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Next steps for PBA: Thoughts from one of “these people”

I had three sustained comments regarding the survey and analysis conducted this spring on the future of ALA’s Planning and Budget Assembly. The first comment, from an ALA thought leader I deeply respect, was to consider providing recommendations — hence, this post. The second was a thoughtful reflection on the Connect post.

The third comment, from a BARC representative, had me take a deep breath for a month:

“Honestly, I am incredulous that so much effort has been exerted on this issue.  Do these people have nothing more useful to do?”

As I politely explained to Mr. Big Britches, that is precisely the point. As one of “these people,” I do have better things to do than shuffle into a meeting room, spend nearly an hour in “introductions,” and then hear the same high-level budget information I just heard at Council.

In its current incarnation, PBA is intended to  be seen and not heard. This is an assembly that provides the gloss of transparency with none of the pesky mechanisms for meaningful input. As currently structured, PBA is a meeting designed (unintentionally or otherwise) to preclude meaningful analysis, discussion, and input. Requests for even the simplest communication mechanisms are rebuffed: though 97 percent of current PBA members believe a discussion list would be useful, again and again we are given quibbly reasons why it hasn’t been created. The only other communication mechanism provided to PBA is  a Connect group. My goodness, if I established the Tote Bag Roundtable, ALA would give it a list.

PBA meetings are time in my life I’ll never get back again. I am not expendable, and neither are the 85 other people who agree to serve on this assembly.  We don’t need to be condescended to with a sinecure; I look around at PBA meetings, and these are people who are making ALA happen. Equally meaningfully, I do not believe ALA’s budget and planning process would be harmed by more input from informed stakeholders.

Finally, ALA is not in any financial position to hang on to things that aren’t serving the needs of the membership. As I have said in countless keynotes, times of financial hardship offer opportunities for “controlled burns,” where we can kill off anything that isn’t relevant and can’t be coaxed into relevance.  The survey makes clear that PBA needs to improve or die — it’s that simple.

Here are my personal thoughts about the future of PBA. But what do others think? I’d like to hear from current and past PBA members, former treasurers, BARC, and Board members, what they think. Is it time to ask the big question: kill it or improve it?

If PBA is retained, it needs better ROI for its members and for ALA:
  • Establish a discussion list (97% of current PBA members agree ALA should do this
  • Provide new-member orientation
  • Restructure the assembly to create a leadership role
  • Hold PBA “town halls” prior to ALA; save meetings at ALA for real discussion
  •  Provide more, and better, budget input
  • Restructure PBA so it has a leader
If PBA is dissolved:
     There is value to disseminating high-level budget information to the stakeholders described by PBA.  Hold budget and planning “town halls” prior to ALA. Invite the same groups, just don’t call it an assembly, and dispense with any claim that PBA has a role in the budget and planning process.  If an opportunity comes up to engage a broader group of stakeholders, do it on an ad hoc basis.
I am contemplating a resolution for ALA Council to dissolve PBA. The reason I hesitate is I cannot find any positives to state in the “whereas” clauses. Whereas, ALA suffers from a surplus of informed input? Whereas, you are wasting our time?  Ironically, I may not be able to attend PBA, as I’m attending an awards ceremony on Sunday, but of course, there are no repercussions for not attending PBA — which tells you something right there. I’ll definitely be at Council, of course.
Comments? Thoughts? Oh — and big thanks to two other “these people,” Aaron Dobbs and Dr. Karen Downing, for their work on delivering and analyzing the PBA survey. Mr. Big Britches is correct: we all have plenty of other things to do with our time, and it took an extra huff of effort to get this survey analyzed before ALA’s spring meetings. But we care enough about ALA — the institution, and the people it represents — to dig deep and find that slice of time to make this happen.

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