Improving the American Library Association

There have been several posts of late and more and more , that got me to communicating (via Twitter, Meebo Rooms, IM, and email) with several folks about how to un-break some broken things at our favorite association.
Here’s a quickie overview of our side conversation so far:

  • What should be ALA’s Core focus? (someone posted the 7 key areas page, not what I meant)
  • Why [does / do] [ALA / the Divisions] seem so inefficient? (bureaucracy build-up of a century)
  • Do we need term limits on Councilors? (maybe, maybe not – probably won’t/can’t happen)
  • How to get the newer people involved in a discussion about what ALA’s Core mission should be?
  • How do we get change agents (and a majority) elected to Council?
  • How does the bureaucracy need to be streamlined?
  • What other changes need made?

How’s this for a soundbyte?
“ALA needs to focus on libraries and librarians, and we’re pledging to push the conversation where it needs to be”

There’s loads to be hashed out & while dispersed conversation is good, a wiki should make it easier to turn out a finished product. So let me introduce to you, the one and only Billy ShearsImprove ALA Wiki. [UPDATE] (try the three lowercase initials of our favorite association as the pwd)
See below the fold for some of my view of our conversation notes or head on over to the Wiki to see what we’ve done so far.
Raw notes from conversations section:

Council:
* Change agents to Council: no, we need a majority on council, as that’s how Exec Board will be elected. But to do that a group of like-minded people need to agree to run as a slate and vote as a bloc. Can that be done?
* I really like the idea of running as a slate — the question is what platforms could this bloc espouse and still make it through to a successful election?

Slate:

* Start with a core of like-minded people and get them talking. Have conversations with ALA members where we ask people what their concerns are.
* “ALA needs to focus on libraries and librarians, and we’re pledging to push the conversation where it needs to be: improving our image in society, fighting library closures, evaluating the accreditation process.”
* Change this perception: All Council does is pass far-left-of-center ‘social’ resolutions. I’d add that it doesn’t even pass *useful* social resolutions;.. ALA doesn’t have any influence over institutions that discriminate against its own members.

ALA Core Mission & Finances:

* The financial issue needs reframing, once we figure what ALA should be doing the costs of doing so need defining and monetizing and costing out.
* Basically, the Association finances need to become more transparent — as members become aware how the funds generated are applied, the rubber will meet the road and the pain points will be clearer. The Membership basically have no idea where their money goes
* Inefficiencies (Divisional or otherwise) — again, figuring out where the price (or financial pain) points are will help fix or at least demonstrate the inefficiencies (each Division should be covering their own costs, ALA should be getting remunerated for only what ALA puts in)
* The question of what ALA should be doing is a good one. Right now most of the revenue is from conferences and publishing, with the latter somewhat flatlined in the last several years. ALA’s legislative advocacy is—to me—important work.

ALA Priorities (which most could get behind?)

* Legislative Advocacy
* Public Programs
* Intellectual Freedom
* Equity of Access
* Others?

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12 thoughts on “Improving the American Library Association

  1. Aaron, this is intriguing and interesting; both from a member point of view and a staff member point of view. I would like to point out that the ACRL budget is managed much as a law firm manages finances: every hour (actually we count in 15 min increments) spent by individual staff members has to be billable to a project and we *have* to break even. If a project proposed does not indicate ways of breaking even we rarely, if ever, undertake it. We do time studies related to budget lines and projects and it is tight as a drum as far as I can see. This is not to say there could not be some efficiencies made. ACRL is open to change and to new ways of looking at ourselves.
    I look forward to hearing a dialogue on your ideas within the ALA membership.
    Obviously my comments are not representing ACRL but I am an ACRL staff member. I speak for myself here.

  2. Hi Kathryn, sorry to seem like I was pointing fingers at staffers (I was not intending any slights) or at ACRL (I broadened it to “the Divisions” for inclusiveness). The inefficiencies I see are from a more macro view than at the staff process level. Hopefully the macro discussion will better focus what ACRL/ALA/other ALA groups do and allow for better cross-pollination of ideas, expertise, and how the association addresses libraryland and the world around us.

  3. Aaron, what a refreshing move. The scattered focus and lack of meaningful responsiveness from ALA is the reason I, and others, don’t belong to the organization. Here are a couple of my pet issues to throw into the mix: 1)ALA needs to be doing something serious about LIBRARIES. I’d like to not hear anything more about what non-library political issues I should be concerned with from the ALA’s point of view. As THE representative organization for libraries ALA has the responsibility of leading and producing real change for the betterment of libraries and until that’s been done shut up and do the job the organization’s supposed to be doing. 2)I know pursuing diversity makes people at ALA feel like they’re good and caring people. If they really want to get minorities into the profession, then they need to do the things that need to be done to make it a profession that offers respect and reasonable income to its members–they’ll get all the minorities they could ever want then and we can all be proud to welcome them into a vibrant and alive profession. 3)I’d really like to have ALA stop acting like a amateur organization with a professional budget. If ALA was being run the way it is in a business environment it would have ceased to exist a long time ago.

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