June 2024: Executive Director's Report

Happy June NYLA Members! We have much to celebrate this month, including Pride Month, Juneteenth, and the beginning of our first fixed membership year at NYLA. For those who didn’t know, our memberships now run from June 1 – May 31 each year, meaning everyone will be renewing at the same time, which we hope will make it easier to mark on your calendars and plan for. If you haven’t joined the new system yet, it’s not too late. Check the website and join ASAP to make the most of the current membership year. After all, an association is nothing without its members!

During this membership push, and, all year long, I have people ask me what NYLA does…for them, for their libraries, etc. It’s a fair question, and I have spent much of my two and a half years as Executive Director considering this. I wanted to share some of my thoughts with you all.

I understand that the question usually comes from a place of cost/benefit analysis, as in, why should I or my library spend money to be members of NYLA? What does it provide us? As a librarian and a former library director, I entirely understand the struggle of limited budgets and ever-expanding needs. I can give many practical answers about how NYLA offers continuing education, encourages critical professional networking, and advocates for library funding and legislation. But I believe getting to the heart of this question requires zooming out to 10,000 feet and considering the field of librarianship. The “we” not the “me” of it all.

Set aside the everyday practical purpose of any professional association, and look at the overarching raison d’etre. Just as many public libraries ask the residents of their service area for tax support for library operations, NYLA asks members for dues to support association operations. This can be seen one of two ways: as raising taxes or membership fees to fatten our bank accounts (which we all know is an out-of-touch and cynical way of viewing it), or as offering residents and members the opportunity to invest in their community, and their profession in our case.

NYLA was established in 1890, by a small group of people who believed in the importance of our profession. As I travel around the state and visit libraries and systems, I know for a fact that the group of people has grown exponentially since then. We are a profession that cares harder and gives more than many others, which is the reason I love working with and for you all. But our association needs the same care and concern with which we weed and develop our collections. It needs the watering of our volunteer resources, it needs the sunshine of investment in dues and event attendance, and it needs the occasional repotting of operational changes to allow it to grow and flourish.

In this age of increased attacks on intellectual freedom, stark fiscal hardship for many libraries and systems, and what feels like an overwhelming wave of unsolvable problems facing us all, I think it can be easy to feel like there is no point in joining a professional association. And yet, I’d argue that the field of librarianship banding together closer than ever and working as one could be the very remedy for what ails us all. We NEED each other. We need support, kind words, and hard work at work worth doing. We need to remember our why, and when one of us feels burnt out, we need the strength and wisdom of our peers to carry us through. Just as penguins in the Arctic take turns being on the cold outside of the huddle, rotating towards the center when the wind gets too icy, we need to protect one another in our moments of struggle and ensure that we all weather this storm as one.

Don’t join NYLA solely for what it can do for you. Join NYLA for what we can do for each other. Join because you believe in our mission, our field, and our peers. Join because our communities deserve libraries that are well-staffed and well-funded. Join because you see the crucial role we play in the shrinking social safety net for vulnerable people. This is admittedly a maudlin and seemingly self-serving sentiment as the person in charge, but I was a dedicated member and volunteer long before I worked here. I took on this position for exactly this reason. I believed in us, in the vital services we provide, in our caring nature, and in the future generations of library workers who need shoulders to stand on and footsteps to follow. Two and a half years later, I still do.

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