Skip to content

The well of studiousness

KGS.Pride.2015

Pride 2015

My relative quiet is because my life has been divided for a while between work and studying for exams. But I share this photo by former PUBLIB colleague and retired librarian Bill Paullin from the 2015 Pride March in San Francisco, where I marched with my colleagues in what suddenly became an off-the-hook celebration of what one parade marshal drily called, “Thank you, our newly-discovered civil rights.”

I remember the march, but I also remember the  hours before our contingent started marching, chatting with dear colleagues about all the important things in life while around us nothing was happening. It was like ALA Council, except with sunscreen, disco music, and free coconut water.

Work is going very well. Team Library is made of professionals who enjoy what they do and commit to walking the walk. The People of the Library did great things this summer, including eight (yes eight) very successful “chat with a librarian” sessions for parent orientations, and a wonderful “Love Your Library” carnival for one student group. How did we get parents to these sessions? Schmoozing, coffee, and robots (as in, tours of our automated retrieval system). We had a competing event, but really — coffee and robots? It’s a no-brainer. Then I drive home to our pretty street in a cute part of a liveable city, and that is a no-brainer, too.

I work with such great people that clearly I did something right in a past life. Had some good budget news. Yes please! Every once in a while I think, I was somewhere else before I came here, and it was good; I reflect on our apartment in San Francisco, and my job at Holy Names. I can see myself on that drive to work, early in the morning, twisting down Upper Market as the sun lit up the Bay Bridge and the day beckoned, full of challenge and possibility. It was a good part of my life, and I record these moments in the intergalactic Book of Love.

And yet: “a ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.” I think of so many good things I learned in my last job, not the least of which the gift of radical hospitality.  I take these things with me, and yet the lesson for me is that I was not done yet. It is interesting to me that in the last few months I learned that for my entire adult life I had misunderstood the word penultimate. It does not mean the final capper; it means the place you go, before you go to that place.  I do not recall what made me finally look up this term, except when I did I felt I was receiving a message.

Studying is going very well, except my brain is unhappy about ingesting huge amounts of data into short-term memory to be regurgitated on a closed-book test. Cue lame library joke: what am I, an institutional repository? Every once in a while I want to share a bon mot from my readings with several thousand of my closest friends, then remember that people who may be designing the questions I’ll be grappling with are on the self-same networks. So you see pictures of our Sunday house meetings and perhaps a random post or share, but the things that make me go “HA HA HA! Oh, that expert in […….redacted……..] gets off a good one!” stay with me and Samson, our ginger cat, who is in charge of supervising my studies, something he frequently does with his eyes closed.

We have landed well, even after navigating without instruments through a storm. Life is good, and after this winter, I have a renewed appreciation for what it means for life to be good. That second hand moves a wee faster every year, but there are nonetheless moments captured in amber, which we roll from palm to palm, marveling in their still beauty.

Between a noodle and your favorite dress

So a little over a week ago Jeff Jarvis tweeted about the German pilot who may have committed suicide by crashing a commercial plane:

I tweeted back. He tweeted. Tweet. Tweet. Tweet. Tweet. Etc. And then:

Quickly followed by:

I was less upset than puzzled and bemused; even if I was completely wrong, all I did, as someone pointed out, was mildly disagree with Jeff over something I do happen to know something about.

With the day job and the doctoral work and other things going on, I decided to wait to respond until I could respond with a fey blog post tweaking Jeff for what other Twitter user called his Saran-wrap-thin skin. Then I thought, I’ve had bad days. Maybe, just maybe, he had one too, and everything I had been saying had been passing through a filter of something much more serious going on in his life. Perhaps this is a situation that can be repaired. So I tweeted, “so a few days have passed. Is it possible to revisit my comments through MRI (Most Respectful Interpretation)?”

Followed by three more tweets from me, explaining how I know him (through a conference in Boston in 2004), offering an olive branch, creating the possibility for pushing past that incident.

Crickets chirped.

I get it.

It’s not that I miss Jeff Jarvis. I haven’t had any sort of collegial relationship with him. I didn’t have a heroic image of some Jeff Jarvis for this Twitter thread to debunk. He was just someone I had once encountered whose public opinions I sometimes read and sometimes did not read. In my personal firmament, Jeff Jarvis has hovered between Japanese noodle soup and extra-nice shoelaces… something I wouldn’t go out of my way for, but would be happy enough to encounter. Unless the options were better, like an oyster po’boy or socks with a kitten pattern.

It’s something larger and more ineffable. Maybe it’s the person I was in 2004, before the wind-down of Librarians’ Internet Index, the huge mistake of the move to Florida, the amazing return to California, and a few triumphs and heartbreaks and losses along the way. Maybe it’s the times in my life I have taken umbrage (that evil nostrum that sits on a far-too-convenient shelf), flamed into an angry response, and not opened myself to reconsidering my reaction.

But more likely it was hearing on Tuesday that Gail Schlachter had suddenly died, and feeling drenched in grief and wishing I could just spend a few minutes with her again, even in one of those charmless windowless conference rooms where Gail spent so much time patiently, cheerfully sharing her gifts with others. Just to watch her walk up to me on the floor of ALA Council and tell me how happy she was to see me. Just to see her smile, as bright as the sun, and listen to her wise and funny comments on all things LibraryLand. Gail had the gift of making every person she encountered feel special and welcome and the smartest kid in kindergarten. She was witty and kind and beautiful and patient, and entirely her own person. She had a heart the size of our galaxy, and so many of us will miss her.

Gail was way above soba noodles and special shoelaces. Gail was that sort of person that if you knew her even slightly, she was more than equal to the best oysters on the half-shell you ever had, or that special dress you will remember forever. She had the knack for saying things so kind, things I so needed to hear at just that moment, that I would fold her comments into a small square and tuck them forever in my heart. Gail was powerful and astute, but I don’t know if she fully realized how much she meant to so many people.

So in the end, I have a twinge of sadness that I have become to Jeff Jarvis what my dad, may he rest in peace, referred to as P.N.G., for persona non grata. But it’s not about who I have been to Jeff, since in all honesty to him I’ve just been some peon out there in the vast online galaxy, and now I am in minus-peon zone, in that strange parallel galaxy you go when you have dutifully followed orders and fucked off. It’s about that person I was in 2004, and the places I’ve lived and the cats Sandy and I have outlived and the people I’ve served and the others who have left us. It’s about all those times when I wish I could have just a few minutes more with the people I care about, and how I curse myself for the times I have been “too busy” to have that moment with someone who I can no longer have moments with again, or too proud or too angry to mend a fence. It’s about the way life breaks our heart simply by moving forward.

Snowglobes and my research quest

First rose of springToday I was stopped at a red light in downtown Santa Rosa, and I looked over to see a tough guy in a muscle car with sheer delight plastered across his face. We were enjoying the same magical scene: thousands of tiny white petals scudding across the avenue, swirling in the air, drifting onto benches and signs and people.

This could explain the sneezing fit I had last night, but that snowglobe moment was worth it. When we were contemplating this move, no one said we would experience this beautiful warm snowfall. No one has commented on it to me at all. I guess it’s just me and Tough Guy, thrilled by the floor show.

I had no idea how beautiful this small city, and our neighborhood in particular, would be in the spring. The neighbors’ gardens are not even in full bloom, yet every block is resplendent with color and redolent with fragrance. My rosebushes, brave little souls who survived five years on a cold, partially shaded, windswept deck in San Francisco, are stretching their limbs toward the warmth and the light, their foliage thick and lush, their buds fat, the first rose gorgeously impeccable.

I am stretching my own limbs to the light as well, professionally and in my growth as a scholar–and with leadership studies, of course the two are ever entwined). Coming back from some reasonably tolerable conference, I realized I was happy to walk into the library. It is a human institution and not the Good Ship Lollypop, but it’s filled with caring people determined to make a difference in other people’s lives. (I wonder what things were really like on GSL, anyway. Probably lots of dental issues.)

Last night I turned in my last short homework assignment for the doctoral program. Assuming it doesn’t bounce back to me with a request for revision (Lord please no — I cannot write anything more about net neutrality), I have completed my last class for this program. Up next: completing my qualifying paper, studying for and taking comprehensive exams, developing and defending a dissertation proposal, then doing the research for, writing, and defending my dissertation.

Piece of cake, eh?

Yes, a lot of work, and the doctoral work is folded under a lot of work-work, and (since some of you may be wondering) compounded by my mother’s health care crisis, which has its four-month anniversary in two days. It’s one of those life crises many of us will deal with at some point — a foreign land that, when you get there, you find populated with a lot of people you know.

But I get a lot of sustenance from my doctoral work. My qualifying paper is about the lived experiences of openly gay and lesbian academic library directors. (A friend of mine teased me that I should interview myself, which reminded me of a stern lecture everyone in my class in the MFA program received about The Crime Of Solipsism, which sounded like something we should stand in a corner for.)

I deeply love this research project, and I earned this love. I did the hard thing — prolonging this project by over a year by torpedoing two papers that were too small, too meaningless, too insufficient, too lacking in rigor; papers I wouldn’t want to see my name on — to find my literary-research beshert, that topic I was meant to wrap myself around. The kind of topic that pulls me into its own snowglobe, where I stand arms upraised in its center, watching meaning swirl around me, its brilliant small bits glinting in the sunlight.

Later on, I hope, I’ll write a bit more about my research. I owe a lot to the great people who shared their time and thoughts about my work in this area, giving me courage to ditch the crap and focus on the gold, and to the subjects who providing fascinating, heartening, hilarious, heart-tugging, thoughtful, surprising, invigorating, and fully real interviews for my research. The Association of Openly Gay and Lesbian Academic Library Directors could fit in a hotel suite, but it’s a group I’d share that suite or even a foxhole with, hands-down.

After Epiphany

Merry Old Santa, by Thomas NastLast Tuesday, January 6, as I walked out of the hospital in New Mexico where my mother is staying due to a series of medical events — a planned hip replacement, followed by an unplanned stroke and then a very unplanned leg fracture — I saw two huge Christmas trees in the hospital lobby — the long-life kind, not living trees cut from the ground — shorn of their ornaments, which lay in bags on the floor.

At the wrong moment, or listening to the wrong music, the trees would have seemed forlorn, but to me they were expectant. For many reasons, good and not so good, this holiday season was very muted.

A year ago I remember remarking to an esteemed colleague in my doctoral program that I would stay on track with my doctoral work as long as I didn’t have anything major like a job change or a family medical crisis, a statement intentionally hyperbolic.  By this past November, as my mother was on the cusp of her own medical journey, I had accepted a position, effective this morning, as Dean of the Library at Sonoma State University — an opportunity that came with very complex emotions about leaving Holy Names, but perhaps because of those feelings was absolutely the right opportunity at the right time.

I had been on a wonderful odyssey at Holy Names, one in which I felt that our initiatives and efforts, large and small, were deeply appreciated, and where I had the unique chance to build a library and a team from near-scratch while I learned the runic ways of higher education. I  remarked to a dear friend last summer that I didn’t feel “done,” and he paused thoughtfully and commented that no one is every really done. That wasn’t the only epiphany, but it factored into many other conclusions I had about how much more I could do where I was at this point in time,  as well as what I wanted to accomplish in the last decade-and-plus of my career as a full-time library leader, and also our strong desire to remain in our beloved NorCal.

By December I was also immersed in my mother’s medical crisis.  My sister and I have become entwined with one another in ways that are surprising and salutary, speaking, texting, and emailing daily, pacing our way around our mother’s situation.  To add to it all, Sandy and I were also tangled in a massive head cold that for her developed into bronchitis and for me colored all the rituals and gestures of my departure from Holy Names, and our farewell to San Francisco as residents of five years, with a thin grey coating of exhaustion.

Thanksgiving was about apartment-hunting, wrapping things up at Holy Names, beating back the cold from hell, and packing.  Christmas was something other people were doing. Sandy and I gave away tickets for events (not wanting to be those people coughing nonstop in a theater), had a nice meal and cocktail here and there, slept a lot, and called it a season. My sister and I tag-teamed calls, emails, and travel to and from New Mexico. Sandy and I coughed and packed and coughed some more. My final commute from Holy Names was during a wind storm so powerful that the radio kept reporting traffic jams caused by trees falling on cars; I gripped the wheel of Misty, my Prius, and we soldiered on to Santa Rosa. By New Year’s we were in our new home, coughing a little less. This past Sunday I set down my Ikea allen wrench to go visit my mother again, leaving Sandy amidst the boxes in a house without Internet or television.

At some point I decided to stop flogging myself for not having the mental bandwidth to work on the data analysis for my qualifying paper. I had a perfect timeline, and then life happened. It wasn’t just chronological time that was scarce; it was the intellectual space to wrap my head around anything other than the next crisis-laden phone call or the next moving-related problem.

A lengthy delay in Internet access to our new home compounded issues; I spent a couple of weeks highly underconnected, which refreshed my empathy for students who lack reliable Internet and high-end equipment.  Out of desperation, because my home computer was a 17″ laptop with a dying screen (which was adequate when the laptop just sat there on my desk at home, less so when I contemplated dragging its fragile self to coffeeshops), the afternoon before my next trip to New Mexico I bought a laptop at CostCo which turned out to have a corrupt wireless driver that three CostCo support concierges helped me reinstall as I crossed the country. I could feel my ribcage loosen when I finally got fully online. I am still in awe of how expertly these support techs managed my case from airport lobbies and hotel rooms.

One morning, juggling too many things, I realized I was afraid I’d never get back on the doctoral homework horse again. As soon as I thought that, a business card with esteemed colleague’s name on it fell out of a drawer, and a minute later I received a chipper email from him, thanking me for suggesting the qualitative analysis product he was productively using for coding interviews,  and asking how I was doing. This is the sort of colleague who also juggles too many things and then sits in a chair, scoots up to his desk, and stolidly soldiers through homework, reminding us all that It Can Be Done.

So: Santa is real, and he didn’t skip our house this year, after all.

Two providers, four modems, and nearly three hours of telephone holds later, we have Internet and (because we are old-fashioned boomers) television. We have found stores and restaurants and a lovely walking/bicycling path just blocks from our home; our neighbors have been neighborly,  the area food-friendly and beautiful. The coughing is almost gone. The medical crisis proceeds as these do.  Sandy has found Meetup groups to do interesting walks around our new city.  Samson, bribed with copious quantities of bonita flakes and other cat treats, has adjusted. The mountain of boxes has dwindled, and we have found electric toothbrushes and tailor’s chalk and many other things we were looking for.

In less than an hour I drive to my new job.  My next-to-last doctoral class will begin in March. The liturgical calendar will tick through the Feast of the Ascension, then Easter, and before I know it, I’ll drag Piney III from the garage (we have a garage..!) and we’ll bedeck him and hang stockings. And yesterday, early in the morning, I refocused on the data analysis for my qualifying paper,  making excellent progress; in future Sundays I’ll resume worshipping at Church of the Tam–barring any  other crises, which in most cases, as I was reminded this Christmas season, are not mine to bar.

 

Two retirements

The Minister's Wife

Yes, this book exists

So there are two retirements in our household today. Sandy is giving her last sermon as a regular, full-time UCC pastor. She isn’t going to stop pastoring, but she’s stepping down and looking forward to consultancies, supply preaching, and interim positions.

I was a child bride… ok, perhaps that’s a mild exaggeration… but I’m a long time from retirement myself. I’m a Boomer with not the greatest retirement portfolio, plenty of years in front of me, and lots of vim and vigor, and LibraryLand will have me around in the full-time regular workforce for a very long time. (And my Uncle Bob, may he rest in peace, worked into his mid-80s, had a stroke on a Friday night, and left this world on Sunday. I may want to kick back in a couple of decades and do other things, like travel and write–but go you, Uncle Bob.)

However, I do get to retire from my role as the pastor’s wife. I do use the word “wife” deliberately, because I think if your spouse is a minister, even if you are the husband, you are the Wife, as in Judy Brady’s wife–the docile, compliant shadow behind the Main Event.

This is not a role I have embraced perhaps as fully as I could have, but in my two decades in this role, it has been a learning experience. I have some very good memories, such as the holiday reception in Albany, New York where I had purchased this well-known locally-smoked ham, and it was so good people stopped being polite and just stood in a circle around this huge joint of meat, hacking away at it and gobbling with abandon. I remember the Christmas open house in Palo Alto; our rental home, a fake Eichler, was so packed I had to slither sideways into the kitchen to refresh the mulled cider. I also have any number of heartwarming moments with children, elderly people, and the sort of folks who end up in churches these days, which is to say people who feel a need for something much larger and older and more organized than themselves.

LibraryLand is all a-buzz these days with the notion of threshold concepts. As I dutifully make an effort to understand this concept, I see it describing a point at which you do not know something, and then you do. And like a bride, you are carried over the threshold, to be forever transformed.

I don’t have any serious objections to freshening up our concepts of how we teach information literacy with this model — it’s certainly better than arguing against library instruction per se, as Michael Gorman did in 1991. (Oh yes, he did! The things you learn skimming bibliographies.) But–and I’m guessing this isn’t antithetical to the whole threshold idea–I do think some thresholds are more like train tracks you walk along for a good long while until the town you were looking for  begins to slowly swim into focus on the horizon.

I don’t recall when the threshold for my awareness of being the minister’s Wife emerged. It’s an interesting place to be. It’s not simply a matter of being that person who sits in the back pew and will do what is asked of her — serving cookies, showing up to help make the holiday jam, folding bulletins, or showing up in a dressy dress and looking interested about the wedding of two people I don’t know and will never hear from again. I am the person people remember to chat with, though never in great depth. I am the one who will not talk back if spoken to sharply;  I have bit my tongue so often I’m surprised I still have one. I am the person most parishioners will forget as soon as we move on.

Threshold theory includes the idea of troublesome knowledge: “the process of crossing the threshold commonly causes some mental and emotional discomfort (troublesome).”  I am the person who a parishioner once asked, “So, you’re the one making the real salary, eh?”and that startling moment caught me because it was an assumption that made so many things clearer to me, and was also — frighteningly for a librarian — true. While these days the trend is not to pay the pastor in “free” housing and a few chickens now and then, but in wages with pension plans, it’s still a profession that usually requires a two-salary household.

Despite the need to make a “real salary,” some unchurched people assume I have the time –and even the obligation — to be the Wife. As noted above, I do within limits, but I also need to focus on doing those things that ensure we have enough money to live on, which mean I am not available to help organize meals for the homeless at 3 pm on a weekday afternoons or joining the knitting group on Thursday mornings.  When I do volunteer for something like coffee hour, it is usually squeezed into a day that began at 6 AM with doctoral homework that will be resumed once I have wiped down the church kitchen counters and folded the tablecloths.

A threshold I crossed many years ago that can also be lost on unchurched people was the need to have my own spiritual life.  In Olden Days, the (male) minister married some darling parishioner, who then moved into the helpmate role — quite a bargain for the church to get a twofer, but in addition to the labor issues, it left these women in a strange place. I have often wondered about the private worlds of these Wives. Did they really see their husbands as their spiritual muses? The patriarchal implications of this arrangement make my toes curl in discomfort (talk about troublesome knowledge!). Who did these women turn to when they needed pastoral care?

Additionally, unchurched people — and some churched people — don’t get the nuance that when I attend Sandy’s church, I am essentially visiting her workplace. Work — even other people’s work — is not a stress-free experience. It’s a worldly place full of personalities and interactions, the stories for which spill over into my life enough to  make what you call a sanctuary often feel to me like an office, with all that entails. I always try to have  a spiritual home elsewhere, someplace I am not the Wife but just me, another parishioner. It feels so different, so unburdened.

The part I have liked about being the Wife has been its narrative stance. I watch church life unfold on its little tableaux, one of the last big volunteer activities in American life. Just like in a good novel, its inhabitants are both predictable and surprising. The Christmas play features an adorable child who will make everyone laugh. A parishioner will die, and the corner of the pew she sat in will remain empty until a clueless new person sits there, breaking the spell.   Parishioners will stand up during Joys and Concerns to share stories of illness, death, life, and global sadness. The same group of elderly women found in every church, temple, and mosque will meet to knit blankets for homeless people and gossip. A baptism, the child held aloft like a prize, will make everyone breathe with hope.

The decades I have spent as the Wife have given me a privileged observer status, one that will continue as Sandy’s ministry continues in new, different ways. I won’t miss the decades where Saturday night was a “school night” for Sandy; only on vacations do we experience secular Sunday life, and I can see its attraction. And for the most part, I won’t miss being the Wife. But I will miss observing people trying to connect with something larger than themselves, with all the awkwardness and challenge and beauty that entails.

Against Shiny

So I need to talk about something on my mind but blurt it out hastily and therefore with less finesse than I’d prefer. There has been a Recent Unpleasantness in LibraryLand where a librarian sued two other librarians for libel. Normally we are a free-speechy sort of group not inclined to sue one another over Things People Said, but as noted in this post by bossladywrites (another academic library director–we are legion), we are not in normal times.  And as Meredith observes in another smart post, it is hard to see the upside of any part of this. Note: I’m not going to discuss the actual details of the lawsuit; I’m more interested in the state of play that got us there. To quote my own tweet:

But first — the context for my run-on sentences and choppy transitions, this being a personal blog and therefore sans an editor to say “stop, stick to topic.” The last two weeks have featured a fender-bender with our Honda where the other driver decided to file a medical claim, presumably for chipping a nail, as you can’t do much damage at 5 mph, even when you are passing on the right and running a stop sign; intense work effort around a mid-year budget adjustment; an “afternoon off” to do homework during which the Most Important Database I needed at that moment was erratic at best; a terrible case of last-minuting by another campus department that should really know better; and the death at home last Saturday of our 18-year-old cat Emma, which included not only the trauma of her departure, but also the mild shame of bargain-shopping for a pet crematorium early last Sunday morning after the first place I called wanted more than I felt would be reasonable for my own cremation.

Now Emma’s ashes are on the shelf with the ashes of Darcy, Dot, and Prada; I am feeling no longer so far behind on homework, though I have a weekend ahead of me that needs to feature less Crazy and more productivity; and I have about 45 minutes before I drive Sandy to a Diabetes Walk, zoom to the Alemany farmer’s market, then settle in for some productive toiling.

It will sound hypocritical for a librarian who has been highly visible for over two decades to say this, but I agree that there is a hyper-rock-stardom afoot in our profession, and I do wonder if bossladywrites isn’t correct that social media is the gasoline over its fire. It does not help when programs designed to help professionals build group project skills have “leader” in the title and become so heavily coveted that librarians publicly gnash teeth and wail if they are not selected, as if their professional lives have been ruined.

It will also sound like the most sour of grapes to say this (not being a Mover & Shaker), and perhaps it is, but there is also a huge element of Shiny in the M&S “award,” which after all is bestowed by an industry magazine and based on a rather casual referral process. There are some well-deserved names mingling with people who are there for reasons such as schmoozing a nomination from another Famous Name (and I know of more than one case of post-nomination regret). Yet being selected for a Library Journal Mover & Shaker automatically labels that person with a gilded status, as I have seen time and again on committees and elsewhere. It’s a magazine, people, not a professional committee.

We own this problem. I have participated in professional activities where it was clear that these titles — and not the performance behind them — fast-tracked librarians for nominations far too premature for their skills. (And no, I am not suggesting the person that brought the suit is an EL–I don’t know that, though I know he was an M&S.) I am familiar with one former EL (not from MPOW!) who will take decades if ever to live up to anything with “leader” in the title, and have watched him get proposed as a candidate for association-wide office–by virtue of being on the magic EL-graduate roster.

Do I think Emerging Leaders is a good program? If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have carved money out of our tiny budget to commit to supporting one at MPOW. Do I think being an EL graduate means you are qualified for just about anything the world might offer, and your poop don’t stink? No, absolutely not. I did not single out one person due  to magical sparkly librarian powers; it had a lot more to do with this being a good fit for that librarian at the time, just as I have helped others at MPOW get into leadership programs, research institutes, information-literacy boot camps, and skill-honing committees. It’s just part of my job.

The over-the-top moment for me with EL was the trading cards. Really? Coronets and fanfare for librarians learning project management and group work? Couldn’t we at least wait until their work was done? Of the tens of thousands of librarians in the U.S. alone, less than one hundred become ELs every year. The vast majority of the remainder are “emerging” just fine in their own right; there are great people doing great work that you will never, ever hear of. Why not just give us all trading cards — yes, every damn librarian? And before you conclude KGS Hates EL, keep in mind I have some serious EL street cred, having not only sponsored an EL but also for successfully proposing GLBTRT’s first EL and making a modest founding donation to its effort to boot.

Then there was ALA’s “invitational summit” last spring where fewer than 100 “thought leaders from the library field” gathered to “begin a national conversation.” Good for them, but as one of the uninvited, I could not resist poking mild fun at this on Twitter, partly for its exclusivity and partly because this “national conversation” was invisible to the rest of the world. I was instantly lathered in Righteous Indignation by some of the chosen people who attended — and not even to my (social network) face, but in the worst passive-aggressive librarian style, through “vaguebook” comments on social networks. (And a la Forrest Gump, the person who brought the lawsuit against the two librarians was at this summit, too, though I give the organizers credit for blending interesting outliers along with the usual suspects.) If you take yourself that seriously, you need a readjustment — perhaps something we can discuss if that conversation is ever launched.

I have a particularly bitter taste in my mouth about the absentee rockstar librarian syndrome because I had one job, eons ago, where I succeeded an absentee leader who had been on the conference circuit for several years, and all the queen’s horses couldn’t put that department together again. There were a slew of other things that were going wrong, but above all, the poor place stank of neglect.  The mark of a real rock star is the ability to ensure that no one back at the ranch ever has any reason to begrudge you your occasional Shiny Moment.  Like the way so many of us learn hard lessons, it gave me pause about my own practices, and caused me to silently beg forgiveness from past organizations for any and all transgressions.

Shiny Syndrome can twist people’s priorities and make the quotidian seem unimportant (along with making them boors at dinner parties, as Meredith recounts). Someone I intensely dislike is attributed with saying that 80 percent of life is showing up, a statement I grudgingly agree is spot-on. When people ask if I would run for some office or serve on some very busy board, or even do a one-off talk across country, I point out that I have a full-time job and am a full-time student (I barely have time to brew beer more than three times a year these days!). But it’s also true that I get a huge amount of satisfaction simply from showing up for work every day, as well as activities that likely sound dull but to me are very exciting, such as shared-print pilots and statewide resource sharing, as well as the interviews I am conducting for a research paper that is part of my doctoral process, a project that has big words like Antecedents in the title but is to me fascinating and rewarding.

I also get a lot of pleasure from professional actions that don’t seem terribly fun, such as pursuing the question of whether there should be a Planning and Budget Assembly, a question that may seem meaningless to some; in fact, at an ALA midwinter social, one Shiny Person belittled me for my actions on PBA to the point where I left the event in tears. Come to think of it, that makes two white men who have belittled me for pursuing the question of PBA, which brings up something Meredith and bossladywrites hint at: the disproportionate number of rockstar librarians who are young, white, and male. They left off age, but I feel that acutely; far too often, “young” is used as a synonym for forward-thinking, tech-savvy, energetic, smart, creative, and showcase-worthy.

I do work in a presentation now and then — and who can complain about being “limited” to the occasional talk in Australia and New Zealand (I like to think “I’m big, really big, in Palmerston North”), though my favorite talk in the last five years was to California’s community college library directors, because they are such a nice group and it was a timely jolt of Vitamin Colleague — but when I do, I end up talking about my work in one way or the other. And one of the most touching moments of my career happened this August when at an event where MPOW acknowledged my Futas Award — something that honors two decades of following Elizabeth Futas’ model of outspoken activism, sometimes at personal risk, sometimes wrongheadedly, sometimes to no effect, but certainly without pause — I realized that some of our faculty thought I was receiving this award for my efforts on behalf of my dear library, as if there were an award for fixing broken bathroom exhaust fans and replacing tables and chairs, activities that along with the doctoral program take up the space where shiny stuff would go. That flash of insight was one of the deepest, purest moments of joy in my professional life. I got to be two people that day: the renegade of my youth, and the macher of my maturity.

Finally, I am now venturing into serious geezer territory, but back in the day, librarians were rock stars for big stuff, like inventing online catalogs, going to jail rather than revealing their patrons’ identities, and desegregating state associations. These days you get your face, if not on the cover of Rolling Stone, as a centerfold in a library magazine, position yourself as a futurist or guru, go ping ping ping all over the social networks, and you’re now at every conference dais. (In private messaging about this topic, I found myself quoting the lyrics from “You’re So Vain.”)

Name recognition has always had its issues (however convenient it is for those of us, like me, who have it). I often comment, and it is not false modesty, that I know some people vote for me for the wrong reasons. I have my areas of competence, but I know that name recognition and living in a state with a large population (as I am wont to do) play a role in my ability to get elected. (Once I get there, I like to think I do well enough, but that is beside the point. A favorite moment of mine, from back when I chaired a state intellectual freedom committee, was a colleague who remarked, clearly surprised, that”you know how to run a meeting!”) And of course, there are rock stars who rock deservedly, and sometimes being outward-facing is just part of the package (and some of us can’t help it — I was that little kid that crazy people walked up to in train stations to gift with hand-knit sweaters, and yes, that really happened). But we seem to have gone into a new space, where a growing percentage of Shiny People are famous for being shiny.  It’s not good for us, and it’s not good for them, and it’s terrible for our profession.

 

The alarming five-year pin

Five-year pinNot long ago I had a back-and-forth with MPOW’s head of HR, who is a great HR head, by the way (and after my spring HR class my admiration for her role deepened–talk about a complex role people take for granted, like, you know, library work). She told me I would be receiving my five-year pin, and I kept insisting it was too early. But in the end I said ok, I will receive my five-year pin, because the day of the ceremony was exactly six months from my five-year anniversary, and also because she wasn’t taking “no” for an answer.

I was startled to get here. Many people have elaborate career plans such as “I’m going to be the dean of an ARL library” or “I’m going to be the interplanetary guru of electronic resources.” My modus operandi has been more along the lines of, “Hey, that looks good,” or “I’m new in town, do you have a job for me?” This baggy approach to personal career management has had spectacularly uneven results, but it did result in my present position, which is an undeniably good fit for me, even, or perhaps especially, on the craziest days.

Everything I said about managerial leadership two years ago still holds, but I continue to have very good lessons-learned, and not all of them learned the hard way. So in the spirit of the ubiquitous listicles on the web, I present my top ten:

* Campus relationships are key. Some years back I wrote a “guest response” piece for ACRL that took a position — likely in the minority — questioning the value of faculty status for librarians. I would soften that view today to say, after the manner of Pope Francis, if it works for your institution, who am I to judge? However, I do stick by the point lurking under my piece: faculty status is not a substitute for building and maintaining strong relations with all stakeholders on campus–not just the faculty, but key departments such as advising, tutoring, writing studios, orientation, admissions, campus ministry, and especially, campus services. My library may be hurting for a renovation, but it’s clean and, for its age, well-maintained.

* Sticking around has value. Those relationships don’t happen overnight, so another happy re-discovery is the joy of longevity. If you’ve been in the same library thirty years you and I may have different definitions for that term, but this job rivals only my job managing Librarians’ Internet Index (RIP) for longevity, assuming we allow for my military service being a series of smaller jobs within a larger eight-year job. People have arrived, served the university well, and departed, all on my watch, and I’ve seen a lot of change, as well as some things come full circle. And I’m still here, plugging away at the big things and the small things alike.

* Managerial leadership can be learned (parts of it, anyway). I have learned a lot on the job. Nevertheless, the doctoral program is helping me from many angles. There is the direct classroom experience of highly practical classes on human resources, strategic finance, managing in a political environment, fundraising, and so on. Then there is the scholarly aspect: research, reading, and writing (rinse, repeat). While  there is no substitute for integrity, common sense, optimism, and collegiality, learning how to write a case statement for fundraising is not a bad thing at all.

* The organization comes first. This rule manifests itself in many ways big and small. The boss gotta be the boss.  I prefer to ask “How?” or say “Not now, but let’s find a way to do this,” but sometimes “no” is the correct answer. If a key stakeholder relationship has been damaged, I need to repair it, even if I have to grovel (and trust me, I’ve groveled). If constructive feedback is warranted, I need to provide it (though constant positive feedback is crucial, too). Using Heifetz’ analogy, it’s up to me to clamber up to the balcony every now and then to see what’s happening on the dance floor, and then adjust as needed.

* Do what needs doing. Every institution has its own reality. In our case, I found myself writing an evacuation procedure, purchasing additional emergency response gear in case the lower level was not accessible, and leading the entire library, including student workers, in active-shooter training.  I also ensure we regularly update a small printout of everyone’s non-MPOW phone numbers and email so we can contact one another in emergencies. Was all of that “my” job? Yes, some of it was, but more importantly, it is my job to ensure we are prepared for emergencies, and human safety is non-negotiable.

Make sure you’ve fulfilled the bottom rung of Maslow’s Hierarchy. In addition to improving our emergency response, in the last two years I’ve done what I could to make staff more comfortable and productive. The staff area, carved from a former “processing room,” is aesthetically sad, with worn cubicle panels, ugly tile, and hideous cabinets, but I patiently championed adding overhead fans to the staff area, which has increased staff comfort, and this summer the head of library IT and I built a “seated cost” budget plan to help us ensure staff are adequately equipped for their roles, with scheduled upgrades we can plan and budget for each year. Little things — a full-size fridge, a Keurig, a hydration station for filling water bottles — make a difference.

* Do what you can, and keep trying. As I wrote in 2012, I need to be mercilessly optimistic. Management and leadership have a certain household-laundry quality, with perpetual problems and challenges that mean the last sock is never washed. There are some big things that may not happen on my watch. But I don’t stop developing proposals and plans for improving the library that I share with key stakeholders, and this readiness, plus a variety of creative relationships, have led to improvements to the library, beginning with a refresh of the computers in that aging lab, on to a new reading area, to the first refresh of the furniture on the main level in the library’s 56 years. We’ve also increased our workforce in five years, and for that I can be justly proud, because our services define us.

Have fun with the silly stuff. Several months ago, the library — specifically, another librarian and I — were pulled into an elaborate time-sink of a project to secure permissions for an anthology of prayers and poetry the university will be self-publishing. I am here to tell you that most copyright workshops stop short of the truly practical guidance for permissions: how to chase down, stalk, wheedle, negotiate, and beg your way to get permissions for material, or even how to go back in a time machine, to when you first got wind of such a project, to insist that submissions be accompanied by little things such as authors, titles, and publishers. But as much as I grumble that this isn’t what I planned to do this summer, the reality is that our efforts are greatly appreciated, our guru-ness in copyright is further solidified, and the end result will be good.

Get (and maintain) a life. I have a loving spouse, two amusing cats, and a variety of interests, and oh yeah, a doctoral program.  I have heard about directors that work from dawn into the wee hours seven days a week, but I don’t know that their libraries are run any better than mine. I definitely put in my dues; I’m always the director, 24×7, and some periods are busier than others. But I’m no good to the institution if I’m frazzled and depleted. This has  also made me very selective with my speaking and conference activities, in part because I don’t want to be an absent boss, and also because catch-up is hell. Every once in a while I dose myself with “vitamin colleague,” checking in with peer directors for a phone call, Skype, or lunch, because there is some stuff I just can’t share with anyone else.

* Be fully present. Above, I referred to things happening “on my watch.” I have observed some directors take a job with their eyes fixed on their future goal (see above, “wanna be an ARL director”). I have seen others turn into what we called in the Air Force ROADies (for Retired On Active Duty). The sweet spot for me is to get in early every day, be present as much as possible, and be actively engaged with my role as library leader.

It’s possible to renew your present-ness. Last fall was a tough time: the second semester of the doctoral program was grueling, and there were other things going on at work that zombified me. I felt, later on, that I had checked out, even if I still got things done. But that was then and this is now. Nearly every day I drive through the gates of the university with a sense of anticipation;  to quote Thelma in Thelma and Louise, “I don’t ever remember feeling this awake.” (And if you’re tempted to make the inevitable “driving off a cliff” comment, remember that Thelma and Louise were choosing a life framed by that level of being present.) I am captaining a ship sailing toward our library’s vision, with my eye on the horizon as well as the decks, and I can feel the engines pulling us toward our future. It feels good.

ALA Annual 2014: Go on, Y’all

So some of you have probably heard I’m receiving the American Library Association Elizabeth Futas Catalyst for Change award, something that simultaneously  embarrasses and pleases me. The Awards Ceremony will be Sunday, June 29, 3:30- 4:00 p.m. – LVCC – N249. I would love to see you there, dear reader, but people have so many places to be at a conference. (Of course, showing up early for the awards means you get a good seat for Lois Lowry!) Your good thoughts are what are most important to me,  after Sandy being there — the most important thing. I am deeply  humbled to get this award and hope to keep honoring it for the rest of my career.

Here’s the rest of my schedule. I’m not on any committees or units until after Annual other than Council and Planning and Budget Assembly.  I’m looking forward to tripping the light fantastic with Sandy at ALA, serving on Council, and catching up with friends. On other fronts: work is good, school is good, life is good. I started my fourth semester at Simmons in late May. Like the third semester, it feels comfortable: a lot of work, but good work, without any confusion or stress.

Events that are a given are marked with an asterisk.

Ask the Experts: Discover key strategies for successful academic library fundraising
Saturday, 06/28/2014 – 08:30am – 10:00am
Caesars Palace – Pompeian I

Executive Board Meeting (GLBTRT) – stop in to observe
Saturday, 06/28/2014 – 08:30am – 11:30am
Las Vegas Convention Center – N229

ACRL President’s Program: Financial Literacy at Your Library
Saturday, 06/28/2014 – 10:30am – 12:00pm
Las Vegas Convention Center – N255/257
Presidents program

Assessment Discussion Group
Saturday, 06/28/2014 – 01:00pm – 02:30pm
Las Vegas Convention Center – N110
Discussion/Interest group
Join us for a lively discussion about assessment and its role in academic library success!

* ALA Council/Executive Board/Membership Information Session
Saturday, 06/28/2014 – 03:00pm – 04:30pm
Las Vegas Hotel – Paradise North

* LIAL11 Meetup
Saturday, 06/28/2014 – 05:00pm – 06:30pm
Firefly, 9560 W Sahara Ave, Las Vegas

* Simmons Reception
Saturday, 06/28/2014 – 07:00pm – 08:30pm
LVH – Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, Suite 2983 3000 Paradise Rd.

* Super-secret Dinner Group
Saturday, 06/28/2014 – 07:30pm – 10:00pm

* ALA Council I
Sunday, 06/29/2014 – 08:30am – 11:00am
Las Vegas Hotel – Paradise North

* Award Rehearsal
Sunday, 06/29/2014 – 11:45am – 12:30pm
LVCC – N249

* ALA Planning & Budget Assembly (PBA)
Sunday, 06/29/2014 – 01:00pm – 02:30pm
Las Vegas Hotel – Pavilion 04

* ALA Award Photo Session
Sunday, 06/29/2014 – 02:15pm – 03:30pm
LVCC- N263c

* ALA Award Ceremony
Sunday, 06/29/2014 – 03:30pm – 04:00pm
LVCC – N249

* ALA President’s Program featuring Lois Lowry
Sunday, 06/29/2014 – 04:00pm – 05:30pm
Las Vegas Convention Center – N249

* Awards Reception
Sunday, 06/29/2014 – 05:30pm – 07:00pm
Las Vegas Convention Center Room – N263C

* Social (GLBTRT)
Sunday, 06/29/2014 – 06:00pm – 08:00pm
The Center, 401 S. Maryland Pkwy, Las Vegas, NV 89101
http://www.thecenterlv.org/

ALA Council Forum I
Sunday, 06/29/2014 – 08:30pm – 10:00pm
Las Vegas Hotel – Ballroom F

* ALA Council II
Monday, 06/30/2014 – 08:30am – 11:30am
Las Vegas Hotel – Paradise North

Stonewall Book Awards Brunch (GLBTRT)
Monday, 06/30/2014 – 10:30am – 02:00pm
Paris – Champagne 1

Speaking About ‘The Speaker’
Monday, 06/30/2014 – 01:00pm – 02:30pm
Las Vegas Convention Center – N253
Program

* Beverage with A.
Monday, 06/30/2014 – 05:30pm – 06:30pm

ALA Council Forum II
Monday, 06/30/2014 – 08:30pm – 10:00pm
Las Vegas Hotel – Ballroom F
Other
This meeting allows councilors an opportunity to discuss issues that they will face during this conference.

* ALA Council III
Tuesday, 07/01/2014 – 07:45am – 09:15am
Las Vegas Hotel – Paradise North
Other
This is a meeting of the governing and policy making body of the association.

 

Next steps for PBA: Thoughts from one of “these people”

I had three sustained comments regarding the survey and analysis conducted this spring on the future of ALA’s Planning and Budget Assembly. The first comment, from an ALA thought leader I deeply respect, was to consider providing recommendations — hence, this post. The second was a thoughtful reflection on the Connect post.

The third comment, from a BARC representative, had me take a deep breath for a month:

“Honestly, I am incredulous that so much effort has been exerted on this issue.  Do these people have nothing more useful to do?”

As I politely explained to Mr. Big Britches, that is precisely the point. As one of “these people,” I do have better things to do than shuffle into a meeting room, spend nearly an hour in “introductions,” and then hear the same high-level budget information I just heard at Council.

In its current incarnation, PBA is intended to  be seen and not heard. This is an assembly that provides the gloss of transparency with none of the pesky mechanisms for meaningful input. As currently structured, PBA is a meeting designed (unintentionally or otherwise) to preclude meaningful analysis, discussion, and input. Requests for even the simplest communication mechanisms are rebuffed: though 97 percent of current PBA members believe a discussion list would be useful, again and again we are given quibbly reasons why it hasn’t been created. The only other communication mechanism provided to PBA is  a Connect group. My goodness, if I established the Tote Bag Roundtable, ALA would give it a list.

PBA meetings are time in my life I’ll never get back again. I am not expendable, and neither are the 85 other people who agree to serve on this assembly.  We don’t need to be condescended to with a sinecure; I look around at PBA meetings, and these are people who are making ALA happen. Equally meaningfully, I do not believe ALA’s budget and planning process would be harmed by more input from informed stakeholders.

Finally, ALA is not in any financial position to hang on to things that aren’t serving the needs of the membership. As I have said in countless keynotes, times of financial hardship offer opportunities for “controlled burns,” where we can kill off anything that isn’t relevant and can’t be coaxed into relevance.  The survey makes clear that PBA needs to improve or die — it’s that simple.

Here are my personal thoughts about the future of PBA. But what do others think? I’d like to hear from current and past PBA members, former treasurers, BARC, and Board members, what they think. Is it time to ask the big question: kill it or improve it?

If PBA is retained, it needs better ROI for its members and for ALA:
  • Establish a discussion list (97% of current PBA members agree ALA should do this
  • Provide new-member orientation
  • Restructure the assembly to create a leadership role
  • Hold PBA “town halls” prior to ALA; save meetings at ALA for real discussion
  •  Provide more, and better, budget input
  • Restructure PBA so it has a leader
If PBA is dissolved:
     There is value to disseminating high-level budget information to the stakeholders described by PBA.  Hold budget and planning “town halls” prior to ALA. Invite the same groups, just don’t call it an assembly, and dispense with any claim that PBA has a role in the budget and planning process.  If an opportunity comes up to engage a broader group of stakeholders, do it on an ad hoc basis.
I am contemplating a resolution for ALA Council to dissolve PBA. The reason I hesitate is I cannot find any positives to state in the “whereas” clauses. Whereas, ALA suffers from a surplus of informed input? Whereas, you are wasting our time?  Ironically, I may not be able to attend PBA, as I’m attending an awards ceremony on Sunday, but of course, there are no repercussions for not attending PBA — which tells you something right there. I’ll definitely be at Council, of course.
Comments? Thoughts? Oh — and big thanks to two other “these people,” Aaron Dobbs and Dr. Karen Downing, for their work on delivering and analyzing the PBA survey. Mr. Big Britches is correct: we all have plenty of other things to do with our time, and it took an extra huff of effort to get this survey analyzed before ALA’s spring meetings. But we care enough about ALA — the institution, and the people it represents — to dig deep and find that slice of time to make this happen.

FYI on PBA at ALA

Liberty Bell - from Wikipedia

Liberty Bell – from Wikipedia

I stayed in Philadelphia past ALA Midwinter for my third-semester doctoral program intensive until today, Sunday, February 2, so I’m just getting around to my post-ALA blogging.  What I’m writing about tonight, on my flight back to SFO, is a bit wonky. But stick with me, because if you’re an ALA member, it matters.

ALA has a unit called the Planning and Budget Assembly. Despite serving three previous terms on Council, I really never gave PBA much thought until last summer when I agreed to run for a position as one of its ALA Council representatives, who are elected by our Council peers. My interest was really piqued when an ALA member I respect greatly took me aside to warn me not to waste my time on PBA. I almost took that advice, but in the end, I’m glad I pressed on anyway.

I was swept into office with a grand 93 votes–hey, you laugh, but I was the top vote-getter. (I recited that from memory while composing this over  sluggish in-flight wifi, and now I am worrying there will be a scandal in which it turns out I actually received 91 votes and will have to go on an Apology Tour.)

The charge to PBA is “To assist the ALA Executive Board and the Budget Analysis and Review Committee (BARC), there shall be a Planning and Budget Assembly which shall consist of one representative of each division, ALA committee, round table, and five councilors-at-large and five councilors from chapters.” There are other fiscal units–besides BARC, a very important fiscal unit is the Finance and Audit Committee of ALA’s Executive Board–but PBA does, after all, exist, at least on paper.

First, I’d like to point out how huge PBA is. At least by headcount, it’s about 80 delegates, not including ALA staff. Additionally, the PBA assembly, taken together, is comprised of some of the best, most seasoned minds in ALA. I am in complete awe of the potential force of this assembly, and in theory, I could learn quite a bit from the questions they ask or the observations they make. Based on both their ALA work and the work they do in their libraries, they are extremely well-positioned to provide commentary and planning advice on ALA’s next steps in light of the fiscal challenges ALA has faced in the past five-plus years of recession and changing information patterns: staffing cutbacks, frozen salaries, creeping workload, sinking revenues.

But PBA’s rather exceptional group of people is not actually empowered to do anything other than be herded into a room twice a year and then read condensed highlights from various reports (reports, no less, that a number of us have already had read to us at Saturday’s Council/Executive Board/Membership Information Session).

It’s diagnostic of PBA’s dilemma that there is no onboarding for PBA, its charge is vague, and there’s no direction for what PBA is to do once it has attended these twice-yearly meetings. For ALA Midwinter, a PBA meeting that everyone knew would attract strong participation, we had a one-hour session in which we were squeezed into a  room for a group half our size, asked to do introductions (which of course took a while), then read to from reports that had been read from at Saturday’s . We had exactly 5 minutes at the end for “discussion.”

Structurally, there’s no way this assembly of close to 100 people can use this format to “assist” other ALA units.  Symbolically, the message is clear: PBA is to be seen and not heard.

Other shenanigans have bordered on silly. PBA members have no easy method for communicating as a group. We are emailed in a couple of reply-all batches. When I asked ALA several weeks back to create a Sympa discussion list for PBA, I encountered pushback.

I get that every new mailing list creates overhead, but PBA is the only governance unit denied such a list, and far more human labor has been spent stonewalling the creation of this discussion list than would have been expended just making it happen. Why, you’d think they were concerned about some activist PBA member stirring the pot and encouraging PBA members to, you know, talk amongst themselves about the future of PBA! I was assured at Midwinter that ALA will in fact create a discussion list, and I’ll let you know if that does or doesn’t happen.

In any event, it’s time to make PBA useful or kill it off. As I wrote on Council list, “I don’t want to speak for everyone on Council, but it seems safe to say that there was general agreement that the Planning and Budget Assembly has untapped potential, and that its present composition and charge and how that charge is interpreted and acted upon are not useful to ALA or to the members of the assembly. In particular, to paraphrase something Mary Ghikas said months back, PBA’s potential role in planning has not been leveraged. To be more blunt, you’re welcome to dismiss me but don’t also waste my time while you’re doing it.

But the good news about PBA is, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, there is a fork in the road, and we plan to take it.

Council has informal sessions it calls Forums. These sessions, which are open meetings, are opportunities to discuss matters before Council in a relaxed, conversational manner, outside the framework of parliamentary procedure. Council Forum II, held Monday night, concluded with an extremely resonant, thoughtful, and engaged conversation about PBA.  Maybe it’s a question of my own personal motivation—I have spent a year asking questions about the ALA budget, starting in January 2013 when I expressed concern about projected revenues from RDA—but I felt really attuned to the conversation that flowed among  former treasurers, Executive Board members, BARC-ers, and new and seasoned Councilors.

I originally thought I would head to Council Forum II with a proposal for a presidential task force on fiscal communication. But I forced myself to spend a few hours reviewing earlier ALA presidential task forces, and I learned something worth heeding: if you want to keep membership at bay on an issue, form a presidential task force. Let them have their meetings, their special sessions, their lovely dinners. Let them spend years crafting their long, carefully-considered reports. The recommendations rarely get implemented. It was disturbing to confirm another Councilor’s observation that one task force we had served on for two years had simply disappeared into an ALA Vortex.

Thinking a presidential task force is going to “fix” an ALA issue is like thinking a dues increase is going to have a significant impact on ALA’s fiscal situation. You do realize that the long-debated dues increase voted in last year will only marginally affect the ebb and tide of ALA’s revenue/expenditure stream? Ah, maybe you only thought dues made a huge difference.  Dues matter, but only to a point, and are eclipsed by other revenue streams. For example, almost half of ALA’s revenue comes from publishing.

Instead, I dialed back to a proposal for a simple resolution specific to PBA to be brought to Council, and that, among many other things, is what will be moving forward. LITA Councilor Aaron Dobbs and I are co-workerbees on this project, and we’ve already begun developing timelines and deliverables. There will be widening circles of engagement and crowdsourcing, from us to PBA to Council and beyond. A rough preliminary goal is to have a resolution ready for BARC and other units to discuss at ALA’s spring meetings in April. In addition to round-robining versions of this resolution, we’re hoping to hold a virtual Council Forum session before then to get additional input.

There are ancillary ideas that may emerge in parallel with this work. For example, I keep floating the idea of holding the Council/Executive Board/Membership Information Session online, at least two weeks prior to ALA. We have the technology to do this, and “flipping” this session would give people a chance to hear, process, think, ask a few questions, and come prepared to have real conversations about ALA.  In the Council Forum discussion, wise librarians of all ages also shared ideas and insights about what they would like to see from fiscal documents, and we were also reminded of the excellent ALA Financial Learning series of short videos.

 Not everyone thinks my focus on PBA and ALA’s fiscal condition is a good idea; I heard as much from one colleague at Midwinter.  But I can tell you that based on the phone calls and email and meetups I have had over the past year with people I truly respect—many of whom have currently or previously held distinguished positions among the ALA membership—engaging with the problem of how members engage with ALA in the budget and planning processes is an honorable investment of effort.