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Council Resolution on Electronic List Participation

Dear ALA Council,

As a former ALA Councilor I’d be very appreciative if someone forwarded my comments to the list.

I know through various sources, including talk on the Council list, that  Council is considering a resolution to require that ALA’s discussion lists be open.

Personally, I see no harm and only good from this resolution. Some of it ties into a post I wrote last year about why electronic participation needs to be legalized, not decriminalized.

I realize there is a de facto practice to keep open lists open (as in read-only), much as any member can sit in on a face-to-face meeting. I also know that in keeping with practices for face-to-face meetings, closed discussions are kept private (e.g. book awards). However, I agree this should be codified. ALA is light-years behind the rest of the world in “virtual sunshine” and we are long overdue for a change. This resolution would signal to our membership that we do have a commitment to electronic participation.

It certainly won’t hurt to make it clear (perhaps in an accompanying document) what “open” means: ALA members can browse, search, and read list traffic for all open discussion lists; lists are findable and announced by ALA. Lists should only be closed for reasons that ALA discussions are closed (state reasons, etc.). though really this can be elucidated in accompanying guidance.

Language for this resolution can be tightened as follows: make reference to ALA-managed discussion lists (which would exclude casual personal lists, such as Gina mentioned); exclude lists used for closed discussions (this has already been covered in discussion); and here’s a big hidden biggy: *ensure list archives are fully searchable.*

The last time I searched the Council list I ran into a retrieval limit; I was trying to retrieve posts I had written and I wasn’t coming up at all (I’ve served three terms on Council). I wrote ALA and was told that the search function was limited to how far back it can retrieve items; there also seems to be some configuration issues. This is just absurd—and of course such limitations interfere with how “open” a list really is. If you want to see this in action, try searching the Council archives for “schneider.” A basic search retrieves nothing, despite my, what, 8 years on Council?  Only by doing an advanced search month-by-month can you retrieve (some) results. Well, if you knew what month and year someone had said something you wouldn’t need to search the list.

I disagree that this resolution would affect small convenience lists set up by individuals for casual off-committee discussion, any more than two or three people talking in a hallway at a conference constitute an “open meeting”  that triggers all the rules that apply to such. In any event, you can’t ever really prevent “meetings outside meetings” — I’ve participated in one division where it was obvious all the real decisions took place earlier, in personal discussions — though ideally these casual discussions would find their way back onto the lists.

I know ALA is planning an upgrade to Sympa 5.3 in February. ALA ITTS should be able to advise whether that will address this problem.

It would be a nice goal to make ALA discussion lists OAI-harvestable, and I’d also like to see ALA’s new usability person, when hired, address the confusing Sympa interface, but let’s not go hog-wild.

Council may have a number of people available to help craft this resolution (and thanks to Mary Ghikas for her helpful input), but I volunteer myself, should assistance be required.

I am a member of the Task Force on Electronic Meeting Participation but am not speaking as such. (The chair and one other member have posted their own thoughts to Council list.) As I said on the task force list, it’s my opinion that the work in this area must take place on several fronts, and will happen piecemeal, incrementally,  and sometimes extralegally, and that a task force can ever only be part of that effort, and in some cases must follow the membership in the direction it is headed. I applaud Melora Ranney for taking this to Council, and encourage Council to support an amended version of this resolution.

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