September 23, 2017

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Incoming ALA President Jim Neal: Supporting School Libraries

Agility is on Jim Neal’s mind these days. The 2017–18 American Library Association (ALA) president-elect, who begins his tenure at the close of the ALA Annual Meeting in Chicago (June 22–27), has strong ideas about how ALA, libraries, and library staff must learn to be more nimble and responsive to events.

“I’ve said before that strategic plans are a waste of time and money,” Neal said in regard to how libraries balance their priorities. In the current national and political climate, “we don’t know what will happen this afternoon.”

Embracing the overarching theme “Libraries transform; libraries lead,” Neal has been busy laying the groundwork for his presidency. He will focus on five key issues: equity, diversity, and inclusion; leadership development programs; advocacy; partnerships; and school libraries.

During a visit to the SLJ offices, Neal, who recently retired as vice president for information services and university librarian at Columbia University, took time to elaborate on these points.

Neal plans to visit 100 public and school libraries over the course of his tenure and will focus on “pipeline development” of library leaders through high school and colleges. That means increasing funds to scholarship programs for aspiring librarians, such as the Spectrum grants, and boosting financial support for those who want to attend the ALA conferences. In addition, he aims to advance the work of ALA’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion task force and establish these principles as an ALA strategic initiative.

With federal funding for libraries under threat, Neal says that libraries’ “agility” must include garnering state-level support and funds from grants and other sources.

Regarding equity of access and service, Neal noted the long history of libraries taking strong positions, including the library community’s involvement in the civil rights movement during the 1960s, as well as pushback in the 2000s, supported by ALA, against aspects of the U.S. Patriot Act.

“There’s power in working together,” he said in regard to his plan for ALA to work more closely with national organizations to achieve collective goals. This involves establishing “a more robust collaboration” with entities including the Library of Congress, the Institute for Museum and Library Services, OCLC, and other groups, “to advance our shared interest and clout.”

Focus on school libraries

“How do we demonstrate that libraries have value” in the socioeconomic sphere? Neal asked. Library professionals must “move beyond quantitative to qualitative” measurements of success, he noted, before asking those assembled in the room: “Are we bringing solutions?” Libraries can add value by showing student success and faculty productivity, and by embracing the cultural values of a community, he said.

Pointing out that news and information literacy are key to educational services for students of all ages, Neal emphasized the importance of school and academic libraries building alliances with the journalism community.

“What can a school or public library do on the ground level?” he asked. His bold support for school libraries involves “embrac[ing], as a library community, advocacy for school libraries as foundational to the health of our work to prepare students who are college and career ready,” he noted in a statement. “With weakened school libraries, we create a nation that is not able to locate and evaluate information that is accurate and balanced. Knowledge literacy is fundamental.”

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Sarah Bayliss About Sarah Bayliss

Sarah Bayliss (sbayliss@mediasourceinc.com, @shbayliss) is associate editor, news and features, at School Library Journal.

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Comments

  1. Jim Neal says:

    My point is that strategic planning is a waste of time if it is not coupled with strategic thinking and action, and with investment in priorities.

  2. This is a WOW effect for me!!! Looking forward to his leadership and the rebirth of the worth of school libraries.

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