06 March 2006


K.G. Schneider recently stepped down as delegate to the American Library Association Council from the Library Information Technology Association due to a budget crisis in her organization. She wrote about it in her blog, Free Range Librarian. Her comments could apply to any library association, especially the Special Libraries Association, so I am reprinting them here.

“I can’t afford to send myself, with my partner’s job ending sometime this year, and it isn’t right to use organizational funds for ALA attendance beyond that which immediately benefits my organization.

“Meanwhile, I have some thoughts about ALA’s Council and some much-needed change. There’s a discussion happening on the ALA Council list the tone of which will be familiar to you who have worked to introduce new technologies into your libraries. Basically it means every suggestion for changing how Council functions is met with fear and resistance, and the suggestions are all exaggerated beyond belief so they can then be shot down.

“No one reasonably expects Council to stop meeting face to face, and no one is proposing that it become a 24x7 virtual Council working year-round. Some of the most fundamental changes Council has to make are between the ears of a few strategic Councilors. [emphasis mine., JAS] One of the most significant changes isn’t really technology-based at all.

“1. Begin webcasting the text transcripts. It’s cheap to do, since we already do the transcription, and it will give our members more access to our deliberations--even at ALA, as I keep saying (over and over and over, I keep saying). Council would have a hell of a lot more accountability if people watched it. No need to run around with cameras, as some are suggesting. As for one Councilor’s comment regarding facial expressions, while I’m not advocating we dismember face-to-face contact, I can barely see my hands in the gloom of most Council chambers, and as has been pointed out Council already sits face-forward as if it were worshipping at the dais of LibraryLand. Where is all this interaction people keep talking about?

"2. Push harder for units to come to ALA prepared for their discussions. It’s expensive for ALA and for Councilors to stay so long at conference, and it’s unnecessary to the point of absurdity. Looking at Council’s agenda for the last five years, how much of that needed to be discussed at ALA—versus getting final (truly substantive) face-to-face discussion? Why are we 'deliberating' the half-ingested, random, often belated thoughts extruded from committees? Maybe we can start thinking about taking action on exceptional circumstances between conferences. It’s equally absurd that we, a society of information professionals, can’t do that.

"Note that all that this takes is a spreadsheet (or even a legal pad for the truly technophobic) and a small posse of busybodies willing to keep pestering the usual suspects on what they will be deliberating at ALA and the willingness to provide monthly updates to Council and to track activity at ALA as well. I think it would be very revealing to watch the patterns of activity (who submits what when).

"3. Think of technology as an asset for management, not some overpriced scourge to be tacked on to 'The Way We Always Done It.' Don’t overreact Think instead how technology can be used to engage members in the business of ALA, but not as second-class 'virtual members' without privileges—who the heck wants that? I do feel Council has a tendency to drift into outer space in some of its deliberations, and its physical isolation from the membership is a big part of that.

"4. Don’t make decisions or assumptions based on 'We Tried It In 1995 And It Didn’t Work.' It’s 2006, really a century later in terms of interactive technology, and besides, I’m all too familiar with how we in LibraryLand 'try' things sometimes in ways guaranteed to fail.

"I concluded with saying, as I’ve said to a few people, if I were queen for a day, I’d simply say Council ends Tuesday at noon, period, and no one’s showing up earlier to make up for it, either. We (ALA and Council) can no longer afford to operate differently, so deal with it. I happened to enjoy serving on Council, even with all the frustrations involved. I know I’ll be back. I’m hoping it won’t be the same organization it was when I left it!"

URL: Read Schneider's original post at http://freerangelibrarian.com/2006/03/ala_council_letting_it_go.php

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