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Brown makes history as American Library Association president

Wanda Brown (center), WSSU Library Services director, talks with Dr. Mesia Steed, associate professor of biology, and Michelle Mitchell, education/reference librarian. (Photo Courtesy C.G. O'Kelly Library)

Wanda Brown ’77, the director of library services at Winston-Salem State University (WSSU), will be inaugurated next week as president of the American Library Association (ALA), the largest library association in the world.

Brown, elected to the position in April 2018, will become the first ALA president who is a librarian at an HBCU and the sixth African American. The ALA has 57,000 members worldwide.

Brown earned her bachelor’s degree from WSSU and Master of Library Science (MLS) from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She will begin her one-year term at the conclusion of the 2019 ALA Conference, which will be held in Washington, D.C., June 20-25.

Here are eight questions with … Wanda Brown.

What are you looking forward to most at the ALA conference?
I look forward to connecting with colleagues from across the United States, exploring topics of interest, discussing best practices, and hearing wonderful authors and informed speakers. I can’t wait to hear Jason Reynolds, our opening keynoter. He’s a spectacular writer with a wonderful story that motivates and inspires me every time I hear him speak. We will also have Sonia Sotomayor, associate justice of the Supreme Court, and Hoda Kotb, co-anchor of the NBC’s “Today.” The conference will attract close to 20,000 library workers. 

How have you prepared for your role as president?
I selected a group of thought-leaders from North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia as members of my Presidential Advisory Group. They have been a tremendous help in refining my specific interest into what’s referred to as “presidential initiatives.” Additionally, the American Library Association provides resources that allow me to have a personal assistant. I am most fortunate to have our retired state librarian, Cal Shepherd, serving in this role. My very own state association (NCLA) has also graciously given me the support of their executive assistant. So, I have had lots of help strategizing and defining our objectives for the year.

What does becoming ALA president mean to you personally?
I am deeply honored to have been elected in this role. I am eager to make a difference in the lives of those within my care. As a young librarian some 40 years ago, I was introduced to the world of professional development. I learned then that the true joy comes from serving others. When I can take my talents and share them in a way that provides growth and opportunity for others, I am happiest. I enjoy the work of building, supporting, and guiding. I feel this opportunity is the mountaintop experience for a journey up through four decades. 

You’ll become the first ALA president who is an HBCU librarian. Why is this significant?
At a time when some question the value of an HBCU, I am eager to demonstrate through my service that we are necessary and quite capable to deliver. Wherever I am during this presidential year, I will stand and be introduced as the director of library services at Winston-Salem State University.  That alone will bring exposure of my school to someone new. I am proud to represent my alma mater.

What do you hope to accomplish during your year as president of the ALA?
I plan to address social/economic inequity with a primary focus on the library’s role in increasing economic mobility for young African-American and Hispanic men, specifically around the pipeline to prison. I will work with select ALA members and external groups to discuss collaborative approaches and strategies, as well as creating downloadable tools for use by libraries, and a training event as part of the regularly-scheduled ALA conference.

I will launch a marketing campaign themed “Finding Your ALA” designed to reach new professionals. I’ll be attending chapter/state association conferences, meeting with LIS student groups, and hosting virtual town halls to connect students and new library staff with the American Library Association.  

I will work closely with the newly appointed executive director to plan and host a “Change Management Retreat” for ALA staff. The budget will cover the cost of an external trainer/facilitator, focusing on change management in a member/staff partnership environment.

Library workforce remains predominantly white and female. Why is diversity and inclusion important?
Diversity and inclusion are important for a number of reasons. We know that our organizations are strongest when they have differences of thought and experience represented at the table. If we all think alike, we will not challenge ourselves to think differently and we grow stale. If we are to serve a diverse community, we need to have a diverse workforce in place. A diverse workforce increases our ability to understand the needs of each specific community. We are more likely to see all sides. Diversity without inclusion is also pointless. Having a body without a voice defeats the purpose. Every student or patron needs to be able to see him/herself represented within the staff.

What are you most proud of from your time as director of the C.G. O’Kelly Library?
I am most proud of the work we have done to support our students. We have given them extended hours to study, increased the number of collaborative study spaces, revised our policies to reflect a culture of trust and respect, and designed programming that engages and informs. We have also contributed to the overall financial stability of our students by increasing the number of students we hire each semester.

Our employment of students provides them the opportunity to expand their communication and problem-solving skills. Additionally, the library staff have played a major role in implementing these changes. They have been empowered to lead, and we have invested financially in developing our staff by providing them with numerous development opportunities both locally and nationally.

Who would be your dream dinner guest and why?
President Barack Obama. He’s my idol. He is the most influential person I know.

About C.G. O'Kelly Library

The C.G. O'Kelly Library supports and enhances all WSSU programs through its relevant, diverse and current local collection, and through resources via inter-library loan and various electronic services. For more information, visit the library's page

Wanda Brown will become president of the American Library Association (ALA). She will become the first ALA president who is an HBCU librarian. 

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