I write this as I am attending the virtual 2021 ALA Annual Conference. I am eagerly looking forward to the AASL conference in October to be held in Salt Lake City in person, and come December, I will be going to my state school library association meeting. I’ve been involved with these organizations for over 40 years, and they have impacted my career immeasurably. Without these organization, I wouldn’t have become a leader.
I recognize many of you have chosen not to join ALA or even your state association. I would like to share some highlights of my journey through these professional organizations and what I have gained from them in hopes that you will consider changing your mind and being a voice for libraries in your state and beyond.
My first years as school librarian I was barely aware we had professional associations. I was new and alone. When I returned to the workforce after my children were in school, I met a professor who was checking on the student doing field experience work in my library. She told me I had to join my state association. I did, it was the best decision I made for my career.
My first state conference opened my eyes to the possibilities of this community. At the time the association was working with the State Librarian on guidelines for school libraries. I joined one of the subcommittees. Within a few years I was on the board and eventually became president.
In 1979, I attended my first national ALA conference, conveniently held New York City which allowed me to commute each day. The size of it was almost overwhelming, but by attending AASL programs I met other school librarians, began to feel at home, and was soon serving on AASL Committees.
Over time, I discovered to my amazement that I could walk up to a leader, ask a question, and get an answer as though I were equally important. In their eyes, I was. They became my friends as did others. Some of them became national leaders, others didn’t. But they are all part of my personal network that continues to grow on and off social media.
In the process of attending conferences and being on committees, my vocabulary evolved and my confidence grew. I could speak knowledgeably on library and education issues. I became aware of trends and “what’s next.” When I had conversations with my principal, my knowledge base showed. I was able to discuss issues that were coming to the table. As a result, I was seen as an asset. My requests were not always granted, but they were taken seriously. And eventually I was the leader other librarians asked questions of.
While I belong to other national associations, ALA/AASL is my home. It is the only national association whose prime focus is on libraries and librarians. It has given us our ethical center with the Library Bill of Rights and the Code of Ethics. AASL gives us our National School Library Standards as well as the standards portal with a host of growing resources to incorporate them (some free, some for purchase).
The websites for ALA and its divisions, including AASL are huge. Members or not, you can find information and resources on Advocacy, Legislation, Intellectual Freedom, Equity and Diversity, and much more. The Washington Office works constantly to further our agenda. The Office for Intellectual Freedom has resources and is a support if and when material in your library is challenged.
We are stronger together. ALA works to promote school libraries and librarians in tandem with AASL. The letter sent to President Biden before his inauguration is just one example. AASL also works with the state library associations. Our state library associations perform the same services as AASL on a smaller level and tailored to more local needs. Conferences have programs showcasing best practices and give you the opportunity to see new vendors and talk with the ones you use. It’s personal.
Yes, membership costs money, but to me the value and what I receive is more than worth it. Do I agree with all their positions? No. But, as a member, I can work to promote change. Do I want them to focus on my issues more? Of course, and AASL has a structure that allows school librarians to respond to those issues which affect our community.
Not surprisingly ALA/AASL are hurting financially. Membership is shrinking as librarian positions have disappeared. They need our support as much as we need theirs. I would not have the career or become the librarian I did without ALA and AASL. As we are the voices for the libraries in our schools these organizations are our voice on a bigger scale. Every librarian who joins allows these organizations to continue to advocate for us even as it helps them become better professionals. I’m not aware of the organizations for librarians in other countries, but I hope you’ll search out those that can support your success.
If you’ve never visited the ALA website, I hope you’ll take some time during these summer months to do so. If you’ve never joined at the local or state level, I hope you’ll consider it (and look for some funding to help if you need). And if ALA or AASL has made a difference in your career, I hope you’ll share your story with other librarians. It’s an ecosystem that needs all of us acting together to send a common strong message about the values of libraries.