Four Questions for ALA's Four 2015 Presidential Candidates: METRO Interviews Jamie LaRue

By Davis Erin Anderson, Community Engagement Manager, METRO

It's election season for the American Library Association! Starting today, ALA members can begin to casts their vote for one of the four 2015 Presidential Candidates.

To mark the occasion, we're interviewing the candidates. Today, let's hear from Jamie LaRue, Director of the Douglas County Libraries. For more about Jamie, check out his website.

Thank you for you for speaking with us! What questions have been the most frequently asked of you during your campaign? Which of the issues raised are most pressing for the future of ALA, in your opinion?

larue.jpgThe most frequently asked questions have probably been about how to address the sometimes fragmented focus of ALA's divisions, committees, and roundtables; encourage membership; and to promote both diversity and engagement among our membership. I also think there are three big, transformative issues we should all be talking about, essential to get right if we are to position ourselves successfully for the future.

If elected, what do you plan to do to work toward solutions to the issues you've just noted?

I think there are at least three answers: first, to have a clear, overarching plan that gives focus and urgency to our work. ALA's current approach focuses on three big goals: advocacy, information policy, and professional development. I think those are pretty solid, and they effect everyone.

Second, our next ALA president should have a compelling message to the world outside our echo chamber. My platform has three planks, based on those “transformative issues.”

  • We need to move from gatekeeper to gardener. The rise of digital publishing offers both tremendous possibility (the greatest increase of literature, music, and art in human history!), and tremendous challenge (the high prices and license restrictions of the Big Five and academic journals, for instance). We can't be passive victims of a hostile marketplace; we need to step up and encourage statewide library consortia that form new alliances with emerging publishers and authors. We need to move from just another link in the distribution chain to a force that actively helps creators produce and market their content.

  • We need to move from embedded librarian to community leader. Today's reference librarian can't sit behind a desk and wait for questions. They must actively catalog their authorizing environments, identify leaders (whether school, public, or academic), track the key community issues, look for projects where they can add real value, deliver that value, and let people know about it. As I have written before, it is not the job of our communities to make great libraries; it is the job of the library to make great communities. Demonstrating that contribution is not only the right thing to do, it is the surest form of advocacy.

  • We need to move from book deserts to book abundance. A book desert is a home with fewer than 25 books in it. Book abundance is a household with more than 100. A 2010 study found that if a child between the ages of 0-5 can have 500 books in the home, it's as good as having two parents with master's degrees. That is, early literacy has been conclusively demonstrated to result in childhood health and longer life, in greater educational achievement and earning capacity, and even in literal freedom (from incarceration). We own early literacy, and need to do a far better job promoting it for the greater benefit of our society.

Third, we need to remind ourselves not to wait for others to step up and solve our problems but to act proudly on our own behalf. For instance, ALA can't pay to send every new librarian to conference. But our members who are supervisors and directors can advocate strongly for professional development and budget for it as a professional obligation.

As you may know, METRO's membership is highly diverse, with representation from libraries, archives, and museums in the public, academic, and specialized realms. As president, how do you plan to balance the needs of ALA's multivariate membership?

There really is only one way -- by keeping our eye on the big things: ALA's Long Range Plan, the trends that matter. If we can be clear, consistent, and confident, if we can speak powerfully about things we understand, we can not only improve our many interlocking communities, we can also attract new generations of passionate professionals who can see the difference we make.

And now for the age old question: why should METRO members vote for you as ALA's next president?

I like and respect my fellow candidates very much. I think what distinguishes me is that I have spent most of my career not just successfully running public libraries, but in communicating effectively with non-librarians. I wrote a weekly newspaper column for over 25 years, I served on a host of community boards, often as president, and I've hosted radio and TV shows. I have worked with public, educational, non-profit, faith-based, and private organizations of all stripes. I understand that to survive and thrive we must deeply engage with those communities (again, whether they are school, public, academic, archival, or corporate), and make things better. I know how to do that, and have.

Thank you for the opportunity to respond. More information can be found at


Photo provided by Jamie LaRue.