From Big Sky Country

I’m writing from Missoula, MT at the Montana Library Association conference, where this morning I had the opportunity to see ALA Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels do a keynote. So, I thought I’d try my hand at conference blogging — although, tech poser that I am, the below is taken from handwritten (!) notes.

Fiels talked about 5 challenges facing libraries and his strategies for facing these:

1) Funding issues — to which the solution is advocacy (we can’t just do our jobs but are responsible for securing funds), which is about getting actual money, not just cheerleading. For this, we need to track the dollars and their impace on our users, make plans on all levels (vision driving funding growth), and use research on the value of libraries (making this into local soundbites).

2) Continuing to attract the “best and brightest” — recruitment is key, but not just more bodies, we need to look at who we are recruiting. Hand-in-hand with this goes making all librarians better educated, so training on all levels and through various methods. Mentioned the new Public Library Administrator certificate, because “we don’t learn in library school how to defend our budgets.” Talked about training more people, including the 60% of people who work in libraries who don’t have their MLS. Working on developing a certification for library support staff and likes what the Western Library Council is working on in developing a standard certification across 29 states.

3) Improving the salaries of library workers — we can’t do by passing resolutions, guidelines without teeth, or complaining, but need to do one librarian at a time. Obligatory ALA-APA mention, developing resources, comparative statistics, best practices and strategies for us to use. “Our skills are comparable to IT workers, our salaries are comparable to sanitation workers.”

4) Most important things we do to make a difference — serving everyone, leading the way in diversity (we need to reflect communities and set an example, Spectrum Scholarships added $1million in funding last year matched by $1million from IMLS, jumped from 25 a year to 75). Fighting for constitutional rights, keeping info free for all, esp. govt information — examples of EPA eliminating l ibraries, info being pulled off web sites, documents being classified, records withdrawn from archives. Copyright — commercial interest attacking fair use so they can make more money. Says that in Canada and parts of Europe payment is made to an author every time a book circulates? We need to lead the world, helping develop libraries in other countries and learning from others with better service and building international understanding and tolerance. Knowledge -> tolerance -> peace.

5) Will libraries survive? Funding again, fight for lower taxes, people who hate libraries, “we need to think outside the box,” challenge of Internet. After Borders, TV, Amazon, Google, libraries busier / more needed than ever. Part of virtual learning community plus people come to libraries for more than computers can provide — and for computers. Community, inspiration, social interaction, learning, librarians, books. Libraries without walls = no libraries — we still have bodies, so we still need buildings. Libraries tangible expression of democracy and best way to create better society, best thing you can do for a child is take it to the library, key to economic well-being in competitive global economy.

So, all in all — I got the impression this is a speech he’s given any number of times, but he did a nice job talking about what ALA is actually doing in several areas (ie, where our dues go).

Now I’m off to look at the mountains again, because I miss them dearly in the oh-so-flat Midwest!


  1. Laura:

    Mountains! Yay!

  2. Rachel:

    I’m originally from Spokane, WA (about 3 hours from Missoula here…), so it’s kind of like coming home :) .

  3. Bob Watson:

    I suggest a 6th challenge: defining what librarians do. Not only do various librarians do different things, but these different things (reference, reader’s advisory, collection development, childrens services, etc.) are valued differently by various constituencies.

    The hard-numbers folks aren’t, I think, particularly enamored by our reader’s advisory work; our avid fiction readers may not much care what our reference departments do.

    (Waive toward Spokane for me!)

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