July 2, 2018

Serving together: Reflections on ALA, 2018

ALA in New Orleans was packed full of good food, inspiring speakers (Michelle Obama!), and (of course) librarians. We appreciate all the librarians who took the time to stop by the EBSCO booth and say hi, pass on your feedback, and let us know what you think of our upgrade to NoveList Select. That you take the time to chat with us is part of what makes the conference great for those of us working the booth.

Every couple conferences, I get on the plane with a sense that the conference had a hidden theme. ALA 2018 was one of those conferences for me. Honestly, the theme wasn’t even that hidden. Dr. Carla Hayden said it during her interview with former ALA President Courtney Young at the RUSA Achievement Awards:

Quote you can serve in any capacity

Later at the Carnegie Awards, author and journalist Sue Halpern was speaking about her experience setting up a new library in a rural part of the Adirondacks. Her story of how the hard work of dedicated citizens turned one room in the back of city hall with practically no budget into a three room library with a collection of forty thousand books, computers, book clubs, knitting clubs, a play reading club, storytimes, etc. was a clear example of both how libraries serve their communities at large and their patrons individually. Halpern describes how the library “grew a small town,” creating impactful, transformative change that lead to an art center and a small café popping up where there had previously been boarded-up buildings. In this hardscrabble town, the library spurred a revolution that turned people into readers, then into active, participatory citizens. 

Creating a library out of hopes and dreams is a service most of us will never have the chance to offer, and for that we are grateful. It means we already live in communities with robust, active public library systems. But, as Dr. Hayden says, we can serve in any capacity, we don’t have to build a library from scratch to do it.

Food historian and author Michael Twitty made the room cry several times as he was speaking about his own research and book, especially when he talked about what libraries have done for him and his search for family and ancestry, as he pored through records of enslaved peoples in the hopes of finding a name beyond the demeaning number enslaved people were assigned on census roles. “The library is a community space. Use that space to create healing. At libraries and archives, I got something back that had been taken from me – the history of my family.”

Twitty’s experiences with libraries weren’t all positive. While he received the same enthusiastic help from the same librarian at the Virginia State Archives when he was ten as when he was in his late 30s, he also had one story about how one library’s policies impeded and insulted his experience of learning the names of his forbearers. This story, too, is a reminder that we serve each time we review our library policies to make sure they are consistent with our values of openness, inclusivity, and service for all.

After Twitty’s talk, I met a librarian from Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana who has made it his mission to collect and preserve the records from the segregated schools of his parish to make sure that history doesn’t disappear. He, too, is serving. NoveList and EBSCO Information Services are proud to sponsor awards given out to librarians and libraries dedicated to serving. Kaite Stover, Director of Readers’ Services at Kansas City Public Library, received the Margaret E. Monroe Adults Services Award. The Scottsboro Public Library in Alabama is planning to use the money they won from the EBSCO Excellence in Rural Library Service Award to start a building fund, to better serve their small community.

Kaite Stover    Scottsboro Public Library

We all serve the vision of the public library. We do this in how we talk about our profession with our friends and family and how we talk about libraries with strangers. My favorite example of this came from a trustee from the Boulder City Library in Nevada. The trustee was rightly proud of the fact that she (in her mid-60s, I’d guess) used to be the youngest person on the board of trustees and is now the oldest. They are in the process of recruiting a high school student to serve on their board, a fact I found amazing and inspiring. Among the ways the board members serve their community: from 2-4 every Saturday, a board member goes to the town Starbucks for a “Sit & Share.” Got something you want to say about the library? Have a cup of coffee and let the board member know your thoughts. To my mind, both the board member *and* the person sharing their thoughts about the library is also serving.

Next time you put a book in a patron’s hands, connect them with a resume resource, help them trace their genealogy, or show them how to use a mouse, remember that you, too, are serving.


Jennifer Lohmann is the Director of Sales and Marketing





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