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An Interview with the 2015 ALA Presidential Candidates

by on March 10, 2015

For the upcoming American Library Association election members are presented with an atypical number of candidates. Typically ALA has two candidates running for the position of Vice President/President Elect, but this year there are an additional two petition candidates — who gathered the necessary number of signatures to throw their hats in the ring. I emailed all four candidates a few questions to help us all decide who is best suited to lead the American Library Association in the near future. I received responses back from three of the candidates, by the deadline. The questions and answers appear below. All answers appear in their original form and were not altered.

Julie Todaro

PLOnline: This year there are two candidates who are petition candidates. This presents an interesting wrinkle for the election. As one of the non-petition candidates, how does that make you feel? Do you think that this will add an important aspect to the election, or will it instead be a distraction?

Julie Todaro: WHAT a great question and I am going to answer with what (I hope) is some clarity for what I see as confusion. I can also give you my stock answers for questions I am getting (especially at Midwinter) and tell you how *I* felt and still feel.

When you get the (first) “call” from ALA, you are NOT asked to run for ALA president. I have gotten the call twice before in my career and it has always been very clear that the caller is asking me if I would CONSIDER having my name vetted to run for ALA president.” During this first call this past year, I asked “what my deadline was for making my decision” and was asked to refrain from sharing or announcing anything (to avoid the confusion of multiple POSSIBLE candidates, etc.)

If you decide you want to be considered as a candidate, you complete an online resume statement and state “why” you would like to be considered as a candidate. If you are chosen by the ALA nominating committee to run for ALA President-elect you get a call but – at that time – you may not get the name of your opponent as all parties under consideration may not have been notified and – again – told to keep it confidential. Then, when the two candidates are “lined up,” you then get a call saying who you are running against and that you can talk about it and then you get a series of very helpful emails and letters outlining – in great detail – very specific instructions and dates for turning in bios and “Statements of Purpose” and headshots to be used for press releases, content for American Libraries and the ballot statement.

So, it’s America….and any election may include petition candidates. ALA’s petition process is an easy one and I have been told that – typically – petition candidates announce after ALA announces the nominating committee’s candidates with their first press release. Frankly, I have always assumed that people see the lineup and say “We need expanded choices.” or “I can do better than that!!” and then circulate the petition, get their supporting names/signatures and “throw their hat in the ring.”

This past year, the petition candidates announced prior to the ALA nominating committee’s announcement, so I can only assume that they did NOT know who ALA’s candidates are. There are also TWO choosing to join in the race – as everyone knows – which is very unusual.

So with that clarity, here is the confusion I heard throughout Midwinter (typically after I my presentations and in the halls)

“Now …WHICH one are you?  An ALA candidate or a petition candidate?”

“What is the difference?”

“Does it make a difference?”

“Why are there so many of you?”

“Do you know why the petition candidates running?”

….and my favorite…

“Who should I vote for ….an ALA nominating committee candidate or a petition candidate?”

So I will clear up the confusion…”I am an ALA nominating committee candidate;” “There is no difference in status, we are all running;” “It doesn’t make a difference, we are all running;” “I don’t know why there are so many;” “The petition candidates have platforms and statements of purpose that explain why they are running” and “You should vote for me.”

What I feel is that there is confusion over this year’s election and any confusion is a distraction. That is, once you get past the “how did this happen” usually petition candidates “are there” because they have identified problems with the nominating committee’s candidates AND they present these problems with the other candidates in their statements of purpose and in their campaign materials.

I don’t see that happening; however, and while it certainly may be happening (and they have every right to do so) all four of us (whose names all begin with “J” if you didn’t notice already) appear to be running on our resumes, accomplishments, and hopes and vision for ALA and the profession in general. Clearly we credential ourselves with (see below) why we want people to vote for us and some of this is clearly a comparison with other candidates, but in general, voters have to do their own homework and should assess all candidates and decide for themselves who would be the best leader for the Association. I find this a positive part of this election and it has been challenging to articulate – in the myriad of questions answered and presentations made – why I – on my own merits – should be ALA president.

PLOnline: In your best elevator speech mode, tell me why ALA members should vote for you over the other 3 candidates?

Julie Todaro: The ALA President must speak for all members of the Association. This is an enormous responsibility that takes place throughout their tenure in planned events as well as in question and answer sessions, testimony, media activities, and hundreds of other contacts where the profession and professionals from all types and sizes of libraries are being lauded, explained, or defended for their roles and responsibilities, activities, stances, vision and values.

I have the knowledge and experience to represent the breadth and depth of the membership in local, state, national and international arenas. I am asking for your vote for ALA President.

James LaRue

PLOnline: This year there are 2 candidates who are petition candidates. This presents an interesting wrinkle for the election. As one of the non-petition candidates, how does that make you feel? Do you think that this will add an important aspect to the election, or will it instead be a distraction?

James LaRue:  All else being equal, the odds of my victory went from 50% to 25%!  This is not how you want things to start. But seriously, I had a chance to meet and listen to all of the candidates myself, and I have a couple of observations. First, I like them all. Every one of us brings something unique to the table. Second, I spent a few weeks interviewing 8 previous ALA presidents, and decided that ALA membership has done a good job of choosing its leaders. All of them have been thoughtful, passionate, and intentional.

With four candidates, ALA members have some clear and distinct choices for the direction of our association. I hope that means a greater engagement in the election itself, and a greater turnout. Is 50% unreasonable?

PLOnline: In your best elevator speech mode, tell me why ALA members should vote for you over the other 3 candidates?

My pitch: We’re at a tipping point for libraries in the United States. My platform has three planks:

  • We need to move from gatekeeper to gardener. The explosion of digital publishing is a tremendous opportunity for librarians to shift from the passive last link in the content distribution chain to a more active, engaged role as co-creators and publishers. Specifically, that means the development of larger, shared digital content infrastructure run by libraries, along the Douglas County Libraries Model.
  • We need to step up from embedded librarians to community leaders. By “community” I don’t mean just the public. I mean school, university, and any host institution. How? By identifying leaders within those communities, conducting in-depth interviews of them, distilling the needs and aspirations of our community, picking a high profile, high impact project that makes a difference, then delivering and talking about it. I would build on the theme of turning outward and building communities.
  • Finally, we need to move from book deserts to book abundance. A book desert is a home with fewer than 25 books in it. New research tells us that getting 500 books in the home of a child between the ages of 0-5 is as good as having two parents with Master’s Degrees. That one difference – book abundance – could eliminate the need for half the social programs in our nation. We know this. Teachers know this. Decision makers in our larger communities do not. We need to tell them in ways that are sticky.

So why vote for me? I am unique among the candidates in that the bulk of my work has been talking to non-librarians. Librarians don’t have to persuade ourselves of our importance. Rather, we have to demonstrate, precisely and strategically, that we can make our communities great. Then get them talking about our value as a vital social asset and partner. I know how to do that.

Joseph Janes is running as a petition candidate in the election.

PLOnline: What went into your decision making process that made you decide to run for President via a petition?

Joseph Janes: I’ve been approached a number of times over the last several years by the nominating committee, including last year, though in many cases the timing just wasn’t right.  This year all the pieces fell into place for me, personally and professionally; both my husband and my colleagues at the UW Information School are incredibly supportive, so it felt like the right time to move forward and run.

PLOnline: In your best elevator speech mode, tell us why ALA members should vote for you over the other 3 candidates?

Joseph Janes: I think I offer two particular sets of gifts.  First, I’m a great storyteller and can effectively share the great stories of libraries, librarians, and librarianship with the wider world.  I would be eager to do as much as I can to shine a brighter light on the work we do, the value we bring, the challenges we face, and in particular that we are beyond “nice to have around” – we are critical infrastructure in all the communities and clienteles we serve.  Secondly, I would love to help lead us all in thinking through how we persevere and thrive in the emerging information landscape, how to find the right mixture of tradition and innovation to move forward and do an even better job in serving our communities.

JP Porcaro is also running as a petition candidate. We did not receive a response from Porcaro, by the deadline. The questions emailed to him were identical to those emailed to Joseph Janes. 

This candid interview with 3 of the 4 potential ALA presidential candidates should help all of us make a more informed decision when voting later this month. I would like to thank each candidate for their honest answers and wish them all the best of luck. The fact that so many qualified and passionate librarians are willing to serve ALA shows the importance of this professional organization. We certainly have a bright future in this profession. To learn more directly from the candidates about their positions, here is a link to the ALA Midwinter Meeting Presidential Candidates Forum. For more information about the ALA Elections go here. Happy voting!


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