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Changing ALA: a meeting is a meeting, except when it’s not

Earlier I observed that in one part of its policy manual ALA attempted to redefine “meeting” in order to include some virtual functions, but that the definition was too literal.

(Incidentally, there is a truism floating around that it takes “two votes of Council” to change policy. No, that’s only true for changes to the constitution and bylaws; policy changes take one vote — and there are ways to route around Council. More later.)

Yet the policy elsewhere contradicts itself. 7.4.1 says a meeting can take place electronically, but 4.5 says that for the sake of committee work, only face-to-face attendance counts:

With the exception of virtual members, members of all ALA and unit committees are expected to attend all meetings. Failure to attend two consecutive meetings or groups of meetings (defined as all meetings of a committee that take place at one Midwinter Meeting or Annual Conference) without an explanation acceptable to the committee chair constitutes grounds for removal upon request by the chair to and approval of the appropriate appointing official or governing board. (ALA Policy 4.5 Requirements for Committee Service)

Intriguingly, the ALA Executive Board — the actual governing board, to which Council delegates control of the association — conducts much of its work electronically; it couldn’t do its work otherwise. (Its primary technology is called the telephone, though I wouldn’t be surprised to learn they also use email.)

So 4.5 isn’t about the ability to conduct committee work through other means than face-to-face meetings; it’s about forcing people to meet face-to-face — which is about protecting Midwinter, a crucial revenue stream.

Elsewhere, Jason Griffey takes an interesting stab at reverse-engineering Midwinter costs and revenue; I think he needs better budget data, but it’s a good start at tackling the premise that ALA has to meet face-to-face twice a year in order to survive, an assumption that needs close examination from a wide swath of the membership.

Personally, I’d prefer an ALA conference that was much less enforced-meeting and far more human networking, meeting with vendors, useful programs, inspiring speeches, and interesting cities (here we can pause to reflect on the idea of flying to Anaheim next year — a conference location with all the class of microwave popcorn). I’d pay more to attend a great conference once a year than to schlep myself to two places twice a year. I know a few folks say conferences are “too expensive,” but we’ll always hear that.

Reality check: ALA conference fees are extremely low. I wonder if we raised conference dues 50% or more, made Annual the only face-to-face conference, and monetized virtual activities (including finding ways for vendors to peddle wares) if it wouldn’t be much more profitable for ALA and better for the rest of us.

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