Coalition Spotlight: American Library Association•
This is a monthly feature that shines a light on the work of one of Opportunity Nation’s Coalition members. This month we’re highlighting the American Library Association, the oldest and largest library association in the world.
What guides your work?
An important principle for the American Library Association (ALA) is to be grounded in practice. In Washington, DC we focus on national initiatives and legislation and public policy. While it is easy to get caught up in the inside-the-beltway process, we remember that policy outcomes must be usable and relevant to librarians in communities. ALA members around the country are invaluable in keeping us on course, and we have many mechanisms to work with them.
(ALA membership is open not only to librarians and libraries but also to individuals, nonprofits and businesses interested in working together to change the world for the better through libraries and librarians.)
How do your current priorities align with Opportunity Nation’s goal of restoring the American Dream?
Enabling opportunity is an enduring priority for libraries and ALA. Libraries serve as venues for engagement with information and technology to advance community outcomes such as improved economic opportunity, health, educational achievement and quality of life overall. Thus, ALA’s policy agenda is aligned with Opportunity Nation’s Millennium Goals.
The library community is united with the basic premise of Opportunity Nation that everyone should have an equal opportunity to succeed, and seeks ways to improve the lives of everyone in America’s communities.
What is something you wish more people knew about ALA?
There are 120,000 libraries in the United States, meaning there is a library pretty much everywhere. Libraries have buildings, information resources, expert librarians, technology, a reputation for trustworthiness and local community knowledge—and thus are great collaborators for community initiatives of all kinds.
How are you engaging young people and/or local communities?
ALA and libraries initiate knowledge-sharing efforts and library programs targeted towards young people (e.g. GED completion, maker spaces, computer coding and financial literacy programs). We also partner with national groups towards this end, whether focused on direct services to communities or on legislation, regulation or other public policy. Finally, ALA engages in direct lobbying and policy advocacy.
What are you working on right now?
One of our major initiatives is Libraries Ready to Code, a collaboration with Google, which focuses on increased awareness of, and skills in, coding to broaden educational and career opportunities. This initiative includes a particular emphasis on young people and groups underrepresented in coding — such as girls/women, African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans. ALA has produced a four-page brief and three minute video to illustrate how libraries provide coding opportunities for youth. In June, ALA and Google launched a grant program for libraries to develop and implement new or improved programming on coding.
What are some of your recent collaborations or partnerships?
ALA is a collaborator with Cox Communications to provide more robust digital literacy services and resources to communities through libraries. We are also a partner in the ConnectHome initiative which is focused on bringing broadband to public housing projects, since libraries provide resources that residents may leverage towards their personal goals with their new broadband access.
What’s the best way people can find out more about your work and follow your progress?
The single best way to follow us is through our District Dispatch blog. Other resources may be found here, highlighting our national policy initiatives. People can also follow Alan S. Inouye, ALA’s director of public policy, on Twitter at @AlanSInouye.
If you’re a part of the Opportunity Nation Coalition and you’d like to be a part of our Coalition Spotlight, please contact Juanita Tolliver.