President’s Speech – Massachusetts Library Association 2017

This is what I said when I became President of the Massachusetts Library Association on May 24, 2017.

I am honored to be here and truly excited to serve as MLA President. Thank you, Nanci — I’m so glad to get another year to work with you. Thank you, Eric — congratulations on completing your sentence. Term. Sorry. And congratulations, Will — I’m looking forward to working together for the next two years.

I am thrilled to be here. And a little shocked. It was only a few years ago that I attended my first MLA conference in Worcester, as a recipient of the Kay Bader Scholarship for first-time attendees. I made some great friends at that conference, and I am so grateful to see some of them here today. Thank you for being here.

As part of the application for the Kay Bader Scholarship, I was asked to imagine the future of libraries. Or rather, because of the conference theme, I was asked to imagine that I was looking through a powerful telescope at a distant planet inhabited by an advanced alien race and describe their libraries. Here’s part of what I wrote:

I see a great diversity of libraries. Tiny libraries serving communities of less than a thousand and giant libraries serving nations of millions. Virtual libraries serving billions. I see libraries that are silent and libraries that are loud, and both hum with activity. I see libraries that are housed in treasured landmarks, their buildings telling as many stories as the materials they contain. And other libraries, in plain, inexpensive buildings whose patrons come daily, working to re-write their own stories.

Some libraries have laboratories where patrons experiments and build and break and fix and learn by doing rather than just by reading. Other libraries do not. Some libraries have books. Other libraries do not.

The libraries I see — including the library tucked into the corner of a subway station and the library taking up ten city blocks — are diverse because they match the needs of their communities, and their communities are diverse.

Libraries that reflect their communities and meet their communities’ needs — this is the future I see.

Thank you also to Dianne Carty for bringing us the latest news from Washington.

We can’t achieve this future if we don’t actively resist a political climate that defunds the Institute of Museum and Library Services, where the highest office in the country dismisses the importance of our work and holds values that are at odds with our own.

Libraries promote a civil, well-informed society. Our work today is more important than it has ever been, in this time of fake news and political divisiveness. The President himself single-handedly demonstrates the importance of our early literacy programs.

We are busier today than we have ever been. More people visit Massachusetts libraries each year than attend entire seasons of the Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins, and Celtics combined. We have opened our doors to everyone in our community. All are welcome.

To be here for our communities, to improve our culture and our Commonwealth, we must be strong advocates for libraries. We need the Massachusetts Library Community to work together, to rely on each other, to help us all chart our course forward in the face of these threats.

If libraries really are for everyone in our communities, libraries need to reflect everyone in our communities. Our field has a diversity problem. ALA membership was 86.7% white last year, but according to the Census Bureau, the United States is only 61.6% white. That’s a significant gap. This is a problem that has long gone unaddressed and we cannot move forward without addressing it. We need a diverse field and we need a state association that will help us work toward that goal.

In order to achieve this future, MLA needs to make sure that policies and procedures are such that our volunteer-led association with its constantly changing leadership gets its bills paid, its communications out in a timely manner, its committees fully staffed and welcoming of new voices, and its other day-to-day business done, so that our larger goals are not hampered.

We need to strengthen the Massachusetts Library Association in order to strengthen Massachusetts libraries in order to strengthen Massachusetts. The first two words of our new vision statement — “MLA works” — will be a rallying cry and our overarching goal.

If you are interested in playing a more active role in MLA, in helping us to work for the Massachusetts Library Community — which is all of Massachusetts — come find me. We want your help and we need your voice.

Thank you.