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ALA Council: Letting it Go, Hoping it Grows

As a number of people have learned, I stepped down as LITA Councilor due to the budget crisis for my organization. It’s a case where 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. I am attending ALA and PLA just long enough to present about My Place Of Work (Thursday morning through Friday afternoon for PLA), but beyond those drive-by visits, attending conferences is pretty high up Maslow’s Hierarchy for me.

I appreciate Meredith’s comments about “martyrdom and ALA.” Her words were kind when I was feeling sad (I try to stay perky but of course I sometimes feel a little discouraged), and they also reflect my own beliefs about participation. Meredith also astutely gathered that my focus these days is elsewhere.

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.

I sent the following comments off-list (since I’m no longer on the list, but have read-only access to it). I’m reposting them here, only slightly altered. I started by saying that no one reasonably expects Council to stop meeting face to face, and no one is proposing that it become a 24×7 virtual Council working year-round. Some of the most fundamental changes Council has to make are between the ears of a few strategic Councilors. One of the most significant changes isn’t really technology-based at all.

My ideas:

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 suggestioning. As for one Councilor’s comment regarding facial expressions, while I’m not advocating we dismember f2f contact, I can barely see my hands in the gloom of most Council chambers, and as Leslie has 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 (except for those of us instant-messaging during Council–and hey, if you don’t like it, start doing it; you’ll come over my way!). Plus to many of us who have friends around the world we know from IM, 🙂 is good enough.

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. Look at Council 3’s agenda for the last five years: how much of that needed to be GENERATED at ALA–versus getting final (truly substantive) f2f discussion? Why are we “deliberating” the half-ingested, random, often belated thoughts extruded from committees? If Barb Stripling can get her 65% resolution workshopped before ALA, why can’t we all operate that way? (Then maybe we can start thinking about taking action on exceptional circumstances between conferences, and it’s equally absurd that we, a society of information professionals, can’t do that. The ability to take action does not turn us into a 24×7 Council overnight.)

Note that all that #2 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 what they will be deliberating at ALA. Plus 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 (OMG!!!! We’ll have to spend millions of dollars on video cameras and we’ll all be doing council business 24×7…!!!!). 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. See #1. At the very least, it would end the mystery of how we got to some of our votes. *I* don’t even get the Alito vote, and the dude scares me big-time.

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’d also end the war in Iraq, and eliminate the AMT. Just for the record.)

I happen 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!

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