GSLIS Professor of Practice Maureen Sullivan Runs for ALA President
By Sasha Nyary, Dean’s Editorial Fellow
GSLIS Professor of Practice Maureen Sullivan Runs for ALA President Maureen Sullivan’s nearly 40 years in libraries began when she was an undergraduate at the University of Maryland and got hired as a page at a local public library. She was so impressed with the librarians and liked the environment so much that she quickly followed her B.A. with an M.L.S. A professor of practice in the Ph.D. MLIP (Managerial Leadership in the Information Professions) concentration at GSLIS, Sullivan’s expertise and experience are in human resources and library management. She has been involved with the American Library Association (ALA) for almost as long as she has been a professional librarian. If Sullivan wins the election this spring, she’ll be the third president in the last four who is affiliated with GSLIS.
Why are you running for the presidency of ALA?
Part of the reason is that it’s one of the best ways to give back. Very early on, I had an informal opportunity to be an emerging leader. More seasoned people took an interest in me, made sure to introduce me to people, and helped me identify opportunities to be more involved. They really opened doors for me. And everything I’ve done in ALA in some way has benefitted either the work
I’ve done as a human resources administrator or the work I do as a consultant and educator. It’s been the best way to form a network of relationships. ALA is the association representing libraries and librarians. It’s our best means to have the rest of the world understand what we who work in libraries contribute to our community.
What does the president do?
First and foremost, the president provides leadership to the whole association. He or she is responsible for managing a variety of meetings, particularly the
executive board and council. Probably the most important role is to represent the association and the profession to the world at large. The president spends a fair amount of time with the media. And the president also does important work when he or she is deciding who will be appointed to all of the committees.
What are the issues at ALA?
Internally, there’s a need to make changes in the way the association works, and it’s being actively pursued. There’s a real desire to have ALA become even more inclusive and responsive to the broad diversity of needs, interests, and preferences of its members. The 2011 to 2015 strategic plan, which came out of the summer meeting last June, addresses this. That goes along with the question of how we retain younger members of ALA. A report came out describing a series of steps to do that.
The third piece is: How can mid-winter be more effective? Should it become a virtual experience? The annual conference this summer, for the first time, is going to have a virtual component. The thinking is, it’s still going to be important to meet in person, but we also need to take advantage of the social
network and develop the means for people to be engaged.
What do you want to focus on, specifically? What’s your agenda?
It’s going to be important for me to understand what’s been accomplished out of the current administration’s work and to build on that. They’ve done a great job identifying effective people to lead some of their initiatives.
The key area, in my view, continues to be advocacy. I mean making an effort to have libraries and librarians at the table when decisions are being made in our communities. We need to be clear about what library and information professionals bring to that work. I think we bring some important things that we
underplay; one of them is our ability to get information that is useful and relevant, no matter what the topic.
I think we have to continue all of the good work that’s been done on intellectual freedom, and there are constant challenges. I also think as an association we’ve done some really good work in diversity and inclusion, particularly identifying ways to do that effectively in different libraries. The big issue right now is, how do we make sure libraries remain relevant and vital as the world
becomes increasingly digital?
The economic downturn is causing communities and organizations to look carefully at the resources allocated to various activities. And when administrators don’t understand what the libraries are doing and how they are making a difference, people are vulnerable.
We continue to have a segment of every population that doesn’t have the resources that administrators sometimes assume are there for them. And what I’m really talking about here is the lack of understanding, especially about how urban public libraries are a key resource — for a variety of reasons — to the people in the community, including the transient population. We’ve got a broadly diverse set of customers, clients, patrons. It’s challenging for libraries to figure out how they’re going to serve those populations with many needs and interests and preferences, but there’s a strong desire to do it.
Why should the GSLIS community vote for you?
I think one of the ways in which GSLIS will benefit is that I would be yet another person tied to Simmons who has a national position. This will highlight the MLIP program, particularly, and the entire GSLIS program, although I have to tell you, from where I sit, GSLIS doesn’t need to be highlighted. It’s right up
there. The other benefit is likely to be, if I assume this role, I’ll be learning a great deal about the issues, and I’ll be in a position to bring that back to Simmons.
For more information, please go to Sullivan’s website at
http://maureensullivan.org. The electronic poll opens on March 16
and extends through April 22. The new president will be announced
on April 29.