This month, the ALA is celebrating National Library Week, which runs from April 8 through April 14, 2012.

“National Library Week has been around for over 50 years and is a way to celebrate and recognize libraries all over the country,” Raphael said of the annual event. “It’s also a great way to get media attention because it happens in towns, cities, schools, and universities. The ALA provides some support for people celebrating but each individual library plans its events based on its own community. It’s wonderful that it’s a diverse experience and allows people to do what is most important for their community.”

Want to see how you can participate? Ask at your local library or visit the following websites:

http://www.ala.org/conferencesevents/celebrationweeks/natlibraryweek

http://www.atyourlibrary.org/

To learn more about the ALA’s Celebration Weeks and Promotional Events, click here.

To become an ALA Member or to donate to the ALA, click here.

And to learn about other ways you can get involved, click here.

Another way to support our libraries is to back Molly Raphael’s Advocacy Initiative.

“The goal: We must transform the way people think about libraries, from being ‘nice to have’ to being ‘essential for learning, essential for life.’” – Molly Raphael

The Advocacy Initiative focuses on the importance of literacy, learning, and continued education and reading. It calls for support from Friends-of-the-Library groups, community members, and the ALA to secure a future for our libraries. Learn more about Molly Raphael’s initiatives here.

 

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Feature

Celebrating the Future of Libraries with the ALA

Special Focus: National Library Week: April 8-14, 2012

I spent most of my school years devouring nearly every book my public library had to offer, though I certainly never ventured into the adult section (or as I thought of it, “the Restricted Section” a la Harry Potter). For me, the library was a place of discovery, peace, and a lot of really good books. But with the book industry in turmoil, where do today’s libraries stand?

The American Library Association (ALA) has been doing a remarkable job keeping our country’s libraries in the loop. With library awareness events like National Library Week (April 8-14 2012), as well as their long-reaching plans for the future, the ALA is going above and beyond to remind the public how important our libraries can be.

Molly Raphael, President of the ALA, is optimistic about her work with our libraries. After having been a part of urban public libraries in Washington DC and Portland, Oregon Raphael was nominated to run for ALA President. “Being elected President of the American Library Association has been a great experience,” Raphael stated. “I’ve been active in the ALA since the early 70s, so it made sense for me to run for president. I had been on various executive boards, committees, and councils and I had experience in a lot of different areas in the ALA. I bring all of that to the table and build on what has come before me.”

For those of you unfamiliar with the history of the American Library Association, it was founded in Philadelphia in 1876 and now has more than 60,000 members, making it the oldest and largest library association in the world. For nearly 140 years, the ALA has been providing and leadership for the development and improvement of library services throughout the country.

“The theme this year is ‘You Belong @ Your Library,’” Raphael said of the ALA’s current endeavor. “We are looking at how libraries make connections with different parts of a community and we want to highlight how libraries are welcoming gathering places for people from all different backgrounds.”

A perfect example of this goal in action are the One Book, One Community programs taking place all over the nation. Raphael told me about one of the programs currently taking place in San Jose, CA. “Two or three libraries systems joined together to do a program called ‘Muslim and American,’” she explained. “The center is a single book (The Muslim Next Door by Sumbul Ali-Karamali), and the libraries have been doing tremendous programming about issues regarding being Muslim in America. They have hosted professors from different universities, screened films, and more. In this way, our libraries are educating people about current issues.”

Of course, the ALA can’t do it all on their own. Like publishers, authors, and booksellers, libraries are challenged by changing technologies and our country’s economic slump. “The issues around technology continue to consume focus and resources of libraries because our world changing so rapidly,” Raphael admitted. “Another big issue is funding for public and school libraries. Due to the economic downturn, it can be difficult to keep libraries open long hours or invest in eBook technology. Luckily, there are library advocacy groups and programs that are focused on speaking out for the libraries where people get their access to technology, resources, and expertise.”

Despite these challenges, Raphael remains excited about the important services that our libraries provide. “We helped people experiment with technology, as many libraries lend out eReaders to give people a chance to see if they like the technology. Libraries are also trying to make it possible to deliver traditional services available electronically. For example, book groups can check out books in print or eBook formats.”

In addition to meeting the demands of the eBook market, libraries are also working on developing mobile apps and creating other avenues to appeal to community members.

“Libraries are very good at adapting to change,” Raphael told me. “It’s the only way they stay relevant from generation to generation. That adaptation means that we must listen to our communities to understand their aspirations and priorities. One of the challenges libraries have is that teenagers drift away from libraries after elementary school, so we have been talking to teens and creating spaces and services that attract young adults to the library.”

The ALA and libraries around the country are certainly working hard to maintain their standing in our communities. Between being a place for young children to develop a love of reading, a space for research and education, and a haven for bibliophiles, libraries have habitually transcended generations and technologies (they’ve been around for hundreds and hundreds of years, after all). Personally, I can’t imagine a world without buildings full of books, and neither can Raphael.

“There has been speculation by some that the physical library is going to disappear,” Raphael said. “But if you go and visit libraries you’ll see the use is rising. Our libraries are becoming centers of communities, as there are fewer and fewer places where people can gather together. There have been huge investments in public library systems in cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, and Chicago – these areas have totally rebuilt library systems because people need that common space to come together.”

Library lovers can rest easy, as our libraries are here to stay…with a little help from their friends. If you want to get involved in your local library or with the ALA, see the sidebar for details, or visit the ALA online at www.ala.org. And be sure to contact your local library to see how you can celebrate National Library Week!

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Jillian Bergsma is writer and contributing editor for Independent Publisher. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English. She welcomes any questions or comments on her articles at jbergsma (at) bookpublishing.com.

          

      


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