On November 17, the American Library Association (ALA) partnered with the Internet Association to hold a public session on advancing economic opportunity, targeted to the policy community in Washington, D.C. The session, chaired by ALA President Julie Todaro, was held at the Google DC office. The panel discussion was moderated by a reporter from The Hill and included representatives from Yelp and the Internet Association. The audience included a broad cross-section of Washington policy folks. The event was a great opportunity to educate an important national audience on the role and value of libraries in society.
ALA President-elect Jim Neal was a speaker at this session. In his remarks, Jim concisely articulated the many ways that libraries contribute to national goals and how library values strengthen libraries’ ability in serving the nation’s communities.
Here are Jim’s remarks based on his presentation and responses to questions at the session:
Libraries, 120,000 of all types, public, school, academic, government, corporate, are an essential component of the national information infrastructure, and are critical leaders in their communities. We stand for freedom, learning, collaboration, productivity and accessibility. We are trusted, helping to address community concerns and championing our core values, including democracy, diversity, intellectual freedom and social responsibility.
By bringing together access to technology and Internet services and by providing a wide range of information resources, community knowledge and expert information professionals, 21st century libraries transform communities and lives, promote economic development, bridge the digital divide in this country and are committed to equity of access.
Libraries are centers for research and development. Libraries support literacy, in all of its elements. Libraries are spaces for convening, collaborating and creating. Libraries help people find training and jobs. Libraries are at the core of education and scholarship. Libraries provide access to basic and emerging technologies and the education which enables their effective use.
It has been the practice of the American Library Association to evaluate priorities, and program and funding opportunities in the context of a new Administration and Congress. We must sustain and grow federal funding for universal service, for broadband and wireless deployment in schools and libraries. We must create funding for library and school construction and renovation. We must focus these efforts on underserved communities, in our cities and in our rural areas. Individuals without dependable and open Internet access and without digital skills are clearly at a disadvantage when it comes to economic opportunity and quality of life. We must maintain and expand federal investment in our nation’s libraries.
People come to libraries physically and virtually for a variety of reasons. To read, to learn, to do schoolwork. To find job training and secure employment. To file taxes. To research community services, and health concerns. Libraries support developers, freelancers, contractors, not-for-profit organizations, small business owners, and researchers. Libraries provide materials and services for the print-disabled. Libraries serve the homeless, veterans, immigrants, prisoners, and the many individuals who are seeking to make transitions and to improve their lives.
Libraries need to look beyond the programs and the funding. We must forge radical new partnerships with the first amendment, civil rights, and technology communities to advance our information policy interests and our commitment to freedom, diversity and social justice. We must prepare for the “hard ball” of the policy wars. We must fight for net neutrality, for balanced copyright and fair use, for privacy and confidentiality in the face of expanded national security surveillance, for intellectual freedom and first amendment principles, for voting rights, for the transition of immigrants to citizenship, for the dignity of all individuals. We must fight against hate in all of its bigoted manifestations.
Libraries are about education, employment, entrepreneurship, empowerment and engagement. But we are also about the imperatives of individual rights and freedoms, and about helping and supporting the people in our communities.