Q&A with incoming RUSA Vice President/President-Elect Joe Thompson

Learn a little bit about Joe Thompson, our new Vice President/President-Elect for the Reference and User Services Association, with this fun Q&A put together by RUSA staff. Thanks, Joe, for taking the time to answer these questions! We’re looking forward to working with you in this newly elected capacity.


Joe Thompson

Intrepid librarian and RUSA Vice President/President-Elect Joe Thompson

Why do you love RUSA?

RUSA is the one division across all of ALA where members from all types of libraries come together around the common purpose of helping people; that help comes in many different forms. We are eager to share our experience through webinars, great programs, recommended resources and best practices documents. It’s that altruism of our members that I love: our members enjoy what they do and they want to share their experience so that others can benefit.


In your opinion, how are current economic challenges affecting both the professions represented by RUSA and the association itself?

The limitation on travel is the challenge that I hear about most often. If we want to encourage new members–and here I’m primarily thinking of students and people receiving limited or no financial support from their employers–we need to make sure that we are doing everything that we can to allow and support participation without the requirement to attend two conferences a year. Some of our special interest sections have been able to move away from requiring their committees to attend Midwinter since so much of the business of the sections can be accomplished through web conferencing and email, and some sections are also taking this approach attendance at the Annual Conference. We can give our members the support that they need for virtual engagement—many tools are already available to meet this need. The development of short, reasonably-priced webinars that are immediately relevant to our members’ interests and learning needs is also an important growth area for us.


The field of librarianship is losing positions at a rapid pace–one figure we saw said 20% of the positions have disappeared. What are your thoughts about that?

I think what we are seeing is a great deal of change in the way that libraries are crafting positions to meet the changing needs of our students and patrons. Not all positions require an MLS/MLIS, and we should expect to see a greater diversity of degrees and certifications that our library workers of the future will need. We will also continue to see an increasing expectation among employers for paraprofessionals to satisfy a lot of the roles that have traditionally been filled by degreed librarians.

During this period of great change, I think RUSA, along with other divisions, can focus our attention in two areas that will help. First, for those positions that do require a broad understanding of librarianship, we can work closely with the ALA-accredited degree programs to help ensure that the curriculum at each school addresses the real-world needs of our libraries and communities. Second, we can also make sure that we are engaged in the further development of paraprofessional certification programs, such as ALA-APA’s Library Support Staff Certification (LSSC). Here in Maryland, I’m the chair of our Library Associate Training Institute’s Oversight Committee, and we are currently looking at how the LSSC competencies match with LATI, our state’s public library paraprofessional training program.


What do you think the best parts of RUSA are that would appeal to new members?

RUSA programming is how so many of my friends and I came to be involved in RUSA in the first place, and I think that we do well to focus a lot of our attention on promoting our programs, discussions, webinars, and online courses. When these programs take place, we need to use every one as an opportunity to inform attendees about what RUSA is and how to get involved if it’s a topic of interest.  That person you approach today may turn out to be the next committee chair, a future employee, or future employer!


What is a significant change or improvement that you would like to see made within RUSA during the next 3-5 years?

As a membership organization, I want to make sure that we’re doing all that we can to address our member needs by listening to our members about what they want out of their RUSA experience, then satisfying those needs to the best of our abilities. Movement toward these ends is just getting underway: the RUSA Review Task Force will soon begin to look at how the division is organized, how to best accomplish the goals of the strategic plan, and how to best meet the needs of our members. This is a big project and an important one! As we move forward on it, I’m confident that there will be much we can learn from other ALA divisions and more broadly from other membership organizations about how each is best meeting needs in a time of limited financial support and an expectation for membership to show clear value.  We will need to identify those things that RUSA can do to be nimble, efficient and relevant, and then implement the necessary changes. We will also have the opportunity to refocus the division’s direction in a couple of years with the development of a new strategic plan.


What about the ALA Annual Conference are you looking forward to the most?

Undoubtedly the event that many of us are looking forward to is the RUSA President’s Program!  It will be fantastic, though I should admit to being a bit biased since I’m co-chair of the event planning committee.  I’m confident that everyone in attendance will be able to take something home that will help them improve service at their library. At the program, which will be held Saturday, June 29th from 4:00-5:30p.m., Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project will share the latest research data about how people are using information technology and libraries. There is an incredible amount that libraries can learn from this as we craft new services and decide how to promote services that we offer now. Access the program listing in the Conference Scheduler and add it to your schedule.

Even better, we are able to have Lee back the following day on Sunday, June 30th from 10:30-11:30a.m. for a dynamic panel discussion featuring Marie Radford, David Lankes, Emily Ford, and Joyce Valenza.  Access the discussion here in the Conference Scheduler. The planning committee has put an incredible amount of time and effort organizing these two events and I’m eager to see the results!

Some of the other events that I’m looking forward to are taking place on Sunday: we have the always popular Literary Tastes author program at 8:00a.m., the RUSA Awards Reception and Volunteer Appreciation Party at 5:00p.m., then the second annual Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction will be presented Sunday evening at 8:00 p.m. Of course the Annual Conference is always a fantastic opportunity to reconnect with old friends and make new ones.  A great place to start is RUSA 101 on Friday afternoon at 3:00p.m., where representatives from across RUSA will be on hand to answer your questions and give you tips on how to get the best experience out of the conference. The RUSA section open houses and all-committee meetings on Saturday and Sunday mornings are open to all ALA conference attendees and are also great opportunities to find out what’s going on and how to get involved.


When you’re not spending your time at the library or at conferences, what do you like to do? Any hobbies?

A lot of my time is definitely associated with libraries, including serving as a liaison between the Maryland Association of Public Library Administrators (MAPLA) and Citizens for Maryland Libraries (CML), our statewide friends-of-libraries group. When not directly doing library-related things, my wife, daughter and I enjoy taking day-hikes and visiting museums, historic sites, and nature centers. Vacations usually orient around visiting National Park Service destinations and any opportunity to get stamps in our “Passport to Your National Parks” books. The more obscure the park site, the better!


There’s a knock at your office door. Upon opening the door, you are greeted with a penguin wearing a sombrero. Why is he there to see you?

Wild! Well my first thought is that it must be my daughter – she did dress as a penguin for Halloween when she was two years old, and seeing her wear my old sombrero that I used for storytimes at the Towson Library wouldn’t surprise me in the least. On the weekend she’s normally good about letting Daddy work when he needs to, but not always, and I can’t say I really mind the distraction. If I’m at work though, this certainly doesn’t apply. Oddly enough, I don’t even have an office door right now since the offices of my organization, the Western Maryland Regional Library, are under a complete renovation in downtown Hagerstown and construction isn’t expected to end until this summer. Right now we are sharing space in a temporary facility in a warehouse, so no doors between any of us. We are all very much looking forward to moving into the new building!

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