Opening Keynote: The Value of Libraries: An Association Leadership View

Courtney Young

Courtney Young

The opening keynote was presented by Courtney Young, Head Librarian and Professor of Women’s Studies at Pennsylvania State University.  Young is also the Immediate Past President of ALA. She shared some impressions she gained in her year-long tenure of ALA President. They center around diversity, career development, engagement, and outreach.

ALA’s mission is:

“to provide leadership for the development, promotion, and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.”

Young began by discussing the impact that libraries can have on the national level. A frequently asked question is,  “Do we still need libraries?”, and when people ask about that, they are usually thinking about public libraries. But academic libraries are just as dynamic, exciting, and at as much at risk as their public colleagues. ACRL has produced a research report reviewing the state of the literature on the value of libraries and suggesting the next steps for academic librarians to take to demonstrate their value. Many of those steps reflect a national dialog on public and school libraries.

ALA added “professional development” to its strategic mission because it is essential for high quality practice and sustaining professionals’ growth. It also reflects the changing information environment. The service philosophy for 21st century libraries is user-centric, with high quality globally networked resources in an environment conducive to these things taking place to support students’ academic and social needs.

Libraries achieve value through advocacy, partnerships, and diversity.

  • Advocacy is support for a cause or policy. ALA aims to advocate for the public value of librarians and information services. Bring support through public awareness, enabling the future of libraries, promoting ALA’s core values, and realizing the impact of libraries. To remind communities of the role that libraries play, we need the support of faculty, students, and campus staff, as well as more technology, wireless access, performance centers, and comfortable spaces. Libraries are no longer warehouses of printed volumes; they are dynamic and multifunctional spaces. Professional access to libraries is a given; it must be reconceptualized to allow students to work together in quiet spaces, as well as in groups. Libraries are setting up students for success in life after college; some of them now look like modern-day office spaces. All staff members must become advocates for the library. Everybody must articulate value to the community.
  • Partnerships play a unique role in libraries. Public libraries are included; they are places where job seekers can go. Academic libraries are partnering with departments and faculty to help provide tutoring services, writing centers, etc. It is important to continue to be a factor in building partnerships with vendors, the community, and students.
  • Diversity of the profession means serving all segments of the population. Librarians have an obligation to select materials on subjects meeting the needs of all persons in the community served: political, economic, religions, social, and minority, which will foster intellectual and cultural enrichment. Diversity means more than racial diversity; it also includes gender, national origin, religion, age, physical learning ability, sexual orientation, graduate students, international students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni, and community users. Libraries are the richest sources of diversity in our communities, but we still have a long way to go as a society. Libraries and librarians can play an active role in healing our communities and provide a safe environment for all. Social media is related to library service, and is a strong partnership tool and a way to engage partner groups. We can make connections, build relationships, and improve professional skills.

Don HawkinsDon Hawkins
Charleston 2015 Conference Blogger and Against The Grain Columnist

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