Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast 2011 Call to Action

Editor’s note: ALA-APA Director Jenifer Grady delivered these remarks at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunrise Breakfast
celebration at the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting. The breakfast’s keynote speaker was Dr. Michael Honey, author of Going Down the Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King’s Last Campaign.

At the beginning of his famous Drum Major Instinct sermon, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., examines our inherent desires to be RECOGNIZED and IMPORTANT, to have POSITION and receive PRAISE.

James and John, disciples, wanted to be on the right and left hand of Christ when he ascended to heaven. I love that the disciples were so human! So like me, so like all of us. They had desires for recognition, for position, for importance, for praise. These are the words I want us to consider for this few minutes: RECOGNITION, POSITION, IMPORTANCE and PRAISE. My hope is that you will accept these desires as natural and perhaps even essential for you and the profession. These same desires inspired the creation of the ALA-Allied Professional Association to serve you.

These instincts inspired Dr. King’s last march, in 1968 in Memphis, where he championed the dignity of sanitation workers. Dr. King’s goals shifted towards economic justice. Sanitation workers felt expendable; this feeling mirrors the emotions and realities of librarians who know their pay is unfairly low and library support staff who feel their work is unappreciated. This feeling of being replaceable is rife in communities where libraries are cutting and freezing positions; hiring part-time workers to do full-time work; and making other adjustments that poke at our assumptions of the  our own value and the value of our profession. These instincts of RECOGNITION, POSITION, IMPORTANCE and PRAISE birthed the ALA-APA mission of improving the salaries and status of library workers.

For those who heard about the better salaries mission and asked, “What are you doing to make my salary better?” Then and now I say it’s up to you to be your own advocate! ALA-APA can help you gain RECOGNITION, POSITION and PRAISE by training you to negotiate and advocate for yourself.

It’s not always enough to be smart or do a good job. It’s not enough to have a noble profession. Sometimes you have to toot your own horn!

The instincts for RECOGNITION and POSITION inspired certification programs and other ways you show leadership and dedication in your families, communities, libraries and in ALA.

Candidates in the Certified Public Library Administrator Program seek RECOGNITION for wanting to learn and do more. Some want to be director or on the right hand of the library director. (Not that library directors are like Jesus; I’m just using the metaphor.)

The instincts of RECOGNITION, IMPORTANCE and PRAISE inspired the Library Support Staff Certification Program. LSS said, “We want to be recognized and valued for our service in libraries, our expertise, our dedication and our commitment to grow professionally. LSS asked ALA for a way to symbolize the importance of their POSITIONS.

The desire for PRAISE transformed the original intent of National Library Workers Day (NLWD) – Tuesday, April 12, this year – to be a day when celebrate ourselves. Originally, it was to be a day to call attention to the inequities of library pay, but I feel we should do that EVERY time we get a platform or a sympathetic ear, not just once a year. As an NLWD Star you can read about yourself online and get what Dr. King called “warm glow from the vitamin A to your ego.”

But work towards greatness with character, with content and with a mind set on WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR OTHERS with the RECOGNITION, POSITION, IMPORTANCE and PRAISE you seek and achieve. What can you do to make your workplace and community better? How can you serve?

I’m not going to get into the dangers of when the Drum Major Instinct goes too far because I think our profession has a ways to go before this will be a problem. Individually, there may be a few of us who are out of control with our drive for RECOGNITION and PRAISE, but only a few.

Let’s face it, you won’t become great just because you do a good job. Dr. King asserts that the drum major instincts, used and properly harnessed, can lead you to greatness, if you remember to incorporate service. I challenge you to use your POSITION here at this ALA Midwinter Meeting. What can you do for others because you were here? Find ways to honor colleagues, friends, family and patrons’ instincts for RECOGNITION, POSITION, IMPORTANCE and PRAISE along with your own. Take back ways you can you be your most excellent self by using your drum major instincts to lead, teach and serve others towards their greatness.