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Changing ALA: redefining the notion of work

For some time I’ve observed that ALA’s rules about virtual members box us into face-to-face meetings for the “work of the association”:

Virtual members of committees or task forces have the right to attend meetings, participate in debate, and make motions. Virtual members are not counted in determining the quorum nor do they have the right to vote. (ALA Policy 6.1.6)

However, while diligently plowing through ALA’s policy manual, constitution, and bylaws, I was reminded that the definition of committee work — embedded in the definition of a “meeting” — creates its own issues:

A meeting is an official assembly, for any length of time following a designated starting time, of the members of any board, committee, task force,commission, etc., during which the members do not separate except for a recess and in which the assembly has the capacity to formalize decisions. Conference calls, Internet chat sessions (and their equivalents), and in-person meetings are recognized as meeting subject to the open meetings policy (ALA Policy 7.4.4). (Asynchronous electronic discussions by electronic mail or other asynchronous communication methods do not constitute meetings because they are not an official assembly with a designated starting time.) (ALA Policy 7.4.1)

This policy in its earliest form was no doubt born at a time when it was inconceivable to imagine conducting work other than face to face. As time went by, other ideas were awkwardly shoveled into the policy to attempt to address modern work behavior. It’s not a malevolent policy, but (along with how we define “virtual membership” and “open meeting”) it is anachronistic.

In fact, you could rewrite that policy section all day and all night and it would continue to fall short of the mark, because what’s missing is the idea that committee work can be continuous and incremental — and conducted by email, among other media — and yet observable and open.

The all-important “sunshine clause” in ALA policy is in another section:

Notice of meetings held outside of Annual Conference and Midwinter Meeting must be announced ten days prior to the meeting and the results of the meeting must be made public no fewer than 30 days after the meeting’s conclusion. Reports of meetings held outside of Annual Conference and Midwinter Meeting should convey a summary of the discussion of each item considered by the assembly and the decision made. (7.4.2, Meetings Outside of Annual Conference and the Midwinter Meeting.)

If we changed “meetings” to “active work” and “votes,” we’d have all the sunshine we really needed — and section 7.4.1 becomes almost superfluous. In fact, modifying 7.4.2 would be an improvement on how we do things now, because so many ALA units are conducting committee work electronically — but because this work isn’t recognized for what it is or included in the narrower idea of “meetings,” these committees they have no means (and for that matter, no incentive) to advise ALA members that they are conducting work or making decisions.

I’m hoping to address more of these “change ALA” topics over the next week or so. Anyone may copy this content anywhere useful (e.g. a wiki, mailing list, etc.).

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