Ramiro is Director of San Antonio (TX) Public Library. He is currently reading Leadershift: The 11 Essential Changes Every Leader Must Embrace by John C. Maxwell.
Greetings! I am excited to serve as your PLA president this term. I look forward to continued work with the PLA board, its staff, and members in our commitment to advancing the mission of public libraries. It is fitting that the theme for my first column is civic engagement. I believe wholeheartedly in the important role of public libraries in empowering communities through our engagement efforts.
As I was reflecting on the message for this column, I was reminded of a recent anniversary celebration at a branch library in San Antonio that clearly illustrated how public libraries impact so many lives on a daily basis. To celebrate such a milestone—fifty years—members of the community were invited to join the program that kicked off the celebration. I know the experience in San Antonio reflects what other public libraries throughout the country are doing to advance civic engagement; but it served as a good segue to this column.
The testimonials I heard at this event started with the deacon, who provided the formal invocation, reflecting on the knowledge and experiences made available in libraries. His statement “wisdom nourishes humility and people are more easily led to mutual understanding” summed up how he viewed the importance of libraries.
A member of the San Antonio (TX) Public Library Board of Trustees spoke of her personal experience as a lifelong user of the branch and shared her experiences visiting the library while her husband was deployed on active military duty. She also reminisced of her childhood when her mother brought her as a little girl to the opening celebration of the branch fifty years prior.
A local elected official spoke of her personal experience at this library and how she has come to see libraries as gathering centers where conversations shape the collective future of our communities. She spoke of the importance of digital inclusion and the role of libraries in bridging the digital divide by providing free access to computers, high-speed internet, and Wi-Fi.
And finally, a teen library user expressed her perspective that “a lot of people in the area don’t have resources . . . so when they come here, they’re in the community doing their research and [can find] everything they need.”
These personal stories acknowledge the importance of the library’s civic engagement role in building stronger communities. Even after forty years of working in public libraries, I still marvel at how public libraries continue to change lives through the opportunities and services we provide.
As you know, practicing civic engagement is also very valuable in the library profession. It is important to be in tune with what is happening in the library field to stay current on trends, best practices, and innovative approaches to serving the public. Related, I wonder how many of you are familiar with the work of ALA’s Steering Committee on Organizational Effectiveness (SCOE). Working with an outside consultant, SCOE has been tasked with carrying out a comprehensive review and study of ALA’s governance, membership participation, and legal structures and systems, with the goal of creating a more effective and sustainable organization by proposing plans to restructure ALA’s organization as we know it now. As you can imagine, this is a very significant initiative that could potentially lead to widespread changes in how ALA conducts its business and how it relates to its stakeholder groups. I encourage you to follow the development of this important initiative and actively engage in opportunities to provide input and feedback. As you can see, there are exciting changes ahead. I look forward to participating with you as we shape the future of libraries.
Tags: civic engagement