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Up Front

Published onDec 27, 2023
Up Front

Dear Colleagues,

A year goes by impossibly quickly the older one gets, and I’ve found that to be true: my eldest is now seventeen and beginning to think about college applications; my youngest is fourteen and will start high school next year. We measure our time in the growth of the younger generations and their ability to step into new roles. We also measure our time in our own learning, of which this year has been rife with for me.

It turns out, a year in leadership goes by just as quickly, and I’ll be moving into the role of past-president before I know it. Although there is no real way to sum up a year, I’d like to offer a few thoughts:

I was deeply moved by the Neurodivergence & Libraries Presidential Summit I hosted in September (recordings are still available to registrants). This was the WLA’s second Presidential Summit. It brought together library workers, scholars, and authors to discuss the umbrella term neurodivergence, and to examine how all library types—academic, public, school, and special libraries—can feel more confident in their ability to combat ableism, to robustly serve neurodivergent patrons with care, and to support their own neurodivergent staff. Disability justice in libraries has to include neurodivergence, and I am grateful for the opportunity to bring these conversations to our state through the work of my brilliant colleagues. 

Dr. Lucas Harrington offered an overview of key concepts and terminology, as well as suggestions around how to be more inclusive of many different neurotypes. Mike Jung, author of The Boys in the Back Row and Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities played the ukulele, among other things, but his conversation around how autism has affected and continues to affect his writing stood out as particularly poignant. Christine Moeller (moderated by Mei’lani Eyre) shared her primary research around how neurodivergent librarians are negotiating their identity as they face barriers and enablers to their success. CM Wright and Lei Wiley-Mydske shared their important work on neurodiversity libraries as a way to center and promote autistic pride and culture. Nicole Gustavson took us on a deep exploration of managing executive dysfunction in the workplace, as a uniquely disabling condition and how to advocate for support. Tiara Schwarze-Taufiq and Audrey Barbakoff, in conversation, put digital collections use under the microscope by examining neurodivergent individuals from different generations navigate library systems. Washington State Poet Laureate Arianna True shared with us how she conceives of writing and its relationship to neurodivergence and queerness. This fragment of her poem, Seattle Sonata (legato, every note legato) (2022) encapsulates a resonant message from across the sessions, around a fervent wish as a neurodivergent library worker or patron to be in spaces that do not see us as an afterthought:

Sometimes I have to speak so plainly that my voice gets lost in the words.

It’s to be understood when you’re swimming against misconceptions.

It still only works when someone will listen. Is willing to hear.

In the vein of transparency, there is so much more I wanted to do this year. I started examining internal structures within WLA, for one, and brought forward some discussion of how to improve workflows to be able to expedite advocacy requests as they come into WLA in a political climate that precipitates the need to support not just a library system, but the workers in that system. We moved the needle a little bit around issues of compensation; through the work of the Finance Committee and the WLA Board, we are wrapping up the reallocation of funds so that speakers at the WLA Presidential Summit are compensated for their time and labor, which I hope has lasting structural impact. We’ve worked to examine the sections that have fallen fallow and are running through our bylaw based process of deactivating those, making room for organic growth of new interests that our members have and want to bring to the forefront. Finally, we worked to make transparent the labor that the role of president entails, which will help in future succession planning.

I will conclude with my thanks and gratitude: Many heartfelt thanks to Rhea Allen, Lesley Bourne, Brianna Hoffman, Kate Laughlin, and Hannah Streetman in the main WLA office for their support, insight, humor, and care over the course of this year. You are amazing. Deep gratitude to your incoming WLA President Sarah Logan for learning the ropes, asking the questions, and being a beacon of change. The organization will benefit from her insight and leadership. A shout out to all the students I got to interact with—you are the future of this field; your work matters. Thank you for being a part of this work. And finally, unwavering gratitude to all the committee/section/division members and leaders and the WLA board leadership for your kindness, patience, and support this past year. I think I have always known—and you all demonstrated this again and again—that the real work in an organization happens in the agile, small groups that drive change, seek equity and justice, and that keep on speaking up. This organization is seen as a leader within the world of state library organizations, and I believe that is because of the work you all do.

I’m proud of us.

Johanna (she/her)

Outgoing WLA Board President

Headshot of Johanna Jacobsen Kiciman who has short, brown, curly hair and wears blue frame glasses, beaded necklace, and a black blazer.
Johanna Jacobsen Kiciman (she/her) is the 2023 WLA President and the Education and Research Help Librarian at the University of Washington, Tacoma. She deeply wishes for more quiet and downtime and is going to sink into the quiet of the summer with a good book.
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