ALA Council Patterns and Churn

Based on an email exchange over on the ALA Council list, I did some noodling around (my wife would call it procrastinating on my tenure documentation) with Diedre Conkling’s ALA Council service records spreadsheet over on the Feminist Task Force Wiki and responded to the discussion [text of my response below].

I wonder what sort of discussion non-ALA-Councilors would have about the discussion (hence the plethora of links above for background discovery)

Generally, or, what the numbers below say to *me*, it takes ~10 years to change the general mind-set of ALA Council on a given topic. It takes ~7 years to change the general mind set of the Exec Bd.

This roughly aligns with my observations over the last seven or so years. For example, in 2009 Council passed the TFoEMP recommendations — many of which were originally proposed to Council, piecemeal, at least a decade earlier (these proposals were already at least five years old when I started observing Council around 2003/4 – I defer to longer-serving / institutional-memory types for the accurate dates)

Through discussions and observation with EB members and former members, I think the Exec Board was ready to move many of the “piecemeal precursors to the TFoEMP recommendations” forward around 2006, but were aware of Council’s still-simmering resistance to these recommendations, which resulted in the TFoEMP creation and their ultimate passage.

Then I went a little preachy, what can I say? *shrug*

I’m not convinced today’s libraries and their information environment can withstand ten years of resistance to new ideas and technologies from the leading voice for libraries and library users when the life span of some technologies is less than 3 years from cutting-edge to obsolescence.

Am I saying three year terms are too long? Hahaha, no
Am I saying there should be term limits? Again, no.
Am I saying there needs to be better representation from people who leverage today’s technologies and/or think about tomorrow’s upcoming technologies? Yes. Unequivocally, yes.

A person’s age does not matter.
A person’s amount of experience with ALA / Governance does not matter
(though time-in-grade may help at the Exec Board level).

Awareness of the:
* possible futures ahead for library and information organizations,
* fights necessary to ensure encoding, retention, dispersion/aggregation, archiving, findability, use, and creation of information and their supporting data structures,
* potentials for leading or guiding discussion in the near term and the long term for the benefit of libraries and users, and
* awareness of how the results of short- and near-term decisions and policies enacted today can affect the usability of data and information far into the future;
These are key concerns which every member of Council and the Exec board should be able to address in some facet or another.

Right now, ALA is still a strong consolidation of voices – we have 60,000+ members.

How effective we are in today’s situation(s) will affect how many voices we can claim to speak for in the future.
We have a growing number of people who are well-embedded in today’s information culture. We may not like where today’s information culture is going, but it *is* going to continue to go somewhere.

We can attempt to fight it and be rolled under the wave, or we can leap on a surfboard and ride the wave, bobbing and weaving around obstacles, but still serving as a consolidated voice for libraries and library users.
That’s why we’re here, isn’t it?

The ALA mission comes to mind again:
“To provide leadership for the development, promotion, and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.”

I’m interested to hear what you think about the requirements for the leadership of ALA (whether you’re a member or not) – what is more important in councilors or Executive Board members:

  • experience with governance?
  • awareness of current and/or future challenges/opportunities?
  • popularity?
  • ability to verbalize well?
  • ability to inform or prioritize efforts?
  • what else?

Thanks for reading…

1 thought on “ALA Council Patterns and Churn

  1. I managed to not include my actual noodling — here are the numbers … There are likely statistical misunderstandings throughout my calculations below – feel free to double-check and reinterpret 🙂

    With the following assumptions (for simpler calculations) for Council:
    * 190 seats (which I know is slightly off, depending on the year)
    * 3.5 year terms (I think the 4 year terms were phased out about halfway through the 19 years on record)
    * 707 people (the straight count of rows in the spreadsheet)

    707 people into 190 seats is 3.72 people elected to each available Council Seat over 19 years
    or
    707 people into 19 years is 37.21 new people per (now 3-year) full election cycle (the partial terms should cancel out at either end of the record)
    or
    707 people into 19 years at 3.5 year term is 10.6 new Councilors per election.

    So, the annual “churn” for Council is about 5%
    Phrased another way, an average of about five percent of Council is replaced with new blood every year.

    Exec Board was a little trickier…

    13 positions (but only 11 in calculation as Treasurer & Exec Dir is not indicated in spreadsheet)
    34 people

    34 people into 11 seats is 3.09 people elected to each available Executive Board Seat over 19 years
    or
    34 people into 19 years is 1.79 new people elected to ExBd each year

    So the annual churn of ExBd is ~16%
    Phrased the other way, about 16% of ExBd is replaced with new blood every year.

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