obviously different from regular politics in that none of you, none of the candidates are saying that, you know, that ALA will be destroyed if the other candidates win or anything like that. But, you have your own strengths and you feel like your strengths are the ones that are going to help the association the most, so can you talk a little bit about how, what you personally will do to lead the profession because you talked a little bit about, some of the challenges that are coming up for libraries. Like what skills you bring to the table to, that would address those challenges.
Lisa: Sure, I mean I think one of the things that’s great about a professional association is that we’re all on the same side of the aisle as the phrase goes, so the “why me” is a great question. For the, the members to be considering as they cast their votes. So, the first thing I’ll say is that I’m really passionate and energetic about anything that I commit to. I’m sort of an energizer bunny when it comes to those things that I decide to take on and see through and I do see them through. But, I think the other thing that sets me apart, at least as I read the other candidates statements is that I’ve really put out to the voters very specific projects that they can expect me to champion. Those are in my candidate statement, obviously, at lisaforALA.org, but also in the statement that will come out in American Libraries.
So, I have very specifically said that here is how you can expect me to do my appointments process. I have committed that there will be at least one member of every committee that I appoint that has never before served on an ALA committee because I believe we need to create space for new people to join in our association work.
Secondly, I’ve said that I will champion and disseminate best practices in digital inclusion. I’m very concerned that we have a very conference focused approach to doing our business as an association. Midwinter and Annual are wonderful, but they are really a very expensive thing for many people and many people do not attend have funding in their workplace to be able to go to those, or they have personal life, or financial reasons that they can’t travel, or health reasons, or they’re a solo librarian and so the workplace doesn’t really let them leave twice a year for a week. So, I want all of those voices at the table so I think it’s time for us to really champion the way digital inclusion works for a professional association.
Thirdly, speaking specifically to that, I’ve said that I will bring a proposal to the executive board for a task force to really examine the future of our conference eco-system. Two conferences a year was a fabulous invention for the analog age, we need to ask ourselves if that’s still the right way to do our business and we also need to look at the impact and relationship of those conferences to our state chapters as well as our division conferences and ensure that we have the right conference eco-system going forward.
And then the final thing that I very specifically said is that I intend to re-engage the vision of ALA-APA which is the Allied Professional Association, which is our advocacy group for library workers. Just like libraries can’t live on love alone, neither can library employees and so we really need to look to the issues of what our salaries are, our benefits, the workplace environment, so that libraries are truly a workplace of choice for those who work in libraries and they are a place that really enables people to have the kinds of impact that we want them to be able to have because they’re being paid at the levels that are correct, that they have benefits, that they’re truly able to have a really healthy workplace and there’s a lot of advocacy work that we could be doing there. We have the capacity to do it in ALA-APA. There was a lot of vision when that was set up. I think it’s time to really capitalize and make that vision a reality.
Steve: You talked about the cost that it takes to attend a conference and that we often hear, especially when dues go up that people complain, complain, complain that the dues are going up. How do you justify that to staff, to members and how do you express what the greatest value is of, to ALA, to its members.
Lisa: Sure. So, I think that one of the things that we really need to think about is what do members need from ALA and what does ALA do best. I think ALA is best when it is a platform for participation and engagement. When together in ALA we do things that we cannot do by ourselves. I don’t really feel that the right mindset in some ways for the ALA President is to so to speak justify the dues increase so much as to show and to lead an association that is creating value for its members so the value is perceived and seen as commensurate with the cost. And, in fact, what I’d really like us to be is at a place where people will say “I get more value here than I even have to pay for.” That is the best kind of vision we want to have for the kinds of things because it should, it should matter that we can do things together, that we can’t do by ourselves.
Steve: Yeah exactly and that’s, that’s really what ALA is all about and I do like the, like what you’re talking about of the ALA-APA working together more cause that’s another thing that I hear about a lot too is why doesn’t ALA do more for individual librarians, like well that’s not really the mission of ALA, that’s the mission of ALA-APA, so.
Lisa: Well, and I think the other thing that is interesting is many people do not even realize that ALA-APA exists, or what it’s mission is. In part because it doesn’t have individual membership, it’s set up as a different kind of association and in fact during my time as standing for election, when I have said “Oh, you’re also elected… if I’m elected I’ll also be elected ALA-APA President,” people have said “What’s that?” and so I’m really hopeful that my even making this a priority has already raised people’s awareness, but people’s awareness of ALA-APA will be ultimately raised by the value it creates for the profession and for library workers. And I want to be very clear here that when I talk about library, I keep using the phrase library workers because it’s the most inclusive term I can come up with to mean all of us who work in libraries.
I’m also very concerned about staff salaries; there’s issues across the board with both salary levels as well as job insecurity as we see the way schools or public libraries or academic libraries or everyone is really struggling in this economy, that we need to make sure that people have the kind of, that they’re not in a precarious situation and that goes for all of our library workers, librarians, library staff, student workers if we’re in an academic situation, like I am working in an academic library, the graduate students who work for us. I’m really concerned across the board about all of our employees and workers.
Steve: So we’ve talked a little bit about ALA-APA and let’s take another step back and just assume maybe there are some listeners out there that don’t know what it is, can you tell listeners what it is?
Lisa: Sure, absolutely. So, ALA-APA is the American Library Association-Allied Professional Association, which is essentially a second association that was established that can do the kind of advocacy for library workers that ALA, given its tax status, is not able to. So, we don’t need to go into the details of IRS regulations, but just know that there are certain kinds of things that certain kinds of associations are allowed to do under their tax status and then other associations, other kinds of things. So, ALA-APA is the kind of association that can do worker advocacy and so it was set up as a result of, or stemming from the work of Mitch Freedman when he was ALA President and really took on the issue of library workers as his, one of his primary emphases and so from that we have this additional association. The ALA President is president of ALA-APA. ALA Council is also the ALA-APA Council, so the governance structure of the two is paired, though careful effort is made to be very clear when they are acting each of those.
Steve: Okay, so ALA has all these great things but sometimes it can be like so many great things, that it seems really overwhelming when somebody joins, that they don’t really know where to get started. How do you think new members can help orient themselves and get more involved, if they want to get more involved in the organization, cause I know, especially when I went over to my first ALA conference, you know you just walk in and there’s just 20,000 people in this room and it’s like oh my gosh, I don’t even know what to, or even where to get started.
Lisa: Absolutely. First I want to give a real shout out here to the New Members Round Table which really takes this as one of their primary missions, to engage with and help new members find their place in the association, but I don’t think we can leave it to the New Members Round Table to take responsibility for this, it’s really all of our responsibility to bring in our new members, to create pathways of participation and engagement. I think also new members, people who are new to the association, and I should be clear, sometimes new members are new to being members and sometimes they’re new to coming to conference, or new to volunteering, or engaging in a different way, we’re all new time and time again.
So, I think that looking for those opportunities for orientations and the like is, of course, helpful, but I tend to think, especially as I’m thinking of myself as ALA President, to thinking about more what structures and systems do we need to set up to ensure that people are welcomed into the association and then are able to navigate to the place where they feel they can best meet their goals for engaging and do the kind of work that they’re hoping to do. For the past few years I’ve actually be on the board of my local food co-op and that has really helped me think about this in a new way because members of a food co-op also have different levels of engagement and engage on different aspects over the course of their membership and so bringing forward that notion that helping people find their place at the right time for them in the right work that they want to do is really a key component if ALA is going to be a platform for member engagement and, and act and collective action.
So, I think this involves working really closely as well with the membership office of the association. We have some great staff there who are thinking very carefully about these issues as well and so it’s really a partnership between the ALA staff and then ALA leaders as well as, I’m going to, do also one other thing here which is mention that I think peer mentoring or peer sharing within ALA is a unrecognized asset that we have, which is its probably often not going to be the president of X, Y or Z division who really makes that connection with a new members.
It’s probably a member who’s doing the kind of work that person’s interested in, who’s maybe 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 years into that role and so we really need to also think about empowering our sort of frontline people who are newer, but not brand new, to also have that role in bringing people in. So, that kind of peer mentoring idea is really key and I think we have a, we have an opportunity to think about this more robustly if we bring in that peer relationship and not just always a “Who’s the top leaders?” kind of perspective on this.
Steve: Right. So, as we, as we all are keenly aware of, the profession is over and I think it’s sort of going in the wrong direction, that we’re, the profession is overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly straight, and to a lesser extent overwhelmingly female. What can we do as a profession to not only help libraries beef up their staffing with being more diverse, but also getting into MLS schools. Cause I know that, I mean the professional staff or people with the masters degrees, are even smaller I think percentage wise, of that kind of thing, so what can ALA do and what can we do kind of as a profession to kind of increase the diversity?
Lisa: Sure. So the first thing I think is really key is even embedded in your question which is we must acknowledge that we have a problem. This has not been a success story in spite of our best efforts to date. So, people have done many things, Spectrum scholars, mentorship programs, recruitment programs. It has not had the effect that we intended it to have and we need to think seriously about why is that. You mentioned recruitment into MLS programs. Obviously cost of going to school is one of the greatest issues that is going to be faced but it is not just the cost of going to school. It is also whether people find an environment in those programs that fosters their growth and development and welcomes them into the profession.
So, even when people get an MLS, do they choose libraries as their workplace of choice? If they choose libraries as their workplace of choice, what environment do they find within those libraries? Do they find an environment that is supportive of their growth and development? And that is also supportive of the centrality of diversity to mission, or not.
So, I am equally concerned with recruitment of the profession as well as retention and I think we have some, some work to do in both of these areas. You also mentioned the dynamic that I think we need to really ask ourselves how this has happened and how we want to change it, which is while the profession in many cases is not as diverse as we would like in the sense profession here meaning those people who have an MLS were employed in the categories in our situations that we recognize structurally as librarians. Many times the staff is much more diverse and so we need to ask ourselves some questions about the pathways from staff positions to professional positions and whether we have structured a system that disincentives a staff-to-librarian pathway.
I don’t have the answers here, I have a lot of questions and I think that we have a lot of work to do, that is going to mean much more inclusive conversations than we’ve had to date and I’m happy to see that I feel those conversations are happening. Jennifer Vinopal just wrote a great essay in “In The Library With The Lead Pipe” that really called out a number of these challenges. But, also issued a very clear call to engagement around these issues.
So, I would welcome the opportunity as ALA President to support and foster those conversations. There is not an easy solution here I don’t think, but it is crucial and vital that we take action and figuring out the right action to take when so many fields have tried things that have not worked is really going to mean some very honest reflection and some very deep engagement with some very big structural problems within our society as well as within our profession.
Steve: Right, and sort of related, related to that diversity issue, not something that we didn’t, I didn’t mention, I didn’t call out specially, but how can ALA be more accessible to members with disabilities?
Lisa: Sure. I think that’s another key question that comes down to this word that I’ve sort of been reflecting on throughout my presidential run, if you will, which is the word is “inclusion.” So, there’s inclusion around diversity, there’s inclusion around people with disabilities. Some of the things that I mentioned around digital inclusion will certainly help people with disabilities engage in the associations work. Not having to travel in order to be fully engaged through digital inclusion mechanisms and the like. However, we have to realize that every technology that we use always has a way in which it excludes because a particular technology that is, say audio only, such as this podcast, we need to be able to do the transcription in order to make it accessible with hearing disabilities for example. So, we need to be attentive to these issues.
There are people within ALA, ASCLA in particular that are very good at thinking about these issues and attending to these issues. So this is another case where I want to sort of say that we have expertise in one area of ALA, that if we could bring that to bear across the entire association would really benefit us all. So, you know, ALA can be as siloed as any organization, and so any time that the ALA president, by having this remit across the entire association can sort of highlight and bring forward the expertise of one group for the benefit of the entire association, I think that’s one of the roles of the President, which is really that sort of, in my mind it’s, it’s an appreciative inquiry sort of approach to “Where do we have strength? How can we bring that strength to bear?”
So, technology is one area that people with disabilities, there’s also things that I’m happy to see being done around our conferences and ensuring that our physical facilities where we hold our conferences are accessible. There’s more that we could do with that as well and again I’m happy to see some member groups stepping up and saying here’s how we can improve this and make it better.
Steve: And in your job at University of Illinois, how do, how do you work with your staff and with your students you work with and how do you, how do you sort of encourage them to succeed and how would you use those skills to improve the ALA if you were elected president?
Lisa: Sure. So, I’ll use two examples here. One thing, I think it’s important to sort of say is that I work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a very large library, multiple libraries on campus, hundreds of employees. My own office is myself, one other person, an e-learning specialist, and a third of a time graduate assistant so I actually have relatively few people who work directly for me under my supervision. However, I am responsible for the information literacy program, which is across all of our library units, and so what I’ve really developed over my career has been the ability to work through, to help an association or an organization to work through strategies of collaboration in order to achieve collective action even without supervisory power and I’ve done that with my information literacy leadership here at the university, but also at the, for the last year in 2015, the dean of our library asked me to coordinate our strategic planning process and the only person who was required to participate in that strategic planning process was me, in the sense that I had been tasked to oversee it. Everyone else was engaged really by my invitation, to asking them to serve on groups, to come to discussion forums, to attend a retreat. And I’m really pleased to say that more than 250 people in our association chose to engage because they saw opportunities and space to have an impact.
Same approach I took with ACRL. Again, as a division president, no one has to do things. You invite them to, you respond when they indicate they’re willing to volunteer, so that’s actually my skill set which is working across associations that are very complex, where people want to engage, and helping navigate, helping them navigate, but also creating structures that means that people aren’t just doing activities, but those activities lead to accomplishments that, again, people couldn’t get to if they were working on their own.
This is maybe another venue for me to mention one other thing that I’m really pleased that I get to do in my job which is we have a library school here at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and in my career I’ve had the opportunity to engage with hundreds and hundreds of library school students in any number of venues and different approaches. So, there I’ve really been in more of a mentoring role and helping people find their paths. So, it’s really been an important component of my own career to be helping those library school students who become our new professionals find their own place within the profession and in many cases within ALA.
Steve: So, I want to finish up with, this might be a two or three part question, so we’ll see how this goes. I want to know number one, when you were younger, what did you like about libraries? Number two, sort of why did you become a librarian and is that, is that tied to your earlier members of a, memories of being a, of being in libraries and being part of that? And why are libraries still important in the 21st century? So, those are sort of combined together.
Lisa: Okay, yes. Let’s, let’s go for multi-part question here. First of all my, my earliest memories of libraries are indeed the public library where my mother took us very regularly and we were allowed to get “five books, just five books.” Now, you have to know that I have five siblings, so across five of us, or across all six of us that’s 30 books every time, so I understand why my Mom put that limit on. So, we went very regularly and it was definitely a place that my parents could find a way to, to meet the demands of their children who were voracious readers. I read so much as a child I think that’s like a stereotype, right, of librarians but it is indeed true that I loved to read as a child. Likewise, in, in elementary and, and secondary schools same sorts of things. I think in my, my middle school I had read through almost the entire collection of fiction, so it’s, it’s a long time for me in my childhood of being a place that, you know, gave me access to books. I guess is the way you would say. This, in many ways, is, there’s kind of a break if you will in my life.
At, at high school I was a debater and so we did policy debate and I spent a lot of time doing research in libraries, so less focused if you will on libraries as a place of leisure reading, and more as a place of research which, when I got to college I had never whatever reason actually considered librarianship as a career, but I worked in the library as a student worker and the librarians there kept encouraging me to consider librarianship as a career and I thought I was going to be a lawyer and after a year of working in a law firm, I discovered I wasn’t really wanting to be a lawyer after all and so started to explore librarianship and that’s really been the story since then.
So, it’s my story is a story of the, you know, the voracious leisure reader through the high school researcher and then library employee in college, so it’s probably a thread of how I became a librarian.
So, why are libraries important today? You know, I think libraries are important for many of the reasons that they were important to me as a child and as a, as a student. But I also think they’re important in a lot of other ways and one of the things that I really kind of like to keep in mind always is that my experience is not everyone’s experience. So, for some the library is important because of place, it creates, it’s a space and it has programming and it has caring adults. For other people it’s the collections, myself I think it was more of a collections focused sort of experience of the library. For others, it’s the, it’s because it, it is a self-reflection, it creates an, it’s sort of a collections but it’s because the collections create a world that they don’t have access to, for either, for any number of reasons. I mean I think we hear a lot about teens who are able to sort of explore who they are and their identity through materials that are in the library. So, I think there is the aspect of access to collections, access to space, access to staff and, and caring adults, all of those things that are so key.
So it’s sometimes hard to come up with a single reason why libraries are important, so I’m going to put forward the single reason libraries are important is because of all the reasons that libraries are important. It’s the multiplicity of roles that they serve within all of our different kinds of communities that is really what’s most important about them and that they are not narrow in their focus, but rather that they adapt and become the information organization that their communities need them to be in relation to the needs and priorities of that community at that point in time. Really libraries are the story of incredibly adaptable institutions and they are lead by very innovative and adaptable leaders and they have employees who are very attuned to the needs of the community. So, that is really maybe, maybe I’ve come to my single reason and the single reason libraries are important is because they serve the needs of their communities.
Steve: And we contain multitudes.
Steve: All right, well I hope everybody has learned a lot about your campaign and what you want to bring to ALA and most importantly I hope everybody goes out and votes.
Lisa: Absolutely, could not agree more with that last comment which is one key component of member engagement is, is having your voice be part of our democratic process. So, Steve, I thank you very much for the opportunity to be part of your show and the opportunity to share my thoughts with all of your listeners.