Librarian Interview: ALA President Loriene Roy

Loriene Roy on Loriene Roy: “I am a Native of Minnesota, enrolled on the White Earth Reservation, a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. I was born in Cloquet, Minnesota and raised in nearby Carlton, Minnesota, population 810.” See Loriene’s blog.

Congratulations on becoming the new American Library Association president! What does the ALA president do? How long is the term? Could you paint us a broad picture?

The term is one roughly year, from the close of one annual conference to the close of the next one, though I also served a year as President-Elect and also will serve a year as Immediate Past-President. It is an elected, volunteer position. The Position includes serving as the Chair of the ALA Council (180 members), Chairing the ALA Executive Board and ALA Executive Committee Meetings, representing the Association (66,000 members), making appointments to some committees, responding to media calls (about 5-10 a week), writing a monthly column for American Libraries, attending conferences and events, evaluating the ALA Executive Director, trying to accomplish activities related to a personal platform, etc.

What inspired you to seek the position?

I saw this service as an opportunity to involve students, bring attention to indigenous library services, and learn a great deal.

Could you tell us about your path to this point in your career? What inspired you to become a librarian-educator?

I had a previous career working as a medical radiologic technologist (X-ray tech) in community hospitals. I was interested in providing patients with health care information. The closest degree I could find was one in librarianship where my first aim was to be a medical librarian. I ended up working in a public library instead. Two years later, I had an opportunity to return to school to work on a doctoral degree. I then started applying for faculty positions as I neared completion of that degree. ALA is the largest general organization in librarianship, so it was a logical place for me to begin professional service. I served on my first ALA committee in 1990.

What current issues are important to you within the field and why?

ALA has key action areas. I am concerned with issues related to diversity–increasing the number of students of color in library and information science programs, increasing the number of faculty of color, attention to multicultural library services. I’m interested in how we can support the literacy needs of indigenous peoples and how we can develop an international network of indigenous librarians.

You’re a force behind If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything, a national reading club for Native children. Could you tell us about this organization? How about its history, its goals?

Sara Long was President of ALA in 1998 and provided us with $5K in seed money to start If I Can Read. It has grown from one location to 28. We work with tribal school libraries in 12 states to assist them in promoting reading as a life long leisure activity. It is a volunteer service program; we work with the tribal school librarians on activities they are interested in. Many want new books for their collections. We help others plan reading programs such as “Battle of Books” competitions, scary story open-mike events, family reading nights. Our goal is to help indigenous children become successful readers for life.

How have you seen it grow and change over time?

We still find great demand for our help Schools still want resources but more are interested in reading promotion activities. Also, there’s more interest in working with teenagers.

How can we offer our support?

Of course, like other service programs, we are always in need of funding to cover elements like postage. We still deliver new books to schools. Schools would also love to have visitors.

As a reader, who are your favorite authors and why? Favorite titles?

I have lots of favorite authors and try to read widely. I am a big fan of Louise Erdrich and Maori writers like Robert Sullivan, Patricia Grace, Allen Duff, and Witi Ihimaera. This year I am trying to rad a lot of ALA book award winners–Alex Award winners and Printz award winners to start with. I try to read bilingual books, especially Spanish/English. And I listen to lots of audio books.

What can we expect from you next?

This year I will be responding to lots of media requests related to many aspects of librarianship, so you might see my name in newspapers, on National Public Radio, and on television. I’m scheduled to do an NPR taping on 25 Sept for the program, “Tell Me More.” We’ll be talking about Banned Books Week.

I’m also creating several demonstration projects this year to illustrate my commitment to libraries Celebrating Community, Collaboration, and Culture. We are designing an international celebration of indigenous children’s reading and culture to take place in April 2008 during National Library Week. We are enrolling 50-100 schools around the world that serve indigenous children to share information about their schools, how they learn about their cultures through reading, and their needs. We hope to be able to deliver books to at least some of the schools as well as reading incentives.

I’m here in South Africa for two conferences and have met with some school librarians so that we can add schools in Zimbabwe and South Africa to the project. The celebration is called A Gathering of Readers.