Thursday, November 05, 2020

#NYLA2020 : Keynote Address by Rebecca Miller: Hold Fast, Stay True

Bio: Rebecca T. Miller is Group Publisher of Library JournalSchool Library Journal, and The Horn Book. Born a twin and raised in a large family in the rural West, her background in libraries dates to 1998 when she joined the book review staff of Library Journal. In 2020, Miller was named Group Publisher, after a seven-year tenure as Editorial Director of LJ and SLJ. She guides the strategy and operations for these core library brands and is deeply involved in exploring the trends affecting patrons, libraries, and the library ecosystem. Among her accomplishments, Miller collaborated with the Gerald M. Kline Family Foundation to create the annual Jerry Kline Community Impact Prize for public libraries, which carries a $200,000 purse; initiated the LJ Index of Public Library Service (America’s Star Libraries); and envisioned and launched the ongoing New Landmark Libraries project. 

Under her leadership, LJ and SLJ have won a number of FOLIO Awards and honorable mentions for editorial coverage and design. Miller is the coeditor with Barbara A. Genco of Better Library Design: Ideas from Library Journal (2016) and Scales on Censorship: Real Life Lessons from School Library Journal (2015). Miller served for six years on the board of the National Book Critics Circle, two as president. Currently, she is a New York Library Association Sustainability Initiative cocreator and a trustee and treasurer of the Great Neck Library, NY. Prior to LJ, she worked at Utne Reader. She has a BA from DePauw University, IN, and an MSLIS from New York’s Pratt Institute.

Quick Notes:

  • Miller began by talking about her public library as it has been before and during the pandemic.
  • She showed LJ and SLJ headlines from the last eight months as a way of showing what libraries have been through since the pandemic began. This was really interesting, because I feel like we're in the middle of it all and have forgotten all that we've been through.  This would be an interesting slideshow (or something) on the LJ website.
  • What libraries do has changed over the last 8 months, but not the why.
  • Closing libraries for an extended length of time is unprecedented.
  • Every practice and habit has been impacted by COVID-19.
  • Resilience is being adaptable.
  • Our lives can be transformed and changed in a heartbeat.  What did we need to know? How will we do better next time?
  • Libraries - staff, leadership, and trustees - have been tested at every level.
  • Psychologically it was disturbing to suddenly close libraries (close the building).
  • The "open" has new definitions.  Libraries are open, even though their buildings are closed. Open by moving work online.  Open by using library spaces in different ways (e.g., creating masks in makerspaces).  Open through our wifi.  Open with staff working from home. Open by archiving what is occurring during the pandemic. 
  • Open by reaching into where people live. What does it mean when the home becomes the person's resource and learning center? What does it mean when a person does not have a home?
  • Libraries have felt an immediate funding impact and will feel the impact of the long-term recession.
  • Some places will see that libraries can help to spearhead their community's recovery.
  • Libraries can be part of the problem, e.g., racism. Libraries still have work to do.
  • What does policing mean in our libraries, when many have negative experiences with the police?
  • Good information can literally mean life or death. Society needs good information.  Continue information literacy training.
  • Can a community truly be resilient when it is racked with problems such as racism?
  • Apply our core skills to the changing dynamics. Do what we do.
  • Show people that they need libraries and work with partners on this.
  • Help people understand the past regarding racism and inequity, and then help the community move towards being an anti-racist society.
  • Libraries are space independent.


  • Future articles on LJ/SLJ - They have been conducting surveys. Maybe too early to think about what has been learned, etc., because we're still learning. We're still in the pandemic.
  • Advice to MSLIS students - there will be library work and library jobs. Take the long view.  Invest this time in getting training and gaining a perspective on the field. 
  • Advice as we look towards another shutdown? Make staff feel safe and secure. Control the environment. Create protocols that everyone agrees to. Create redundancy.  Listen to library workers and frontline people. What are they hearing?
  • Any policies we should be monitoring?  Many! Those things that support digital resources, for example.  
  • About budget cuts...priorities. Recognize that you cannot do everything. Plant "seeds" for when resources come back.  
  • How can NYLA help address the problems we're creating in our own libraries? NYLA can support by driving conversations and asking questions.  Support trustee work. Help libraries and trustees dig into their policies.  NYLA should also look at itself. NYLA should model the work. 
  • Some of our library users are not online and thus do not know what we're doing now. How do we gain their support?


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