Skip to content

The ALA Handbook of Organization

Do you know what that book even is? It’s a 200-plus page handbook automatically distributed to every ALA member who is on a committee or in some governance role (for example, on Council). It is also a sacred cow, a third rail of Council, at least where the idea of producing it any other way comes up.

Yet printing and distributing the handbook costs $50,000 per year.

In 2004, ALA proposed to stop printing the handbook. At annual conference 2004, Council did not get to the resolution that would have stopped ALA. That was Council’s choice: it could have rearranged its agenda, but chose not to, assuming that 175 Councilors collapsing on the fainting couch would be enough to ensure continued production of the Handbook (after all, this whole discussion took place days after you all went home from the conference). Sure enough, this year, ALA again printed and distributed the Handbook. This, though in 2006 ALA members will be asked to approve a 30% dues increase.

I’m in favor of the dues increase, to a point. I’m not in favor of increasing dues while ALA is demonstrating its unwillingness to let go of old things to make way for new. I’m also not in favor of increasing dues while continuing a fiscally unwise, environmentally unsustainable service that benefits a few members even though all must pay for it.

I’m also feeling that same button pushed that I have felt in most traditional libraries, when a change in service is proposed and librarians, quite frankly, freak out. Receipt printers. Closing the card catalog. Internet. Helping patrons with computers. Never mind what’s actually best for the mission: It’s Not The Way We’ve Always Done It. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

But I digress. With respect to the Handbook, there are a number of alternatives to business as usual:

1. Repurpose the handbook and offer it online in formats that are easy to use–smaller chunks, in HTML, that can be viewed online, downloaded to laptops and computers, or printed off as needed. (The handbook is currently available online, behind the membership wall, as a single, large PDF.)

2. Make the handbook self-supporting: charge for it. Anyone who wants it would have to buy it. Subscriptions could even be signed up for in advance, like a yearbook. (Courtesy of Councilor Melora Ranney from Maine.)

3. Make receipt of the handbook opt-in. It would have to be proactively requested.

Other ideas? Do you agree that the Handbook should cease dead-tree production?

Posted on this day, other years: