From the President's Desk

Jocelyne Thompson

OK, so you step into an elevator of a large city hotel wearing a delegates badge from the library conference you are attending.  A fellow passenger notes your affiliation and, clearing his throat, says, rather bluntly, “Libraries, huh?  Aren’t they on the way out?  Doesn’t everybody just find everything on the internet now?  And read e-books?” You’ve got two minutes max to respond.  What do you say?  

I’ve been there, or someplace just like it, more than once.  Actually, this happened to me just recently flying home from a conference I’d been attending in Washington.  The guy sitting next to me on the plane was a pilot and we struck up a conversation.  He lives in Toronto, so you can imagine what he’s been hearing about libraries just lately!  What did I respond?  The usual stuff, not very convincingly, I expect.  So I need help. I love libraries!  I can’t imagine a world – at least one I want to live in – that is without libraries...or museums, or archives, for that matter – all those wonderful cultural institutions that to the cerebrally-inclined are every bit as important as arenas and rec centres to the devotees of physical activity.  But how do I stand up for libraries in a way that will make a difference?

In the new year, APLA will launch a contest which we are calling the Best Elevator Speech Contest.  We will invite you to frame a convincing statement on the enduring relevance of libraries in the 21st century; to tell us in your own words why libraries matter.  There will be prizes ($250 for the best elevator speech) and these will be awarded at the 2012 conference in Wolfville.   I hope many of you will participate.                                                      

Why libraries? is one question.  The other question that comes up, this one internal to our community, is: Why library associations?  I would suggest that question #1 provides at least a partial answer to question #2.  In the face of a threatened future, we, as library professionals, need to work together more than ever to carve out our space and place in the information and cultural landscape.  Arnold Hirshon, now Associate Provost and University Librarian at Case Western Reserve University, in reference to library consortia, talked tongue-in-cheek about “hanging together to avoid hanging separately!”  I think the phrase works just as well in relation to library associations.   

I kind of fudged the second question.  In fact the question I get goes like this. “Why should I join APLA?”  And just recently I received an email from a current member, dissatisfied with the lack of perceived benefits, asking why he should renew his membership.  I have also heard colleagues say that they get more out of ALA, or OLA, than they do out of APLA, for about the same membership fee. To the latter comment I say, well, that may be true but we don’t live in Philadelphia or Washington or LA, and we don’t live in Toronto.  We live and work here, in Atlantic Canada, and our issues, though not dissimilar to those of other jurisdictions, require local solutions which can only be developed if we hang together.  To the member asking why he should renew his membership, I responded like this:

 

The APLA Executive is working very hard to revitalize the association, and we’d like to be given a chance to demonstrate value to our members.  I strongly believe that the association is vitally important to libraries and library professionals in our part of the country, and it’s our joint responsibility to make it work.   

You will have received the renewal invitation which enumerates some of the financial benefits of being an APLA member, so I will not repeat them here. I understand that these particular benefits may or may not serve your needs at this time, and I would suggest that the greatest benefit of participation in APLA, or in any association for that matter, rests in other things such as networking, getting actively involved in library issues by joining committees and interest groups, running for elected office, getting to know other library professionals within the region, and so on.  The opportunities are many and being involved can be professionally very rewarding.

 We are trying to address the communication issue which you so rightly raise.  I can’t pretend that we have any plans to email our members directly more than once or twice a year; as a small, volunteer-run association, we simply can’t manage it.  Our main vehicles for communication and contact are the APLA-List, the APLA website, the Bulletin, and of course, the annual conference.  We are revamping our website with a view to keeping information more current and fresh; we are attempting to use the List for more effective and timely sharing of information; and we continuously solicit contributions to the Bulletin

 All of the above may or may not convince you to renew.  I understand that.   We all have our own reasons for joining one or another association, and we all have limited time and dollars to spend.  Of course, I will be thrilled if you decide to continue on as a card-carrying member of APLA!  However, if you choose not to, I would welcome any advice from you as to how APLA could perhaps better serve your needs in future.

I appreciated that this member took the trouble to write.  It’s always better to know why a member chooses not to renew than to have him or her leave quietly, without explanation.  So I extend the same invitation to get in touch to others who may also be contemplating non-renewal.  The executive is planning a membership recruitment campaign for the new year.  This is a perfect time to express your concerns and share your ideas. 

APLA has been supporting the development of libraries and library services in the region since 1934, serving as the regional voice on local, regional and national library issues.  APLA continues to directly support library professionals by providing continuing education and networking opportunities, research and program grants, and a well-attended annual conference.  APLA recognizes the achievements of our local stars by conferring annual awards, the highest honour being the APLA Merit Award.  If APLA ceased to exist, we’d have to re-create something much like it because the region deserves great libraries and there’s ongoing work to be done to ensure Atlantic Canadians have them.   

As I write this, Christmas is just around the corner and I am thinking bright and happy thoughts -- of warm gatherings with family and friends, the sharing of love, laughter, and gifts.  And in the constellation of all things that are good in this world, I think of libraries as very good indeed.  Libraries are generous and kind places, where all are welcome and served to the best of our combined abilities and resources.  Where else can someone go to get help with any question or problem he or she may have?  Libraries cannot provide all the answers but we always try to at least steer people in the right direction.  We listen attentively and we offer support to anyone with an information need, all for free.  Wow, now that’s a gift that keeps on giving...all year round!

All the best for a Happy New Year 2012!