The Public Library Association asked the candidates standing for the 2023 election to answer three questions developed by the PLA Membership Advisory Committee. The two presidential candidates, Jessica Dorr and Michael Lambert, responded to these questions on Tuesday, March 21 during the virtual 2023 PLA Presidential Candidates Forum. The on-demand recording of the forum may be found at the bottom of this page, along with the full list of candidates and the positions for which they are running. The remaining candidates had the opportunity to answer via written responses below.
PLA members, get to know your candidates and invest in the future of PLA and public libraries by participating in the 2023 election! PLA members in good standing as of January 31, 2023 may cast a digital ballot to vote. The election will close April 5, 2023. Learn more about the candidates and the PLA election here.
Question 1: How would you communicate the importance of being involved with PLA with librarians new to the profession?
Christina Fuller-Gregory: Far too often, we practice librarianship in silos, and my involvement in PLA has helped me to develop a more holistic perspective of the profession. This perspective is informed by an understanding that we are part of a vast and robust community of practice. It is what guides me when advocating on the local level, recognizing that while the circumstance may be challenging, I’m not alone in navigating the experience. As a program facilitator for the ALA Emerging Leaders program I’m fortunate to work with early career librarians. One of the comments I hear echoed most from the Emerging Leaders is that they’d like to be active in their organizations post-program. The experience of being an early career librarian can all at once be exciting and challenging. Getting involved in PLA is a dynamic opportunity to build a lasting and supportive professional network.
Deb Sica: PLA is a space for common language and shared experience. While we all work incredibly hard serving our own beloved communities, rarely do we have dedicated time to build our own connections with folx outside our regional areas. PLA is the conduit to develop that necessary support network. PLA is a platform for Radical Inclusion, Race Equity, Intersectional Community Building and so much more. It is a place and space to examine our reasoning, reaffirm our commitment and deepen our love for our chosen profession. Our work in our Public Libraries can vary drastically for site to site, system to system. We see, experience, and provide a variety of services to diverse communities. Without an organization like PLA, we can honestly be faced with burnout if we choose to go it alone. PLA is a space for engagement and involvement; it is the scaffolding to support you. PLA is also the place where pride in our work amplifies through member voices. The community of creatives and determined, democracy-defending Intellectual Freedom Fighters is like no other. And no doubt, if you become involved and serve the profession, you will grow a deepening connection, refill your cup and grow more determined than ever to uphold the importance of all Public Libraries, everywhere.
Corey M. Fleming: I did not take full advantage of PLA as early in my career as I should have. As I look back there are so many resources that could have benefitted my growth in the field. I would utilize these lessons to actively communicate being involved In PLA with new librarians to the field. I would leverage my relationships and experiences to help convey PLA’s mission, vision and purpose to new members. Whether at a Library Conference or any networking related event, I would utilize these opportunities to provide support to other librarians. PLA is a vital resource to the field of librarianship and I will herald this message. I would use the advantage of being on the board to promote various initiatives and participate through mentorship.
Veronda J. Pitchford: Participation in PLA provides new library professionals an easy way to diversify your professional network with library staff who may be more seasoned, from different sized libraries, serving diverse communities in new ways, and diverse library people whose perspectives may expand your thinking.
You can also sharpen and increase your skills by attending conferences learning about leading practices, volunteering for PLA committees and projects and participating in ALA Connect conversations with fellow PLA members focused on today’s issues and challenges. Sharing what you have learned from PLA experiences and conversations may help you look cool at work; increase your face time with library leaders who may become potential future employers, and ready you for your next great opportunity in library land.
Jeannie Dilger: A library school professor suggested I buy a lifetime membership to ALA. To this day, I regret not taking that advice. I have been a continuous member for 32 years, and each year I receive more value. PLA conferences are consistently the most valuable continuing education to be found anywhere. Serving on PLA committees has helped me grow my career, and networking with PLA colleagues provides support and encouragement to keep me excited about the profession.
Tamara M. King: In 2023, public libraries are facing many challenges. On top of growing calls for book bans, dwindling budgets and staff shortages; libraries are also being called upon to help solve societal and community crises. In such a precarious time, PLA is an invaluable resource for both experienced and fledgling library professionals. Being involved in PLA offers a plethora of opportunities to network, learn and share information and resources. For me personally, my involvement with PLA has had a high return on investment. From its trainings and conferences to the various advocacy resources and toolkits, I have found PLA to be an essential resource for my professional development. I have also found such meaning in co-chairing the EDISJ Committee and met such amazing, like minded people from all over the country. PLA is an organization focused on creating inclusive and equitable public library systems for today and tomorrow.
Question 2: Tell us about the hardest decision you’ve ever made as a leader. How did you decide which course of action was best?
Christina Fuller-Gregory: I don’t view leadership decisions on a sliding scale from hardest to easiest, rather I believe that every decision is a learning lesson that sharpens and refines my leadership skills. However, I do believe that as a leader the personal choices we make can and do impact the people we lead. One of the hardest decisions I’ve made, and continue to make is to authentically acknowledge my vulnerability. As a leader, it’s hard to admit that I don’t always know all the answers, I don’t always get it right , and sometimes I need help. My conscious decision to acknowledge my own vulnerability has made it easier for me to recognize and understand the vulnerability in the people I lead.
Deb Sica: I refer to myself as the one state, two state, red state, blue state librarian. I have served in Conservative Texas and in Liberal California. I have defended Intellectual Freedom and Social Justice in many different spaces. Often times, and I’d argue, mistakenly so, our profession can pit these two core, foundational beliefs against each other. They are one in the same. While in Texas, my team and I brought Muslim Journeys, a PLA program, to a highly conservative and predominately Christian community. We were met with anger, aggression, and threats to the point where we needed security at our programming. This was over 15 years ago. Recently, but on the same accord, in California, my team and I were confronted with the Proud Boys and other hate groups at two of our Drag Queen Story Hours. Both programs put staff in harm’s way and, sadly and honestly, resulted in trauma bonding. Our community-minded, brave Library Workers experienced the worst in both situations. However, both programs needed to happen, both programs were met with violence and harsh community push back. But both programs, and many more I have been apart of in my career, were always worth it. To designate the Library as a space for all is always worth it. With time, with care for each other and with the resilience that all Public Library Teams grow to share, we got through the hardships and thrived in representational programming. As a team, we know what was ahead and what we would be faced with, and we choose, together, to move forward.
Corey M. Fleming: Any decision pertaining to organizational and operational finances are always the most difficult to make. They have short term and long term ramifications on any organization. The hardest decision I ever had to make as a leader was addressing budget cuts during unfavorable economic conditions. These cuts usually occur in libraries that are already underfunded. When faced with these challenges it is necessary to look at the entire picture. You need to remain calm, manage overall expectations and think long term. Take a forensic look at your existing budget including reducing unnecessary spending, working with unions to see where we can save on salaries and benefits without harming personnel. Also, work with vendors to see what cost effective measures can be put in place. It is and overall difficult task as it effects many people but it must be done.
Veronda J. Pitchford: The challenges that the twin pandemics of Covid and racial reckoning required tough conversations amongst library staff and our communities.
For me it was immensely challenging professional and personally and 2020 and 2021 left me both raw and exposed. The whiplash of pivoting and zooming whilst I processed the injustice and hate being spewed required tough conversations with staff, colleagues, and communities. Thankfully, I was also part of an amazing grant in which libraries identified challenges BIPOC communities faced and developed racial equity action plans to work on eliminating and meet the needs identified by the community.
Most times I lead with enthusiasm. But during this period, I remained authentic and shared my vulnerabilities, fears, and the hope I was clinging to throughout it all and now while maintaining an ever-present understanding that much work was (and still is) ahead for us all.
Jeannie Dilger: The most difficult decisions for me are always related to personnel issues. I always want to do what is most compassionate for the employee, but sometimes that can be in conflict with the needs of the public or other staff. Once I had an employee struggling with mental health issues who became threatening to his colleagues and the seniors he was instructing. I was forced to intervene and remove him from the job to protect others. Even so, I spoke to him kindly, offering him the opportunity to leave on his own. I also offered him a variety of resources. In doing so, it helped him see the need to seek out help. I believe strongly in exercising compassion in everything we do.
Tamara M. King: When facing a hard decision, I prioritize gaining information, following my instincts, and relying on my experience to find the best course of action. A particularly hard decision was during an incident at the library involving a discharged weapon. As you can imagine, customers and staff were scared and concerned. Once we assured the safety of everyone in the building and communicated there wasn’t any immediate danger, my department went into crisis mode. We worked with law enforcement to create an information chain, and during that time, we had some staff that wanted information in real time. Unfortunately, the situation was still active and we didn’t want to provide erroneous information. It was imperative to follow the guidance of law enforcement before fully communicating the details to our staff. The decision was hard, but after debriefing, it proved the best course forward.
Question 3: What experience do you have handling book challenges at the local level or from state legislatures?*
Deb Sica: I was nine years old when I came out to myself, but I had no words for my growing awareness. A few years later, I found enough bravery and I went to the Henrietta Public Library (shout out to my hometown S/heroes). I opened the World Book, with the help of a magical Librarian, her guided cross-referencing and zero judgment, I was introduced to my word, the word Lesbian. Now, nearly 40 years later, I feel personally responsible to defend access in our libraries for that very life saving reason. In my early career in Public Libraries, while at the Reference Desk, I had to witness ongoing ciscentric and heterosexist disgust being lobbed in my direction. At the local level, I have participated in “Reconsideration Committees” and be subject to hostile phone calls and other threats In the defense of Intellectual Freedom. Those experiences, while deeply troubling in the moment, have built my resistance to censorship and resilience. I have lobbied during Day in the District in California and at the state level with the Texas Library Association. I serve on the IFRT and am the PLA liaison to ALA’s IFC. Currently, I am Chair of the Merritt Fund. The Merritt Fund is librarians supporting librarians who have suffered loss of employment, accumulated debt due to legal battles and other expenses for simply doing their job, for defending access. (This is where I shamelessly ask for your support of the fund!) Now is the time to act!
Corey M. Fleming: The libraries that I have worked for have not encountered any book challenges. However, I am very familiar with the book challenges libraries face on Local, State and National levels. Understanding these can be controversial issues, we have a duty support our communities and as libraries to defend intellectual freedom for our users. As a library leader I am committed to ensuring that our institutions are providing free access to information. It is imperative that the materials we select are accurate, meaningful and supported by our selection policies.
Throughout my career the relationships I have developed and cultivated with legislators on different levels have proven to be beneficial to library advocacy. Whether it’s creating the opportunity for aiding in library funding, assisting other libraries experiencing book challenges or the implementation of policies in support public libraries these connections have been the catalyst for change.
Veronda J. Pitchford: N/A
Jeannie Dilger: During my career, I’ve had to respond to many materials challenges to books, movies, and even devices like tablets and WiFi hotspots. I’m unfortunately well-versed in helping library boards respond to the public and the media in defending access for everyone. One challenge was even our own state legislator. I’m pleased to say I’ve never had to remove access to materials and usually found a way to respond to the challenger’s concerns without removing the material. I’ve also had the opportunity to defend libraries when speaking before the Illinois State Legislature on potential property tax cuts, so I won’t hesitate to go before them again to defend access to materials.
Tamara M. King: I am an experienced, public relations professional and an equity, diversity and inclusion practitioner. In this, I have had an opportunity to handle book challenges using both an EDISJ lens, while also using my experience in media and governmental relations to advocate the mission and goals of libraries locally and statewide. From providing talking points for staff to using our EDI Commitment Statement to guide book selection and customer challenges, I have remained dedicated to protecting intellectual freedom and a person’s right to read. And whether I am responding to an elected official or a concerned parent, it is not lost on me that the mission of libraries has to come first. We have to tell our story and how essential we are to creating a just, informed society and protecting democracy.
*Due to the sensitive nature of these types of challenges, some candidates chose not to respond to question 3.
The candidates and the offices for which they are running are listed below. Please click on the name of each candidate to learn more about them.
Director-at-Large (Seat A)
Director-at-Large (Seat B)