Q&A: Loriene Roy, Outgoing ALA President
A professor, advocate, and dedicated activist, Loriene Roy is an inspiring presence in library leadership. But if you met Roy at a library event, chances are you wouldn't guess that she had just finished serving in one of the highest profile offices in library land, the ALA presidency.
Outgoing yet modest, her warmth and enthusiasm is contagious. Born and raised in Northern Minnesota, Roy is Anishinabe, a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, and enrolled on the White Earth Reservation. Thoughout her career, she's advocated for Native and Indigenous populations, and has worked tirelessly towards better serving them. In 2006, she became the first Native President of the American Library Association.
After working as a medical technician, she entered librarianship, then went on to pursue a Ph.D. Since 1987, she's been on faculty at the University of Texas School of Information, teaching on subjects such as reference and public libraries. In Roy's classes, students engage in service-based learning, getting hands-on experience by designing and providing services for and with organizations and institutions such as rural public libraries, small academic libraries, and libraries serving tribal communities. In her research, Roy has established groundbreaking programs; she served as Principal Investigator on “If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything,” a national reading club for Native children and “Honoring Generations,” an IMLS-funded graduate scholarship program for indigenous students.
In assuming the ALA presidency, Roy outlined three main platform issues: supporting literacy, promoting LIS Education Through Practice, and creating programs for workplace wellness. To work towards these goals, she formed working circles in place of traditional task forces, bringing a greater element of inclusivity and community to the work of the presidency. Indeed, Roy's presidency was community building, as her students and former students took the journey with her, supporting projects and establishing connections in ALA. From the presidency, Roy says she learned "to face your fears or deficiencies... that many people have ideas for you but only a few are willing to step up and really help. Keep those people happy!"
Your own trajectory is quite remarkable- going from librarianship, to LIS academe to the ALA presidency. What brought you to librarianship, and what led you to pursue a PhD?
Actually, the journey was not so direct. I had a previous career as a medical radiologic technologist (X-ray tech/medical imager). I was tired of giving people barium enemas and working with people and their reading interests or information needs sounded more interesting. The decision to get the PhD was similarly fortuitous: there was a scholarship available at the U of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and I was the stand-in for the person who had to turn it down.
You just ended your term as ALA president. First, how did you first get involved in ALA, and what made you seek the Presidency? Second, what did you learn from your term? The ALA president is a very visible figure both in the library community and outside it. What kinds of lessons can you impart from this experience to your students and others entering the profession?
I got involved with ALA as a student member and slowly got involved with Committees, starting with an ALSC committee (one of my colleagues was ALSC President and could not find someone interested in serving on the Research & Statistics Committee). Seeking the Presidency: I had turned it down twice and then decided that I should agree to be a candidate. I had just survived a week's hospitalization for a deep vein thrombosis so I thought I should say yes before I died.
I learned a great deal during my term as President. One is to face your fears or deficiencies. Another is that many people have ideas for you but only a few are willing to step up and really help. Keep those people happy! In terms of advice to students: do welcome opportunities and be prepared to provide service, even in small tasks.
You are a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, and have worked extensively with Native and Indigenous populations in research, teaching and activism. What are some of the barriers have you've found to be prevalent in access to libraries and information in Indigenous and Native populations, and what are some of the ways that libraries can better serve these populations?
Yes, I'm Anishinabe, a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, enrolled on the White Earth Reservation. There are barriers to library use. One is creating the family tradition of supporting libraries and reading. Another is that libraries need to adapt flexible policies-including open hours, circulation length of loan. Tribal libraries can be exciting plans that support cultural expression and should be the place where Native language learning takes place, where records are housed and organized, where children and family members gather.
One of your platform issues was supporting LIS education through practice. What are some ways that LIS educators can work towards this? On the other hand, how can students and new librarians help in building and sustaining wider learning communities?
There are a number of ways that faculty can provide students with service learning opportunities. These can include incorporating SL in coursework, independent studies, Capstones or field work. Students and new professionals can participate by selecting these opportunities, creating communities of practice.
Another platform issue you raised was workplace wellness. What made you chose this issue? What are some simple first steps to building a healthy library workplace?
I'm interested in wellness for several reasons. I had a previous career working in community hospitals. Wellness is a great concern in indigenous communities. We have a link to the workplace wellness information at the ALA-APA website. You'll find some basic information to start to review one's own health, the wellness of one's workplace, and how to plan a healthy time at conferences.
Lastly, since many of this site's readers are job-seekers, what advice do you give your students as they look for their first jobs?
Gain practical experience while a student. Attend events where you can meet library workers. Seek opportunities for practica, fieldwork, Capstones. Plan your program of studies so that you gain useful skills. Build a resume that indicates what you can offer the workplace. Participate in your professional organization -- ALA.
Interview by Amelia Abreu