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Our Brave Communities

Lessa Kanani‘opua Pelayo-Lozada

Over the past few years, we have been asked to be brave as we do things that once would have been unthinkable. We have had to be brave while defending intellectual freedom and the right to read. We have had to be brave taking on the role of disaster workers in response to COVID-19. And we have had to be brave in reimagining equity and access to information for all—in the library, outdoors, and in the virtual world.

Being brave has not been easy, but we have done it and have faced the unknown for ourselves and our communities. This bravery inspired me to run for president of the American Library Association in summer 2020. I wanted to be brave for our library community, and I also wanted to center our stories. Everyone needs to understand how essential libraries and library workers are to our communities and our world.

As a former children’s librarian, I know that stories are the foundation of almost everything, and I invite you all to share your stories. Tell them to anyone who will listen. Tell them to anyone who can and will advocate on behalf of our libraries and communities, because storytelling demonstrates what statistics cannot: the impact we make on our patrons and students, as well as how essential our spaces are to making community members feel represented and able to live out their dreams.

When I visited Park View Middle School in Cranston, Rhode Island, librarian Stephanie Mills shared with me the stories of her students and how they embraced virtual and hybrid spaces to keep connected with one another, books, and the library. Students themselves described books with queer characters that helped make them feel seen and reading stories with characters who swear, reflecting their realities. To them—students who use our resources, sometimes multiple times a day—the library, whether virtual or physical, is their grounding point. It can remain so if we continue our work throughout their lives.

I was humbled to hear students sharing their stories and their joy for the library, which reminded me of how we, a collective of library workers and library lovers, create and ensure access to these spaces for all. As ALA president, I am reminded of how great our Association can be, and how it can grow into what we all need it to be as we reimagine what life in our communities and our libraries could look like. To improve, though, we must honor one another with our stories and the lessons we have learned these past few years. As members of ALA, we are partners in this work.

When many of us were together in Washington, D.C., for Annual Conference just a few weeks ago, the stories flowed for both the in-person and the virtual participants. Connecting with one another and knowing we are not alone during these difficult times was a highlight for me, as I’m sure it was for others. And the stories of success, hope, and joy sent me home with a full heart, ready for action.

As your ALA president, I ask you to join me in sharing and creating new stories for libraries and library workers. Together, we will work to reimagine our American Library Association–Allied Professional Association to be the hub for library workers, not only in continued education and certifications but also in workplace aid and support. We will speak from the intersection of our personal and professional identities to share the impact our stories have on libraries. And together, we will look toward new partnerships with allied groups that share our core values and find alignment with libraries.

We will create a path forward together, rooted in the stories of our brave communities.

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