Loida Garcia-Febo is the 2018-2019 American Library Association President. She is an inspiring figure sharing the important message that Libraries = Strong Communities. In this interview you will hear her talk about her experiences traveling to libraries across the country to see the many inspirations out in the field, along with the challenges in libraries with which ALA can help.

She shares an important vision for diversity, and inclusion, and talks about what ignites her soul on fire while offering advice for each of us to develop our own passions in libraries. You will leave with outstanding resources and insights about ways to serve with love, another message she is sharing during her term.


This podcast is brought to you by the School of Library and Information Management from Emporia State University, where library leaders are created—with program sites in Kansas, Utah, Oregon, Colorado, and South Dakota. And, by the Park City Library, making film and podcasting possible with green screen, and sound recording resources.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

This is Adrian Herrick Juarez. You’re listening to Library Leadership Podcast where we talk about libraries, and leadership, and speak with guests who share their ideas, innovations, and strategic insights into the profession. Loida Garcia-Febo is 2018-2019 American Library Association President. She’s an inspiring figure, sharing the important message that libraries equal strong communities.

In this interview you will hear her talk about her experiences traveling to libraries across the country to see the many inspirations out in the field, along with the challenges in libraries with which ALA can help. She shares an important vision for diversity, and inclusion, and talks about what ignites her soul on fire while offering advice for each of us to develop our own passions in libraries. You will leave with outstanding resources and insights, about ways to serve with love, another message she’s sharing during her term. Enjoy today’s show. 

Welcome, Loida.

Loida Garcia-Febo:

Hello, and thank you for the opportunity. I’m very happy to share libraries with you and with everybody else.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #1: Well, I’m thrilled and I would like to say that I always admire people who are willing to step into leadership roles. ALA president is an important position and you’ve provided inspiration to so many people already. Thank you for that. Can you share with us what helped you decide to run for ALA president? That’s a big decision.  01:42

Loida Garcia-Febo:

Yes, it is. I’m happy that you asked that question because that way I can share with everyone a little bit about myself. I am a librarian, and I am an activist. I serve as a library advocate every day and wholeheartedly believe that together the ALA members, and I, can bring change to benefit our profession and the communities we serve.

I based my decision to run for a president on my experience advocating for libraries in streets and sidewalks of New York City, where I live, and at the New York City, City Hall, New York State Senate, the U.S. Congress, and at the United Nations. I have had great success in terms of advocating for libraries in those areas.

My background growing up as the daughter of a community organizer, and as the daughter of a school librarian—that definitely had an impact on my upbringing. I have also enjoyed, tremendously, serving communities as an academic, professional, and school librarian in Puerto Rico, and a public librarian in Queens. When my colleagues started calling me, asking me to run for ALA president, I thought this was an extension of what I’ve been doing my entire life. It has a nice, organic flow with my activism, and advocacy work, and my love for communities.

As you said, it was a big decision and I was, and I am, so blessed to count on a great team of library workers to join me as we continue moving the association forward.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #2: Well, we are so fortunate you bring all of this to the role and you made that decision. Library leadership is both rewarding and challenging, as you know. You’ve been traveling to visit with librarians across the country. What are you seeing out in the field that is inspiring you, and what challenges are you seeing that ALA can help librarians with?  04:01

Loida Garcia-Febo: 

I love this question. As I wrote in my recent column for American Libraries Magazine, I am inspired by the renewed love I see for the communities we serve. I’ve been visiting libraries around the country and I have witnessed how this spirit of diversity, inclusiveness, and relationship building is alive in our community. It is beautiful to see how librarians are embracing this. That is very inspiring and that is still very true to me.

At the same time, serving the community is challenging. From time to time we read about barriers to access of information, which is at the core of what we as library workers and libraries do. ALA is here to help library workers to advocate, to provide access to information to all in the communities—including people with disabilities, those speaking languages other than English, immigrants, refugees, LGBT, to a population of seniors, children, parents, and families.

ALA has an office of Library Advocacy. We also have an Office for Intellectual Freedom. We have the Washington office to help library workers with materials, training, webinars, one-on-one advice, and much more. For instance, we need to continue to be vigilant about the rights and legal matters that might prevent us from lending materials.

For about three years, ALA library advocates successfully advocated for the ratification of the Marrakesh treaty to help people with reading barriers due to blindness, low vision, dyslexia, or a physical disability. And we did it. We did that. That’s wonderful. But, there are other barriers that prevent some people from using bathrooms, or from having library cards, therefore preventing them from accessing information at libraries. So, we need to continue advocating and supporting measures that make accessing information at libraries equal for all. ALA is here to work with you, with the offices and nations, providing the resources that we have to ensure that everyone has access to information.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #3: That’s fantastic, this rich diversity that everyone brings to the library and can get help with—I know that as Caribbean woman with Spanish, Greek, African, and Taino blood, you bring to your role many of the experiences from these groups, and you have a global and inclusionary perspective to your work. One of your key presidential efforts is in the area of diversity. Will you tell us about that?  07:08

Loida Garcia-Febo:

Yes, diversity, equity, diversity, and inclusion, which is a strategic direction of ALA, is very important to me. My most recent column for American Libraries Magazine is all about this and about how library workers can serve our communities with love. Also, I am working with a wonderful advisory board to build on ALA’s existing work in this area.

This team and I have been in contact with the ALA Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services, and joined with them. We are following in the footsteps of ALA past president, Molly Raphael’s Diverse Voices video series, which highlighted ALA leaders from diverse backgrounds. In our case now, going forward a number of years, ALA will launch a new video series. This time we’re going to highlight why and how we can embed principles of diversity in our libraries.

We are very excited, and have already seen pilot videos featuring ALA executive board members. We are ready to record more videos during our Midwinter meeting in Seattle, this coming January. Additionally, we are going to present a number of free webinars about diversity and serving all in our communities. We started this series with a first one titled, The Heart of the Library, with Dr. Michael Stephens. The recording is already available on the ALA-APA website. We are working with the system so that it’s also available for people that are accessing the recording on smaller devices. Because, there are many international colleagues that would like to access these webinars that way, and that is in the works.

On the other side, I also want to mention that on the staff side of ALA, I am happy to share that ALA staff members have started a series of training focused on diversity. I’m very happy, and I am supporting that. I forgot it is happening. Finally, I want to encourage everyone to attend our Midwinter meeting in Seattle.

Robin DiAngelo is the featured speaker in my President’s Program. She is the author of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. She’s going to address this cause, the phenomenon of white fragility, offering examples of what it might look like as well as what people can do to engage more constructively in conversation about racism that is often so difficult. But, I believe that as a profession we have made progress in recognizing these systems of oppression.

However, we must address these foundational issues before being able to truly come together and move forward as a unified community. So, my plans in the area of diversity include many components. I am glad to say that my team and the librarians I have spoken to across the country, are embracing these, and that is very good, and very inspiring.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #4: Thank you for bringing attention to this area. You’ve been sharing the message that libraries equal strong communities, a sentiment that all librarians wish to get out about the work that we do. As ALA president, what can you share that will help all of us spread the word about this important message?  11:40

Loida Garcia-Febo: 

Yes, libraries indeed, equal strong communities. Libraries save lives of many people, every day. But, we do face challenges because libraries and library workers have to constantly fight for budget to keep libraries open, adequately staffed, and with equipment and materials to help community members. We need everyone’s support. This is why I’m going around the country on a tour titled, Libraries = Strong Communities, to advocate for libraries, and to raise the profile of libraries, and the value of libraries, and library workers.

I want to share the stories of libraries providing help to job seekers, to first-generation college students, and those seeking to find information about health conditions. Libraries are saving lives and we must amplify this message to Congress, state senate, city councils, and school trustees, for instance.

I want libraries and library workers to know that we have created a website. We have press release templates, photos, and other materials to help them to replicate advocacy events in their own areas. It’s all on the ALA website. The ALA staff members also created the frame for Facebook and Instagram profiles. If someone would like to use those I will encourage them to check them out and I’m happy to share the link later with you. Perhaps there’s a way of sharing with our audience. But, it’s definitely on the ALA website and they can search for Libraries = Strong Communities.

So far, we had two tour stops where we rally for libraries. The first one was the Pikes Peak Library District. The second one was at the Cambridge Public Library. We went from Colorado to Massachusetts and they have been very successful, fantastic events. We include all types of libraries. I got into public school libraries, we’ve got state library associations, local community organizations, and also we invited elected officials.

For instance, in Colorado we received support from an elected official. The president of the Chamber of Commerce spoke about how libraries are helping business owners. We also had the presence of the President of the Colorado Library Association, and the State Library. In both, everybody spoke about the great things happening in Colorado.

In my case, because I want to call attention to local issues, I did share examples of stories of libraries in Pikes Peak, and how they are strengthening the community. In that particular instance, I wanted to support local libraries that were facing some ballot measures, and the elections that just passed. So, I spoke about supporting libraries on the ballot.

In Cambridge, we had the mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the President of the Library Association there. This is all to say that there is tremendous support for libraries out there but we do need to go through that effort reaching out to their organizations, elected officials, and different stakeholders. But, it’s great because that way then we can use those examples to amplify our message and garner more support for libraries.

I am very glad that the TV stations and many newspapers have featured the National Library Tour, even The Horn Book wrote about the tour in Cambridge. So, we are making the news. That is beautiful, and that is encouraging. I hope these events, which people can read in articles published at American Libraries, can inspire others to create their own advocacy event in the local area.

I am here to help in any way I can. The ALA staff members have been amazing. They have created so many resources that are available online. I just want to mention again that our colleagues can go to the ALA website, and look for Libraries = Strong Communities to access the toolkit that has been created for this.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: 

Question #5: Absolutely, fantastic, I’m sure we will all look for that and get involved. In July, you gave a keynote at the Ohio Library Leadership Institute on Be Fearless in the Search for What Ignites Your Soul on Fire. Loida, what ignites your soul on fire, and what advice can you give all of us in our own personal search?  16:49

Loida Garcia-Febo:

I really love that talk. The title just came to me. I also gave a variation of that talk at the University of Puerto Rico’s Elias school graduation. So, it’s—I love it. My advice, in my experience, when you do what you’re passionate about, what you like, and enjoy immensely, that is when you can really develop your maximum potential. But, you cannot use another person’s fire. You can only use your own fire and to do this, first people must be willing to believe that they have that fire.  So, let’s think about that. My fire is my deep desire to help others, my neighbor. That is what motivates me and gets me every morning when I wake up. Thank goodness.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

That’s beautiful. I think so many people come to libraries with that same passion for helping others, so that’s a great message.

Loida Garcia-Febo:

It’s very inspiring and I hope that we are all in sync in this area.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #6: Definitely, I think I speak for the profession when I say that we are all pleased and grateful that you share your fire and are serving at the helm of the American Library Association. Thank you for all you’re doing. This is a big job. And, fortunately, no one has to do it alone. What can all of us do out in the field to make your term a success?  18:29

Loida Garcia-Febo:

Thank you so much. I really love what I’m doing. I love libraries and our mission of providing access to information to all. I am a person who enjoys participatory processes and I bring these into my association’s work. I have a great team, my advisory board. They are the ones who have coordinated all the various presidential efforts.

It is from library workers, for library workers. The ALA executive board is an amazing team, as well as very dedicated and passionate leaders. And, as you say, I am only one person. I can only do this because I work with a great team and so I’m very grateful for it. In terms of the rest of the 58,000 ALA members, the membership in this invincible team, which I respect tremendously, it is my hope that we are encouraged by their work.

Library workers in our country and around the world are carrying out to serve everyone in their communities, and we all support it. If you ask me how they fit into my vision for ALA, I will say that public support for many of the efforts I mentioned today might encourage all the libraries to look into their city, within their workforce, highlight wellness resources for their library, engage in international professional exchanges, and global collaboration, advocate for libraries to continue to open to provide services needed by all the communities they serve.

Engagement in these efforts, in these conversations and in the development and sharing of materials with others for a line with a world that is incredible, hopeful, as it can save lives.

Above all, I believe that it is key that we keep in mind that the work we do can help save lives, better lives, and bring hope to fellow human beings. We are striving to provide access to information, which is a human right of everyone in the community. We need everyone’s help. I would like to encourage everyone to continue working together, to continue building communities, because as my theme for this year’s tour, Libraries, indeed, equal Strong Communities.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: 

Question #7: Those are messages we will all be happy to help share. Thank you. Do you have a favorite book or resource you’d like to share about leadership, and why?  21:45

Loida Garcia-Febo: 

Well, I just recently downloaded a book from Hans Rosling. He’s an amazing international expert on international health. He just published a book this year called Factfulness, basically ten reasons we are wrong about the world and why things are better than you think, and they are. This book is amazingly good for leaders, too. It really inspires. It is inspiring me, I haven’t finished it. He helped us to encourage, motivate, and inspire others.

This book, by the way, was distributed by Bill Gates to a student graduating class that he attended, the graduation services. He gave a copy to each one of them. Also, past President Barack Obama recommended the book. I was happy to find that out after I downloaded the book. So, it’s a good book. One thing about the author, I want to mention quickly—Hans Rosling was a keynote speaker at the 2010 conference of IFLA, the International Federation of Library Association, in Sweden. I was very happy to see his name and see the book, and that’s why I downloaded the book. I realized that this is the book that is now a worldwide-recognized book. So, it’s wonderful. I hope people can have the chance to look at it, and read it.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: 

Question #8: It sounds inspiring. I look forward to taking a look at that one. Thank you. Is there anything else you would like to share?  23:40

Loida Garcia-Febo:

Thank you for this opportunity. I am very happy to talk to you, mostly because it comes from the state of Utah, and I haven’t had much direct contact with that state. I do know wonderful people from the Salt Lake Library, and now I’m happy that I know you, too.

This is a great opportunity to share my efforts and to move forward at libraries, in our profession, and also ALA. My message is the same—I want to encourage everyone to continue working together, so we can move mountains, and stop the presses, and is powerful. But, the work of our 58,000 ALA team members—that makes us visible. I wholeheartedly believe that together we can move mountains.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: 

Question #9: Together we can move mountains. In closing, what does being a librarian mean to you personally?  24:47

Loida Garcia-Febo: 

Being a librarian means that I can affect people’s lives. I can help save lives and bring hope. Libraries are the cornerstones of democracy. I can help communities, and by helping them I can help cities, our country, and the world. It is a privilege to be able to do that.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Loida, it is a great inspiration talking with you. Thank you for your amazing service as president of the ALA. I know we’re all excited to see so many wonderful things to come as you continue in your term. We’ll all be out here rooting for you and helping, and spreading the message. So, it’s been great to talk to you. Thank you again for being on the show. 

Loida Garcia-Febo: 

Thank you so much.

You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Adrian Herrick Juarez. Our producer is Nate Vineyard. More episodes can be found at libraryleadershippodcast.com, where you can now subscribe to have new shows delivered right into your email inbox. You can also find the show on Apple iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for listening. We’ll see you next time.