Leading from Local: ALA joins the Aspen Ideas Festival

This post was written by Marijke Visser, Associate Director and Senior Policy Advocate in the ALA Public Policy and Advocacy Office

photo of Aspen Ideas LogoLibrary staff are community leaders everyday. They lead with humility, making space for and including diverse voices. Libraries are hyper-local, with programs and services that respond to community needs and priorities. Libraries are mission-driven and their value is collectively determined as they serve the entire community. These may not be “big ideas” to library staff, however, as I traveled from the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. to the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado, I considered that the core values that library staff adhere to are also held up as essential by leaders across the United States, in addressing national and global social, economic, and political challenges.

At the Festival, themes of empathy, equity and inclusion, innovation, collaboration, social responsibility, and community engagement were woven across plenary and concurrent sessions in tracts as diverse as Hope Made Visible, American Renewal, Economic Progress, Conservatism, Next World Order, and Art of the Story. Throughout the Festival, speakers and attendees were prompted to consider how successful local initiatives can and should inform national and global policies. Attendees, leaders from non-profit organizations, foundations, businesses, government, philanthropy, and associations, like ALA, were also challenged to consider what kind of leader we might each be. This challenge highlighted the fact that all of us have a voice and can play a leadership role where we work and in our communities. A final common theme in the sessions I attended explicitly connected leadership, community engagement, storytelling, and advocacy.

It felt like very familiar territory. As a Festival Scholar, I brought the library experience to the discussions on what makes sustainable rural communities and second tier cities. I compared the stories we gather from local libraries for our advocacy with members of congress and federal agencies to those shared around topics like institutionalized racism, systemic poverty, and inequality of economic opportunity. When conversation turned to building local partnerships and coalitions, I pulled out examples of libraries leading the way in areas as varied as food insecurity, youth college career awareness, starting a business, and family engagement. Representing libraries at a global forum like the Aspen Ideas Festival, not only allows us to raise the profile of how libraries contribute everyday to the vitality of their communities; it becomes clear libraries are a vast infrastructure in virtually every community across the U.S.

In the Public Policy and Advocacy Office of ALA, having local exemplars that highlight the breadth and depth of library services, including children’s and teen services, is critical as we work to ensure libraries are included in national initiatives or remembered in public policy agendas. Library leaders and their partners develop innovative approaches to community challenges and national decision makers need to and are paying attention.

Many of the Festival sessions were recorded and are available on the Festival website. Recordings that might be of particular interest to library staff working with teens include:

You can learn about the Aspen Institute on their website.

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