ALA Member Shushed by ALA Council

Hi, Blogging from your ALA Council II Session – on trying to make Our Association better.

For those readers who are not aware, I have been an ALA Councilor at Large Candidate for the last two years (I got 2901 votes and lost by ~100 votes last year [2006] and got 2458(?) votes and lost by ~250 votes this year [2007]). I attended Council II, as is my usual practice; while there, I found I had something substantive to add to a long discussion about the format of the Membership Meetings.

Councilor-at-Large Heidi Dolamore stood for me (with coaching on parliamentary procedure by Councilor-at-Large Michael Golrick) and asked the moderator to suspend the normal rules of debate to allow me to address Council on this issue being discussed.

The moderator asked for the indulgence of Council to allow me to speak and a bunch of councilors shouted “Why?!” A fair few hands went up to support my opportunity to address council; however, a larger portion of voting councilors chose to
Shush me.

I do not know why a majority of ALA Councilors would not want to hear from a Member on the subject of the format of the Membership Meeting — however, that majority succeeded in shutting out the individual voice of an Interested Member from direct involvement.

Which leads me to my Wiki effort to Improve ALA from the ground up, http://improveala.pbwiki.com

In addition to my efforts to improve ALA from the grassroots, I have been nominated to run for Councilor-at-Large (again) on the Spring 2008 Ballot. In addition to running for Council and trying to improve ALA from the grassroots, I am looking for like-minded people to run as a slate dedicated to moving ALA forward. If you are interested in joining me in trying to implement possible suggestions many of which are on the Improve ALA Wiki, please add yourself to the Improve ALA Slate.
Thank you for your efforts and may I please have your vote for ALA Councilor at Large?

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13 thoughts on “ALA Member Shushed by ALA Council

  1. Just saw Andrea’s post on this post:
    ALA Council votes no to hear a member’s opinion
    I think Andrea’s post is a better description of what went on (I was a little hot at the time of the post above). I hope enough members (who would have been willing to hear from an interested member in Council Session)are willing and able to join me on the Council seat-chase so we can Improve ALA to bring some needed adjustments and ideas to fruition.

  2. One of ALA’s barrier’s to electronic meetings is the open meeting policy. Well here is an example of an “open meeting”. I also find it interesting that several people were more than happy to admit that they had not been paying attention. Perhaps if Council was conducted in the electronic environment non council members would be capable of contributing and getting their voice heard.

  3. You were, indeed, a little hot at the time of your post, Aaron, I agree. I was glad you’d cooled off some by the time we chatted in the afternoon.

    May I balance some of what you and Andrea (don’t know her, she doesn’t enable comments on her blog, from what I can tell) have written about?

    I’m not a Councilor either, but I do have the curious habit of attending Council sessions myself, and yesterday was just such a meeting. My perception is that the mood in the room was cranky and irritable, but not necessarily over a Councilor asking to suspend the rules. The COL report was NOT well received, and moving through it (out of order on the agenda) had created a certain atmosphere. I don’t think it exactly excuses their decision not to let you speak, but I think you mislead any readers who were not there into thinking that it was a smoothly-running session into which a resaonable request was launched. You – and Heidi – really could have read the mood of the room better and offered up your contribution differently, but I told you that already, spilt milk, barn doors, bolted horses, and all that.

    An open meeting policy does not mean that everyone gets to speak, nor should it. I’ve been working a lot on e-participation in the past year, and I’m trying to be careful not to equate participation with giving everyone a voice or vote. I’d like to see Council operate in an electronic environment, in fact, but I don’t see that as meaning that any non-Councillor member can chime in at any time. A more-open Council meeting may simply mean providing more avenues of enabling members to watch/listen to/read transcripts of the proceedings.

    Finally, remember that Councilors ARE members. Some I disagree with, some I would not vote for. I would be careful, though, not to lump them all together, not to acknowledge that many of them may be very frustrated by one issue/policy/situation or another, and not to credit at least more than the one or two you name with trying to make a change.

    Okay, enough of my soapbox. I’m glad I got a chance to chat with you right before COO yesterday, Aaron, and I am sorry that the point you were going to make didn’t come up because it was no-less useful and eloquent for its simplicity. Keep in touch, because I’m interested in ways of working through ALA’s own policies, procedures, and committees to force ALA to adapt to what is really going on in its units.

  4. I commend you for your efforts in attempting to speak to Council. Your frustration does not fall on deaf ears and indeed shared. I look forward to working with you on Council.

  5. I voted against suspending the rules because some of us were under a time restraint due to the press conference that was being held to introduce the SKILLS Act on Capitol Hill. The COL report was moved through out of order on the agenda because many of us wanted to speak on and pass the SKILLS Act Resolution before we left for the very important press conference and day on the hill. The SKILLS Act is the single most important legislative opportunity for students and school libraries in thirty years. After it was passed, Molly got some flak over other issues contained in the COL report, particularly the letter being sent out of ALA regarding shared regional depositories. This was an issue that had to be worked through. This took some time that was unexpected and got us behind on the agenda.

    In addition, I am wondering why you chose not to utilize the Membership Forum in order to speak. The Membership Forum might have been a more appropriate place, in my opinion, than to ask a Councilor-at-Large to motion to suspend the rules so you could speak.

    There are multiple venues for members to share their views and opinions. I don’t think anyone was trying to stifle you. Many people needed to get to the press conference or had a desire to continue the business of the meeting.

    As a Councilor-at-Large, I am more than willing to listen to what you have to say and work with you and all members to make our association the best that we can make it.

    Ann Dutton Ewbank
    ALA Councilor-at-Large
    President, Arizona Library Association

  6. Hi Ann, thanks for offering the Councilor-not-wanting-to-hear-in-session-from-a-non-Councilor view, the blogging I’ve seen to date has been pretty one sided, leaning in favor of the large minority of Councilors who seemed to be saying “members ought to be able to be heard in session.”

    Why did I not utilize the multiple venues for Members to share their opinions and views?
    Oddly enough, the discussion which I was going to add to at Council II was actually on the format of the Membership Meeting/Forum this year 🙂

    My never heard in session comments (consisting of ~30 to 60 seconds of ideas about turnout to Membership Meetings) to Council were going to be along these lines:

    Point the first:
    I found the Membership Forum (the two person discussion part at the beginning) to be a waste of my time at the first Membership Meeting *because*:
    1. I had planned to introduce and invite to participation on the Improve ALA Wiki early on in this Membership Meeting
    2. I could not stay the full time for the Membership meeting because I had a prior engagement with the LITA Web Coordinating Committee (where I am the Web Coordinator for Committees)
    3. I would have gone to the second Membership Meeting and given the Improve ALA Wiki introduction and invitation then, but I was tapped to go to the ALA Web Advisory Committee in the place of the LITA web manager. Making that session’s Forum then Meeting format irrelevant for me.

    Point the Second:
    Regarding improving the attendance at Membership Meetings:
    1. Offer food (of pretty well any sort) Cookies & Punch, at a minimum, would work
    2. Don’t remove the Coffee Urns present for ALA Council meetings just before the Membership Meeting (that is horrible PR, and demeaning to boot)
    3. Perhaps offer a program preceding the Membership Meeting — but don’t take up Membership Meeting time with programming that will prohibit members who are not on Council from speaking their piece.

    I would have been happy for anyone to bring up these points in session and was flattered to be invited to have an opportunity to do so by a few Councilors-at-Large (who are also friends). I was also disappointed (alright, offended) by the denial of this opportunity by the small majority who appeared to feel that a non-Councilor’s view on the subject of Membership Meetings had no merit.

    Regardless of voters’ intent, the net effect was a perceptible chilling of participation in the governance of the Association. Something I hope to rectify, whether given a chance to do so publicly or by tap-dancing in the dark to get things to go toward less bureaucratic entanglements.

  7. Aaron,

    These are all very good points. I’m sorry that you did not attend the second Membership meeting, where the forum was “Is ALA Heading In the Right Direction?” There was not the pro/con introduction at the second meeting (that was given by Michael Gorman and Steve Matthews at the first meeting about library vs non-library issues). This certainly would have been a germane place to voice your comments.

    At the Council Forums, which are smaller meetings that some Councilors attend, headed by Joseph Eagan, we talked at great length about what would get folks to the membership meetings. We talked about making the meetings non-conflict times (so that folks like you won’t be in a quandry), or having them immediately after the opening general session (I like this idea- and this is what we are doing for our Arizona Library Association business meeting). Also, prior to this round of membership meetings, on the Council listserv Councilors were stongly encouraged to not go to the microphones and monopolize the membership time, as we have lots of time to speak. Some Councilors chose not to heed that call, saying they were members as well as Councilors, and had just as much a right to speak at that time. The idea behind the Forum program was to get more interest in folks attending, and I think Larry Romans, chair of the Membership Committee, did an admirable job with what he had to work with.

    As for providing food, that is indeed a carrot to get people somewhere, but let me tell you from my experience in conference planning on a small scale, it is a major budget concern, even for a big organization like ALA. In a convention center, you must use their food and beverage service, and the prices are expensive. It is a matter of bottom line. I believe ALA would have to procure a sponsor for the membership meeting if food were to be offered. Councilors do receive some privileges, such as beverages and one small breakfast at Council III, as well as a special room block.

    I would encourage you to do a few things to further your agenda:

    1) Join the Council listserv as a read-only member (if you haven’t already). This will give you some of the inside information about why these decisions are made. You can also reply directly to Councilors about your ideas. (http://www.ala.org/ala/ourassociation/governanceb/forms/subscribe.htm)

    2) Attend the Council Forums at Midwinter. These small meetings are usually amenable to non-councilors speaking about topics and issues. We did this in Seattle with some of the non-councilor ALA members who worked to craft a resolution.

    3) Forward your concerns and your wiki to Jim Rettig. I had a really nice conversation with him at annual and he is very interested in this issue of participation. In fact, we talked extensively about the issues you are describing in your post. He listens. http://rettigforala.org/index.htm

    Good luck,

    Ann

  8. Also, I never felt that your comments had no merit. I felt that it was the wrong place at the wrong time. The folks around me felt the same way. We were all wondering “why wasn’t he at the membership meeting?” (Of course, now we know, and this brings up a good point about the meetings being no-conflict). When you yelled out, “Don’t want to hear from a member!” I was taken aback by your reaction.

    Perhaps you could have written your comments down and had Heidi Dolamore read them into the record. I guess what I’m trying to say is that we could have worked it out so your message could have been heard. I think we accomplish more when we work together instead of trying to antagonize each other.

    Take care,

    Ann

  9. You raise excellent points, Ann, and I can see how it may look like I’m trying to antagonize people with this. I’m not out to antagonize anyone, I merely point out the painful points in how the Association works (or doesn’t).

    One of these pain points is the “Wrong place, wrong time” concept. This concept wouldn’t have applied had I been a Councilor or had a Councilor read them out. Everyone would have heard the points, it would have taken about the same amount of time; there would not have been CouncilorS shouting “Why?” (improperly, I might add) at the properly framed request to add relevant information to the discussion at hand.

    In Council III the same exact parliamentary procedure was used to allow the incoming President Elect to speak. The coffee urns “for Council” are removed before the Membership Meeting. The message that is being sent out is: Members who do not have either name recognition or perceived “stature” in the Association are or can or should (all depending on the observers’ perceptions) be marginalized without repercussions. I’m sure this message is unintended; I have to believe that or there really is no point in any of this.

    In the end we are all Members of ALA (yes, even Councilors, Presidents, etc.). Many of us have ideas which might benefit the Association; however, some have a bully pulpit, the rest do not. The “silent majority” (which may or may not actually be a cohesive “majority”), those without the bully pulpit, 1. do not know how to get their voices heard 2. two have plenty of observations on what doesn’t work for them 3. could use a primer on how to become heard in ALA.
    Fwiw, I think several folks (hopefully myself included) are working up ALA Governance 101 sessions for future Meetings and Conferences, to better assist people with ideas to get heard and to work to improve ALA.
    For my part, it’s taken ~6 years of lucking into the “right” committees, meeting the “right” people, and asking the “right” questions. If I weren’t as doggedly tenacious as I am about fixing what doesn’t appear to work, I would have given up in disgust long ago.

    And, lastly, Ann’s 3 numbered suggestions are important steps to take for anyone interested in the Association’s direction as we head into a flatter, more socially interlinked future.

  10. Hanging out on the ALA Council list is educational, but not about ALA governance.

    There are a number of issues here, and Ann’s suggestions are well-meaning, but my greatest problem is with the “assimilate and graduate” model in which we’re supposed to learn the ALA Way of doing things, in part by sitting through Council meetings.

    Aaron is absolutely correct that RHIP applies to whether Council allows someone to speak. Council is a closed loop. Its key actions take place after most members have left. Only the most dedicated souls are there by Wednesday, and they probably are astonished to see someone from the membership stand up and ask a question.

  11. “…a perceptible chilling of participation in the governance of the Association…”

    This is why I haven’t joined: it’s not hard to figure out that, no matter what, they should have heard you —at the very least. ALA needs to give up control, it is an illusion anyway. Allow for new, fresh, listening Members who are chomping to make the ALA come alive.

    Cordially,
    Lee

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