Jamie LaRue – Candidate for President of the American Library Association
When I was 22, at the end of the 70s, I hitchhiked out to Arizona to look for work. At that time, I had a double major in Philosophy and English (mostly creative writing). It turns out there wasn’t a lot of demand for me and my skills. After applying for over a hundred positions, and getting turned down for most of them, I decided to go back to school for my library degree.
When I got out, the library job market was good. It was a time of growth. Automation was hot; federal LSCA money was plentiful; library districts and systems were getting established and growing.
This cycle of librarians looking for jobs plays out several times not only across generations, but within them. Today’s job seekers have some real issues. Student debt and the Recession are among them.
But the biggest challenge has been what George Lakoff calls “the frame,” the promulgation of the belief that public investment in the form of taxation – often a brilliant cooperative purchasing agreement for the well-being of ourselves and our society – is in fact a kind of theft.
Until very recently (when digital publishers and distributors combined to raise prices and thus reduce our inventory), library use has risen sharply even as support has fallen. Library use – the typical focus of all our marketing – has been conclusively proven to have almost nothing to do with financial support.
As the director of the Douglas County (Colo.) Libraries, I founded an independent district (with, of course, the help of many, many others). Under my tenure, we moved from one of the lowest ranked libraries in the state to one of the best-funded and most high performing districts not just in the nation, but internationally. Due to some thoughtful investments in technology, we got through the recession with not a single layoff, and our staff got raises every year.
After a frustrating loss at the polls (just before the recession) I took to heart the research (see OCLC’s “From Awareness to Funding”) and my own experience. I changed the marketing of the library away from library-centric measures and toward true community connection and leadership. Along the way, we recruited and encouraged librarians to understand their environment, to step into public discussion and elevate it, to not only teach children to love literature, but to tell their parents just how important it was. And when I left Douglas County Libraries, three of our communities donated land, smack in the heart of their business districts, for new libraries. It wasn’t for us; it was for them. They got it: It isn’t the job of communities to make great libraries. It’s the job of libraries to make great communities.
In short, even though the library market is now improving, we can do more than wait for the economy to turn around. We can build support. By demonstrating our contribution, we can create a climate in which libraries are valued, new jobs are created, and our communities thrive. And by community, I mean more than that of the public library. The same logic and process applies to schools and universities.
My platform as ALA president can be found here (www.larueforpresident.com). In brief, we need to move from gatekeeper to gardener, from embedded librarian to community leader, from book deserts to book oases.
But the overarching theme is this: by engaging more deeply with our communities, all of us do better. I ask for your support for that vision.
Jamie LaRue is CEO of LaRue & Associates. He writes, speaks and consults about the future of libraries. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally published 3/10/15