Wanted: The Next Librarian of Congress

Wanted: The Next Librarian of Congress

by Andy Woodworth

Andy WoodworthThe next Librarian of Congress will be the most important job placement in our career lifetimes.

Originally, I had written “may be” instead of “will be” because I thought the latter would be a bit hyperbolic. Upon further reflection, I made the decision to remove any wiggle room for lingering doubts. There have only been thirteen Librarians of Congress since 1802 compared to forty two Presidents within that time span. It is a Presidential appointment that endures through the many different administrations that pass through the White House.It truly is the most important job placement because the position has direct and indirect impact on librarian values, principles, and the very communities that we serve.

Jessamyn West gives a good rundown of how the next Librarian of Congress (hereafter LoC) can impact our world in terms of technology, copyright, open access, data accountability, and acting as an advocate for America’s libraries. I agree with Jessamyn when she states, the next LoC doesn’t necessarily need to have a library science degree, but they must share our values for important issues such as privacy, intellectual freedom, information access (especially digital divide issues), and value of a literacy (whatever variety of that literacy that may be) within society. These are the kinds of issues important to the library world and they need to be insisted on for any appointment to the office.

As Jessamyn makes the excellent case for desirable traits, I’d like to make the case for taking action. We as a profession need to lobby for these beliefs if we want to see them in the next LoC. This must be both a concerted action through professional organizations (like ALA and your state association) as well as through individuals (like you) stepping up to organize and be heard.

I’ll give you three things you can do today to make the difference.

Contact elected officials

You can contact the The White House, your Senator,and your Representative. While email is the quick and easy way to do so, the stories I’ve heard from elected officials is that the physical letter has the greatest impact. It’s simple: emails can be formulated quickly with fill in the blanks and sent with minimal amount of effort. It’s the equivalent of a political Facebook, as it requires very little effort on behalf of the person to make it. Physical letters are harder to ignore, especially in larger quantities. A thousand emails is a click away from being deleted, but a thousand letters is an impressive sight.

Take the time to write a letter expressing what qualities and values that you’d like the next LoC to possess. If you’re not up for that, then write an email that isn’t formulaic and send it. Or consider calling the respective offices and leaving it as a comment. The most important thing here is to DO something.

Contact ALA and/or your state association

From what I’ve been told, ALA is working on putting together a list of prospective candidates to give to the Obama Administration. That’s good and not entirely unexpected to hear, but it also means that it needs to the support of the membership. I don’t know how ALA plans to do that but if you are a member please consider getting involved.

As for state associations, I can only relate based on what I know about mine (NJLA). There is both an executive board as well as a public policy committee that tackles issues like this one and determines or recommends a course of action. I will be in touch with my NJLA colleagues about what we can do to advocate for the next LoC as an organization. Personally, I’d like for my state association to be seen as an advisor to elected officials for when the presidential appointment is coming through the nomination process. Now is the time to lay some of the groundwork for that outcome.

Share – spread the word

Share Jessamyn’s post. Join us on Facebook in the #nextLoC group. Use that hashtag on Twitter or Tumblr. Tell your peers, friends, family, the dogwalker, and the random person on the street about the importance of the next LoC. They also have a personal stake in it as well since they live in the same world of copyright and paywalls and lopsided broadband distribution. It’s not simply a librarian or library issue, it’s an “everyone has skin in this game” issue. This could easily be the first thing that you talk to that non-librarian where they need to take action for their own benefit.

This issue needs everyone!

I find it fitting that my first blog post on INALJ is one about a job. While every librarian position is crucial for the community that it serves, the next Librarian of Congress serves all of our communities. We must fill that job with someone who reflects our values, ideals, and aspirations. It may be a very long time before we get another chance at it so we need to make this one count.

Be well and do good.

About the Author

Andy Woodworth is a nationally recognized librarian and library issue advocate. He is a 2010 Library Journal Mover & Shaker, an award winning blogger “Agnostic, Maybe“, and noted conference presenter. He has previously written articles and opinion pieces for Library Journal, American Libraries, and TechSoup for Libraries. He is the head of a bustling reference department in New Jersey. You can follow him @wawoodworth and read his off-again, on-again posts at Medium.

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