It has been almost two months since our annual conference as I write my first President’s Column for the Virginia Library Association’s quarterly journal. It is easy to feel overwhelmed since the president’s responsibilities begin the second the gavel is passed. However, behind every successful president is a very well organized chief of staff, and mine is Executive Director Lisa Varga.
The 2013 Conference was a huge success with over 550 people attending along with 75 vendors. Kudos, congratulations, laud, and praise to all who made this possible, especially Megan Hodge, Rebecca Miller, and everyone on the 2013 Conference Committee. I am particularly impressed with the Paraprofessional Forum and Sasha Matthew’s Scholarship Committee for raising $6,134 for the Scholarship Fund, which allowed us to not only fund both $2,500 scholarships, but also have money left over for next year’s scholarships. The diverse selection of sessions ensured that there was a track for everyone. I personally learned a lot from attending a couple of Unconference sessions. The introduction of Unconference sessions, combined with our traditional programming, is a prime example of how our association and profession continue to evolve to better serve the needs of our users and staff.
Typically, newly elected VLA presidents have waited until the start of the new year to begin their column, so this issue of Virginia Libraries marks a new tradition. I just hope that my writing doesn’t appear too lackluster, following in the footsteps of two very articulate and erudite immediate past presidents — Connie Gilman and Lisa Lee Broughman — whom I have had the great pleasure of working with on the Executive Committee.
It appears that the laws of physics function differently with the Executive Committee. The evidence suggests that time does accelerate faster while on this committee than anywhere else in the universe. I am certain that one day one of our academic librarians will prove this theory, becoming the first person to win a Nobel Prize in Library and Information Science. With that said, it is hard to believe that in just a few weeks I will be participating in my second executive retreat, where we will adopt our “Designated Agenda” and begin work on myriad topics related to the association and Virginia libraries. The retreat is also a great time for the officers to become acquainted with each other and grow as a team. I especially look forward to getting to know and working with our new President Elect, Suzy Palmer; Second Vice President, Shari Henry; and Treasurer, Nathan Flinchum.
One of the first things on my “to do” list as VLA’s newly elected president was to address the issue of some public libraries not requiring a Master’s in Library Science (MLS or MLIS) for leadership positions. What precipitated the concern were the administrative and organizational changes made earlier this year by the library director and board of the Fairfax County Public Library. After much deliberation at our September meeting the Executive Committee concluded that it was not the place of VLA to chastise or denounce the decisions of local library directors or their governing bodies and that the best course of action would be for me to state VLA’s position in my first column. Ideally the Virginia Library Association fully supports the necessity of a Master’s in Library Science and professional certification for library management and certain specialized positions, and that removing the requirement for an MLS or MLIS degree for these positions devalues the profession and diminishes the quality of library service to the community and Commonwealth at large. However, the realization of this ideal may not always be financially or logistically possible, and I fear that the truth of the matter is that many public libraries in the state are not able to actualize this ideal. This is where the value and expertise of paraprofessionals, the backbone of all public libraries, comes into play. Library directors have to make tough decisions, most of them always involving money. These monetary decisions are not usually about choosing between good and bad but, instead, are about choosing between bad and worse. As a library director myself, if I had to choose between closing a library or discontinuing educational programs on the one hand and staffing a position with a “paraprofessional” instead of an MLS/MLIS holder on the other, I would always choose the paraprofessional. VLA supports the library profession and we support the ideals of our profession and will do everything within our power to help any library in Virginia.
And now for something completely different…
As I mentioned above, the space-time continuum in VLA sometimes runs rather fast, so here are some dates in 2014 to mark on your calendars: March 1, Scholarship application deadline; May 5–6, Virginia Library Leadership Academy; May 5–6, National Library Legislative Day; May 18–20, VLA Paraprofessional Conference; October 22–24, Annual Conference.
Planning for next year’s conference actually began in December 2012 with the Executive Director and I having preliminary discussions and exploring several potential conference locations. The theme is gradually taking shape and soon the conference committee will assemble. The last time I spoke with Mark Lenker, 2014 Conference Committee Chair, the title that was forming was something like “Libraries: Agents of Change” with a James Bond’ish/ Secret Agent motif.
Finally, with a newly elected administration in Richmond, the Legislative Committee and I will have the opportunity this year to introduce Governor McAuliffe to VLA and all of the wonderful things our libraries do to educate and connect citizens to the information they need to live and thrive in the Commonwealth. We will ultimately ask him and the General Assembly for $1.5 million for FY 2015 in order to fund the first item on our 2014 Legislative Agenda, the initiative to strengthen state funding for public libraries through the “New Age, New Library” plan to meet the needs of 21st century library users in Virginia.
The New Year is almost here and I do look forward to convening our first Council meeting in January. If this is your first year attending Council fear not, time moves rapidly there too … well usually.