Joining Our Multiple Voices
by Carolyn Barkley
This column is the second in what might be called an "on the road" series. The first in this evolving series was written immediately following the Public Library Association conference in Charlotte. I write this next installment having just returned from representing VLA at the annual meeting of the Virginia Public Library Directors Association (VPLDA) at Graves Mountain Lodge. Once again, I returned filled with new thoughts and with a heightened sense of energy about libraries in the Commonwealth.
First, I must say that beautiful scenery, country air, regular meals, and camaraderie set the scene well for creative thinking and professional growth. Second, I am struck by the ability of librarians from a wide spectrum of disparate library environments and experiences to come together in a common cause, learn from one another, and plan for the public library of the future in Virginia. Third, I have a deepened conviction about the power of partnership. Partnership is all too often absent from our approach to librarianship. Libraries and library agencies vie for limited funding at the local, state, and federal levels; various libraries experience the tension of growing too fast, falling behind in the digital divide, or being too small, too large, underfunded, overcrowded, or understaffed— one might notice that no one seems to experience a tension of being rich, overstaffed or uncrowded. Organizations may be unaware of the work of other organizations with similar interests, or may simply miss the fact that partnering with another organization might be the deciding factor between success and failure. Organizations and associations all too often carry on independently of others who share common goals.
As I participated in discussions at the VPLDA meeting, I realized that multiple voices in support of library initiatives and issues are critical to our capitalizing on the opportunities that legislative successes have provided to us as Virginia libraries. These voices, however, will be most successful when strategies are developed together, when spokespersons present common themes—and present them together as well as individually—and when the library community consistently seeks partners who can best assist in the marketing and advocacy of our issues. I do not limit this belief to public libraries. The power of partnership stretches across all types of libraries in Virginia: public, private, special, school, and state. We are all part of the lifelong learning of our citizens. Funding and initiatives that serve the customers of one, serve the customers of all.
Over the past several years there has been an important partnership between VPLDA and VLA. With a legislative agenda driven largely by public library initiatives, VLA has contracted for a legislative liaison, but it has been donations from public libraries and friends groups that have funded the contract. The results have been outstanding. For me, the most important outcome of the VPLDA meeting was the opportunity to identify other instances where continuing our dialog and combining our efforts on issues facing libraries in Virginia today will bring success to both organizations. I hope that other types of libraries will join in that dialog and collaborative effort as I hope that VPLDA will invite the VLA President to their annual meetings for years to come.