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The Transformation Will Not be Televised

by Felton Thomas on December 5, 2017

Contact Felton at felton.thomas@cpl.org. Felton is currently reading Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson.

This will be my last column as your PLA President, and I want to take the time to thank four special groups that have made my tenure so memorable. First, I want to thank my staff and board at the Cleveland Public Library for their support of my leadership journey. Second, I must thank my wife and daughters for their patience and love during the past twelve months. Third, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank you: the great people I have met this year, who work at and support libraries. You have been phenomenal. I’ve heard such great stories about how you are dedicated to making your communities better, it really reaffirmed my love for libraries. Finally, I want to thank the extraordinary PLA staff. Under the leadership of Executive Director Barb Macikas, the organization has made tremendous strides toward making PLA all that it can be, and I’m just thankful to have been a small part of this transformation.

Now transformation may seem like a strong word, but PLA is clearly transforming the way it serves its members and the way it represents public libraries as an industry. As the PLA spokesperson, I try not to be the hyperbolic salesman, but I’ve had the good fortune of presenting our new initiatives and services for the past year to library staff at all levels. I’ve received an overwhelmingly positive response to our new direction. The PLA Board has been advocating strongly for calculated risk taking, and PLA staff members have responded with a substantial effort to deepen PLA’s breadth. With the remarkable final gesture of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s (BMGF) Global Libraries program, we now have the resources and capacity to make these aspirations reality.

For twenty years, the Global Libraries program has collaborated with libraries and organizations like PLA, investing more than $1 billion globally to enhance the power of libraries to improve lives. Thanks to the exceptional vision of BMGF Global Libraries leader Deborah Jacobs, BMGF made a $10 million investment in PLA in May 2016.

Jacobs’ vision was to create a partnership among PLA, the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), and the Technology and Social Change Group at the University of Washington (TASCHA) to innovate the future of public libraries globally. We are excited to work with IFLA and TASCHA to this end.

You can expect these funds to be expended in three areas. First, we will continue our work to build a national platform for public library research, training, and practice. Initiatives such as Project Outcome will continue to grow and provide standardized measures of effectiveness for library services and promote training and implementation tools for using the data collected. Second, the funds will also be used to strengthen collaborations across organizations within the library profession and external to the profession. Our advocacy work is growing and PLA received a Power of (A) award from the American Society of Association Executives for the co-creation and implementation of Every Child Ready to Read. Our efforts are being recognized within and outside of the library world. The third area will be a focus on introducing U.S. public libraries to great work being done globally. Partnerships like the one between PLA and the African Library and Information Associations (AFLIA) will strengthen African libraries but also provide a connection for American libraries to learn from their African counterparts. This will build upon the PLA Library Academy and the Inclusive Internship Initiative, two programs committed to producing more diverse and prepared leaders for public libraries of the future.

As this wonderful year comes to a close, I must extend my gratitude to all the former PLA presidents who preceded me, especially the immediate past president Vailey Oehlke. They have assisted in the creation of a public library infrastructure association like no other. I’ve learned so much about leadership from these wonderful people and want them to know that I’m grateful. Pam Sandlian-Smith is such a thoughtful and determined leader that I know that PLA’s future is great in our next president’s hands. Good luck Pam, you’re going to love it.

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