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The American Library Association has elected its first president from Kansas City

A woman wearing a purple sweater over a black shirt talks at a microphone inside a radio studio.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Cindy Hohl spoke about library concerns on KCUR's Up to Date on April 13, 2023.

Cindy Hohl has been with the Kansas City Public Library since 2017, and currently serves as its director of policy analysis and operational support.

On Wednesday, Cindy Hohl became the first person from a Kansas City-area public library to be elected president of the American Library Association.

“I am very excited. This is a great opportunity for Kansas City and for our library to be seen as the leaders, not only in librarianship, but in the information field,” said Hohl on KCUR’s Up To Date Thursday.

Hohl, Kansas City Public Library’s director of policy analysis and operational support, has worked in public libraries in Missouri and Kansas for close to a decade.

“We care deeply about everyone having equal access to information,” she said.

It is the first time in 90 years someone from Missouri will hold the highest-elected position at the 58,000 member organization. Hohl is also the second Native American to hold the post since the ALA’s founding in 1876.

“I'm Dakota of the Santee Sioux Nation of Nebraska. So I’m the past president of the American Indian Library Association as well,” said Hohl. “I have served in many leadership positions, so to be supported by my colleagues in the ALA is very special.”

“It's really something that a librarian can only dream of,” Hohl said.

She garnered overwhelming support in the election, receiving more than 70% of the votes.

The next leader of the world’s largest library association said her mission is clear: support librarians and the public’s access to read freely without fear of restrictions or reprisal.

She’ll take the position in a time when politics have made the lives of librarians, authors and their readers the target of partisan culture wars. In Hohl’s home state of Missouri, the state legislature voted last month to stop funding public libraries statewide. It was seen as a response to a lawsuit from the Missouri chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of the Missouri Library Association.

“You're talking about the state of Missouri chopping something like four and a half million dollars out of its budget that goes to public libraries across the state,” Hohl said. “That could have a detrimental impact, especially on our small and rural communities who need that access.”

The ALA has reported that book bans more than doubled nationally between 2020 and 2021. Nearly 1,300 books and library resources were banned last year, and more than 2,500 unique titles were targeted.

Both are records and the largest numbers seen since the ALA started compiling data.

The overwhelming majority of books targeted for bans are about people of color and LBGTQ+ communities, according to the ALA website.

“It's disheartening to see, but we're going to continue to share our opinions, raise our voices, and help everyone see how libraries provide a high value and it's a sound reinvestment in your community,” said Hohl.

Native and rural communities are places she feels need the most investment. Hohl said she already has a plan in place to broaden their services and help provide equal access to information.

“Sometimes they don't have access to the internet and, of course, that is problematic in these times. I've been working on that, helping with broadband access, helping tribal communities connect,” Hohl said. “We’re banding together to scale up and meet their needs.”

For the next year Hohl will serve as president-elect. She officially starts her term in July 2024.

In the meantime, Hohl has a host of ideas and tools at her disposal to broaden diversity within the librarian profession, and to counter the modern expansion of book bans.

“(The ALA) have campaigns against censorship, they have campaigns for equal access, and there is an advocacy office in Washington D.C.,” Hohl said.

She also helps lead the Spectrum Scholarship Advisory Council, whose Spectrum Scholarship program helps recruit indigenous people and people of color to the library field.

“We’re 1,600 strong going into our 25th year in operation,” Hohl said.

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As KCUR’s race and culture reporter, I work to help readers and listeners build meaningful and longstanding relationships with the many diverse cultures that make up the Kansas City metro. I deliver nuanced stories about the underrepresented communities that call our metro home, and the people whose historically-overlooked contributions span politics, civil rights, business, the arts, sports and every other realm of our daily lives.
When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
As Up To Date’s senior producer, I construct daily conversations that give our listeners context to the issues of our time. I strive to provide a platform that holds those in power accountable, while also spotlighting the voices of Kansas City’s creatives and visionaries that may otherwise go unheard. Email me at zach@kcur.org.
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