Moving Forward to Build a Stronger Library Ecosystem

As we head toward the new year, I am already looking ahead to update and set some goals for 2021. As a new member of the ALA Library Ecosystem Subcommittee (a subcommittee of the ALA Committee on Library Advocacy (COLA)), one of my goals will be to contribute to the work of the committee. In addition, as advocacy chair for the Michigan Association for Media in Education (MAME), I have already been working on trying to strengthen the collaboration between organizations in my state. Thus, another goal (of my many goals) for the coming year will be to work toward strengthening the library ecosystem in Michigan based on the resources provided through the ALA Ecosystem Initiative.

The ALA Ecosystem Initiative is an initiative to build stronger relationships between different library types and organizations at the state level as well as to build stronger relationships with ALA. The Library Ecosystem definition from the ALA Ecosystem Initiative Website is as follows:

A library ecosystem is the interconnected network of all types of libraries, library workers, volunteers, and associations that provide and facilitate library services for community members; families; K-20 learners; college and university communities; local, state and federal legislatures and government offices; businesses; nonprofits; and other organizations with specific information needs.

A patron of one library is the potential patron of any other library at a different time of life or location. No library exists independent of the library ecosystem. When we stand together in mutual support using common messaging themes that demonstrate this interconnectedness, every library is stronger.

The ALA Ecosystem Task Force, chaired by Dorcas Hand, has put together a toolkit for use by state organizations to strengthen the library ecosystem within their states. The ONE VOICE Toolkit is an excellent resource and provides a framework and tools for state organizations to use including an Ecosystem Continuum Rubric and an Implementation Guide with a robust set of tools.
The Ecosystem Continuum Rubric focuses on four strands that are “pillars for a healthy ecosystem”:

  • leadership
  • communication
  • collaboration
  • sustainability

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the webinar Building a Michigan Library Ecosystem led by ecosystem task force member Steven Bowers and hosted by the Michigan Library Association (MLA). In his presentation, Steven Bowers reviewed the work of the ALA Ecosystem Task Force and the ONE VOICE toolkit.

Some of my takeaways from his presentation include:

  • An ecosystem initiative within a state would be a formalized group of stakeholders that should include representatives from all groups related to the ecosystem.
  • There is a need for a unified voice and communication is key to developing that unified voice.
    It is important to access the current status of the ecosystem. Some questions to ask include:
    • Do we know and understand the goals of partners in the ecosystem?
    • Do we have ongoing communication among members?
    • Do our efforts include policies for the ongoing engagement of all partners?
    • Do we develop shared priorities and agendas?
  • Michigan has had some successful cross-organization collaborations. It is important to celebrate these successes.
  • A good first step toward having a more formalized ecosystem initiative is to have all organizations identify their goals and then to come together to share those goals. It is important for all organizations to understand each others’ goals. Then, the group can select a subset of goals where collaborative efforts would be worthwhile.
  • The work of the ecosystem is an ongoing effort (rather than a “one and done” effort). There is a need to periodically reevaluate and update the ecosystem goals and reflect on what has been working and what has not been working.
  • The ALA Ecosystem Toolkit provides resources for stakeholders to support their work on the library ecosystem. ALA is willing to support state ecosystem work.

At the end of his presentation, Steven asked the question of all attendees, “How do you see the Michigan library ecosystem moving forward?” The group of attendees, which included our state librarian, Randy Riley, as well as representatives from academic, public, and school libraries, all responded positively to possibly creating a more formal group. Thus, I offered to put together an agenda for a first meeting and contact the various groups to ask for representatives that would be willing to be part of the group. Our first meeting is now scheduled for January 12, 2020, at 4:30 pm. (A time outside of the school day to make it easier for the school library representatives to attend.)

Thus, I’ve taken the first step in my goal for 2021 toward working on strengthening the library ecosystem in Michigan. I think it is important work. What about the library ecosystem in your state? Do your organizations already have something in place for collaborating and working together? If not, how could you move it forward?

If you would like more information about the ALA Library Ecosystem Work, please contact:

Megan Murray Cusick
Assistant Director, State Advocacy

Author: Kathy Lester

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics

Tags: , , , , ,

1 reply

  1. Thank you, Kathy, for spotlighting the work of the ALA Ecosystem Initiative and Ecosystem Task Force’s Toolkit, an effort chaired by our “own” Dorcas Hand (retired in name only school librarian).

    In Arizona last fall, we had a first-hand experience of the importance of an ecosystem mindset. The Teacher Librarian Division (TLD) is a division of the Arizona Library Association (AzLA), but we represent a very small percentage of the AzLA leadership and membership.

    When TLD asked the AzLA board and members to support Proposition 208, they came to understand the dire straits of school librarianship in our state and why school librarians matter to their success as public and academic librarians.

    The board supported #208 and many AzLA members voted for this proposition. #208 passed and provides funding for hiring and increasing the salaries of K-12 educators, including state-certified school librarians.

    Library professionals, paraprofessionals, and advocates must see and act on the interconnections among our institutions and our roles in our communities. This toolkit can help.

    Kathy, I wish you the best as you lead the effort to strengthen the library ecosystem in Michigan.

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