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First Anniversary of the ALA Web Site Roll-Out

ALA rolled out its redesigned Web site on April 7, 2003. It wasn’t the best day in ALA’s history. The site was a debacle: a lot of content was missing, the design was confusing, the search engine was worse than terrible, and as the week unfolded, we found many, many other problems.

The worst part of the Web site roll-out was that ALA initially rebuffed members’ comments, which ranged from mild puzzlement to howls of pain. Our own Council, our elected body, was initially complacent and quiet. It took a revolution of e-mail messages and postings to sway ALA’s thoughts and make it realize that the new Web site was, if not exactly FUBAR, well on that road.

It might not be readily apparent from the site, but ALA has come a long way in the past year. I don’t just mean the technical improvements, which move along at a glacial pace, but are indeed in work. ALA restored a lot of the “disappeared” content, made some minor but crucial usability changes to the site, and even has a search engine consultant (and a good one, at that) working with them to help them select and implement the right tool. That’s all well and good. But along the way, something else happened. Council is more interested in ALA’s technology. Executive Board members know to ask about technical improvements, and follow up on these questions in their monthly meetings with the Executive Director. And elsewhere in the organization, there appears to be more of a focus on technology, and more effort to integrate technology into the association. We now have a priority list that ALA staff, governance, and committee members can review and discuss.

When I first became involved in the ALA Web site mishagosh, my mantra was “we cannot change ALA, but we can improve the Web site.”

I still think that’s true, but I’m pleased to see examples (and I hope no one on ALA staff takes offense) where ALA has clearly taken action to move itself forward. Like most big organizations, it’s a slow-moving barge that is hard to turn mid-stream, and as an ALA staff member once said to me, “Karen, there is a reason we call them ‘divisions.'” Considering all of that, and that ALA had way underinvested in technology for a very long time, and still doesn’t spend what it could, and probably never will, we’ve seen a lot of good things happen in the past year. We have a long way to go, and ALA will always be more reactive than proactive. Nonetheless, I predict continued good things. (And if I have guessed correctly, that new search engine will rock.)

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