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Looking Forward to a Productive Year Ahead

by Larry Neal on January 23, 2015

Thank you for your PLA membership and for being a part of the best association for public library professionals! One of the questions I was most frequently asked during my year as president-elect was what “big theme” or “signature initiative” I was going to bring to PLA in 2014-15. I am pleased to assure you that the answer is “none of the above.” My goal for the year ahead harkens back to a summertime childhood lesson learned along the banks of Michigan’s Black River in the land of Hemingway. Not only did my dad instill in me a love of and respect for nature, but also a sense of responsibility to leave our campsite a little better than the way we found it.

Thankfully, applying these attributes to PLA will be a welcome challenge. We have an outstanding Executive Director, Barb Macikas; a talented, dedicated, and hardworking PLA staff; strong leadership under Past President Carolyn Anthony’s tenure, with an excellent board to match; a remarkable core of nearly 250 volunteers who generously give of their time in a wide variety of ways; and most importantly you, our 9,400 members—the reason PLA exists. That said, I look forward to implementing our newly updated strategic plan; laying the groundwork for our 2016 conference in Denver (April 5-9); cultivating leaders through a second PLA Leadership Academy; energizing senior library administrators with an exciting CE opportunity in 2015; and promoting broad adoption of new performance measurements. Also on my mind are three issues that will not be solved in a day or a year, but still deserve our attention.

First, PLA needs to ensure that it continues to deliver on the value proposition of membership in the face of changing trends in member expectations, needs, and interest in participating in professional associations. Again, I thank you for your current membership, but do not want to lose you because you joined for one year just to get a discount on a conference, because you may be retiring, or because you found someplace else to spend your hard-earned income. While I believe that pride of membership and a passion for public libraries—and the profession—are reasons enough to be a member of PLA, I know that it takes much more, even if it costs less than a cup of coffee a day.1

Second, I must express my personal concern about our umbrella organization, the American Library Association (ALA). Although I am comfortable with PLA’s situation, I am troubled by the state of ALA’s structure and finances and the impact these will ultimately have on our division and beyond. The need for ALA to balance its budget and reallocate resources to meet the current needs and priorities of its members are urgent and critical for its sustainability and PLA’s future. All of us have or are adapting to “the new normal” in our libraries and it’s time for ALA to do the same. That said, we too “are ALA” and must be willing to take ownership of that change and accept the fact that an association cannot be all things to all people.

Third, I hope to inspire you as an “accidental advocate” because, if I can do it, anyone can. I was the quiet kid who was pushed around in school; the employee whose most significant weakness noted on a performance evaluation in thirty years was “needs to approach elected officials with greater confidence”; and the new director who had to have a neighboring director hold his hand for his first legislative office visit eight years ago. Since that time I have led a rally protesting cuts to library funding at Michigan’s state capitol; battled a wealthy retired attorney through three library millage campaigns in three years, finally securing library services for my home city; and will now be serving a year as president of this amazing nationwide library association. I believe with an ample supply of passion, hard work, and persistence that anything is possible.

Some people say that the golden age of libraries is behind us. I believe our most exciting days and opportunities lie ahead. I look forward to working with you to ensure that the public’s perception of libraries is not just that they are more relevant today than ever, but that they are critical for strong communities and a strong democracy for the future. As Hemingway once wrote, “Never confuse movement with action.” Here’s to a productive year ahead!


1. Fifty-four cents a day for ALA base membership after three years, plus PLA division membership.