My First Year on ALA Council

GETTING ON COUNCIL

My journey to ALA Council in general was not as focused or directed as many other people’s.  My general policy for professional activities are:  if someone asks, say yes.  If a call for volunteers goes out more than once and it starts looking like they’re getting desperate and I’m slightly interested, say yes.  Basically, my motto is say yes because you never know where it will lead you, but no is a definite lead to a dead-end.

So one day, I saw a post on the ALSC list-serv for someone to represent ALSC on Council.  The call went out a few times over a few weeks, and I wanted to get more active in ALSC, so I emailed saying I’ll do it!  They asked me what exactly I had participated in in ALSC lately and when I came up with nothing (I had previously filled out a form after learning HOW to participate in ALA and it’s divisions, but never heard anything back), they said thanks, but no thanks and then proceeded to direct me to the committee volunteer form and let me know when appointments were actually made and when was best to fill out the form  (which was really quite helpful and led to my appointment to the Liaison for National Organizations Committee).

A little bit later, the person I had emailed volunteering myself to be a volunteer for ALSC let me know that if I was still interested in serving on council, the Nominations committee was open to having my name forwarded (a colleague had endorsed me to be ALSC councilor) and I could fill out an application.  So of course I said yes, my name appeared on the ballot, and by luck of the draw, I was elected.

Despite still being new to the profession and not participating in a lot of ALA committees before my election, I think there were some important things that contributed to my election like diversity, membership in other organizations, library specialization, and being an Emerging Leader.

Talking with people and seeing how they vote, I noticed that many people will block out their votes.  They’ll go through the list of candidates and vote for all the people who fit into their favorite marginalized category or who they feel represents them.  As someone who is fairly diverse (personally and professionally), I fall into a number of these categories, and thus, I accumulate more votes.  This is in addition to my personal network and the campaigning that was done on my behalf.

I’VE BEEN ELECTED, NOW WHAT?

Once I was elected, I had to figure out what the heck a councilor does.  What does it really entail?  I knew generally what council did.  Discuss, pass resolutions, act as the legislative body of ALA.  But what did that mean?  I tried to read as much as I could and observe the Council list-serv and talk to other councilors I knew, but it still seemed a bit of a mystery to me.

ALA ANNUAL 2012

At Midwinter and Annual, the Council Orientation Committee puts on, well, an orientation to Council.  They go over the mission statement and directives of ALA as an organization and ALA Council.  They go over the strategic goals of the organization and how we need to keep these in mind when writing resolutions.  They went over Parliamentary rule and Sturgess.  They went over the different committees of ALA Council, what some of them did, and what role they would play during meetings.  The meeting lasted 2 hours and by the end I felt more confused than ever and was really wondering what I had gotten myself into.  I felt completely unprepared.

ALA MIDWINTER 2013

Between Annual and Midwinter, I did more research, read the list-serv earnestly, and read all of the links and background information on ALA Council that current and past councilors provided.  By the time I got to Midwinter and sat through Orientation (again), I felt a lot better about the situation.  While I still felt daunted and underprepared, I realized that this was more of a baptism by fire situation – primarily due to the infinite variations of meetings, resolutions, and discussions.  The orientation committee was very welcoming and answered all of my questions.  Of particular help was Rodney Lippard who made me feel comfortable asking “What is happening?!” in the middle of a meeting.

My first ALA meeting was a heated one.  On the table was the ALA dues increase, a resolution in support of Bradley Manning, and the divestment from fossil fuels resolution.  These topics became so heated and amendments were proposed and changes to language and points of order that at one point even ALA President Maureen Sullivan had to take a step back and consult the parliamentarian to confirm the correct course of action.  So it was understandable that a newbie was confused as heck and sometimes Sturgess just didn’t have the answer.

What helped to understand everything was the Council Forum sessions.  These are optional sessions that take place in the evening after council to discuss what is on the agenda for the next day.  These sessions were planned to save time on the council floor, work out kinks in resolutions, and start important discussions concerning the next day’s agenda.  The format here was much more relaxed and people felt more comfortable asking questions, speaking up, and clarifying issues.  I left these sessions with a better understanding of everything regarding council.

I won’t go into all of my votes since many of them are just housekeeping items, but I would like to address my vote on the dues increase.  As it was originally written, I was inclined to vote no.  I understood that ALA needed to increase revenue, but the lack of oversight within the proposed amendment was a red-flag to me.  After much discussion on the list-serv and at ALA Council, the dues increase became tied to the CPI with clauses to review the method of dues increase after a number of years and that if it increases more than a percentage to go to a vote.  With these revisions, I voted yes.  And (the short version) here’s why:  ALA as a whole is already understaffed and overworked and they provide a lot of advocacy for the library world.  Within the current dues structure, too much was being cut and membership was down.  The association is currently looking into giving members more bang for their buck, recruitment, and retention to increase membership.  Without these studies and groups working on these efforts to make ALA relevant to current librarians, I would have voted no.  But I believe in the association and the work it does, and I believe that it needs to thrive.  In order to thrive, it needs financial backing and the dues we pay are far less than other national professional memberships.  As someone who pays hundreds of dollars in dues a year, I understand the pinch of the wallet and that some years ALA and its divisions just aren’t affordable.  But I also believe that if you truly believe in the work being done that you will find a way to support the organization in one way or another.  This is also why I participate in committee work.  I believe in it, and it can’t improve without your/my/our help.

IN-BETWEEN MEETINGS

Inbetween meetings there was a huge discussion on the Council list concerning the composition of council.  The primary instigator felt that ALA Council was too large and most of the people on Council were disengaged from the process.  He felt that some cuts to membership should be councilors-at-large.  Personal feelings aside (since, you know, I’m a Councilor-at-Large), I was very against this idea namely because the majority of Councilors of Color come from the at-large positions.  This is a place to diversify an otherwise fairly homogenous council and is an important position to maintain.

ALA ANNUAL 2013

By the time Annual rolled around, I felt a little more confident in my abilities as a councilor.  I had a better grasp of the process for this go-around, and I had a better understanding of the resolutions being brought forward.  This meeting had a few controversial items on the agenda, namely a resolution in support of Edward Snowden and the Fossil Fuels Divestment resolution which had been postponed to Annual pending a review by BARC.

The Snowden resolution passed quickly and with not as much discussion as I would have anticipated.  The general membership passed the resolution at the general meeting on Saturday afternoon, and it seemed a no-brainer to pass it on Sunday.  Come Monday, however, there was a concern that the resolution had not been looked over by the appropriate committees and the resolution needed to be un-approved and reviewed.  Talk about chaos.  It seemed ridiculous to me to bring this up AFTER the fact when the same people had time to review it previously and could have brought this to the attention of council BEFORE we passed it the day before.  None the less, it is a strong body that can admit when it hasn’t followed procedure and takes the steps to un-do their mistake.  As a whole, the original resolution did not pass and a revised, more general resolution was what Council (and I) approved.

The Fossil Fuels divestment resolution came to ALA Annual in a much more general form than it did at Midwinter.  At Midwinter, the resolution seemed more like a mandate and at Annual the resolution seemed more like a guideline.  As a whole, the resolution did not pass.  I voted in favor and here’s why.  One of the goals in ALA’s current strategic plan is:

  • ALA operates effectively, efficiently, creatively and in a socially responsible fashion to accomplish its mission.

To me, it was simple.  By divesting from fossil fuels, we are acting socially responsible.  There are many many other ways we can (and should) act more socially responsible as an organization.  This includes: Cutting down travel – two big meetings a year is a huge carbon footprint in airfare and waste, cutting down on paper (ALA Council alone uses how many hundreds of reams of paper?), and other measures.  The economic report from the trustees (in short, without making this post much longer than it already is) was full of holes and did not really address the situation based on the evidence.  Our profession is often seen as a more liberal one since we often protect people’s privacy from the government, encourage banned books, and other activities of the sort.  This action seemed to fall right in line with our current actions and future goals.

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