Today YALSA welcomes a new Executive Director, Anita Mechler. YALSAblog interviewed her about her past experiences and what she’s looking forward to accomplishing with YALSA.
Tell us about your background and what led you to this position.
I have been active in a variety of causes throughout my life from human rights to legislative work from my high school days to now. I found a perfect fit for advocacy, helping people, and being able to “nerd” out on information sharing by pursuing my MLIS degree. The American Library Association’s Code of Ethics resonated strongly with me when I was going through graduate school and has continued to inform my professional work. I joined the library profession to provide the best services I could to help people pursue and live successful, fulfilling lives. The mission of YALSA perfectly aligns with my goals. Like educators and other library professionals, I have a passion for finding the best answer to a question, the most efficient solution to a problem, and logic and order to confusing situations.
With this position, I want to enact more positive change for a wide range of users who would benefit most from the services that YALSA, ALA, and other important organizations provide. There are plenty of negative forces at work in the world and I want my work and the organizations that represent young adults to do good work, bring about the most positive change, and to provide that one interaction for a young adult user that could change the course of their lives for the better. As an Executive Director, I will be able to enact policies, develop strategies, and advocate for legislation from the highest level of this division that will have the power to positively affect lives all over the United States.
Can you tell us a little about the expertise you’re bringing to the position?
Throughout my 10 years of work as an informational professional, I have aimed to use my skills and experiences to serve diverse populations from teens and adults at branches of the Chicago Public Library, and at a suburban and private library. Recently, I served those interested in learning about and preserving Black experiences in America. I have learned that each population has needs specific to their experiences and circumstances. I found that it is more effective to collaborate with users on practical knowledge, based on their needs and unique abilities instead of constructing a “one size fits all” model.
Additionally, I have had the privilege and opportunity to create and manage new grant-funded programs by collaborating with local, regional, and national organizations and community members to: advance an internship program benefiting students of color, help researchers gain access to useful resources, lead a Board of Directors through a strategic planning process, and participate in professional project management development and mentorship programs.
I’m excited to lead YALSA and its members by working with our Board and staff, and continuing to learn and grow skills in this organization. I see how this important work directly affects the nation’s libraries, library workers, their young adult patrons, and the community at large.
What was your favorite library experience?
When I was in high school, I used to “escape” to the library after school in order to study. My favorite moments were my breaks when I’d stretch my legs and walk around the beautiful central branch of the San Antonio Library. One day, I came upon a Chihuly sculpture hanging from a very high ceiling. This artist uses blown glass pieces that are colorful, elegant, and other-worldly. It inspired me to take a longer break and explore some of the art books that the library held. Every time I see a Chihuly sculpture, I think about that quiet moment of discovery I had and how it led me down the path of appreciating art and architecture that I take with me everywhere as an adult. All of those resources were there for me within the library and I couldn’t be more grateful for the kind of exposure I had to experiences that expanded my world beyond its walls.
What drives your passion for library services?
I have been personally affected by issues around equity, diversity, and inclusion throughout my life and I have witnessed firsthand ways in which teens have and, more frequently, have not been served by the greater library profession, our institutions, and organizations. Teenagers in America are often misunderstood, their voices censored, and their needs unfairly dismissed or ignored. The challenges that they currently face are myriad and there have been missed opportunities to co-create and provide services that would help empower teens on a daily basis. My strong commitment to the Code of Ethics as a information professional drives my passion to advocate for inclusive services that will serve all teens diversely and equitably across nation.
What do you envision for the future of teen services?
My vision for the future of teens services is that they will continue guide library professionals to help effectively and powerfully help alleviate the problems that young adults in America face. As the world changes, so do the needs of those served by our profession. It is important to keep in mind that the most vulnerable among us will need more and different kinds of support as time goes on. It will take mindful and proactive work to grow in our knowledge together to create the most relevant services to our patrons and users.
What do you envision for the future of YALSA?
My vision for YALSA is that it will continue to be a leader for the transformation of the library profession and services that help young adults navigate their myriad and unique challenges by utilizing the support and resources that provide for and empower them toward a better future. YALSA will help co-create an exemplary culture of assistance and provide tools to its members so that they can help improve the lives of young adults with whom they interact everyday.
How will you further YALSA’s mission?
YALSA’s mission of supporting library staff in helping teens mitigate and improve upon their circumstances is a mission that excites and inspires me as an information professional who cares about the empowerment and development of marginalized communities and populations. I recognize that the position of Executive Director holds a great deal of responsibility to the professionals and teens who would benefit most from the guidance, advocacy, and support that YALSA provides to them. I am honored to be able to contribute to a transformation that would positively affect lives across the United States.