Archive for the ‘ALA Civics Class’ Category

An ALA Fireside Chat

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

I’ve given a couple of presentations to associationland (as opposed to libraryland), and one of the things that quickly became clear to me is that ALA is different from pretty much every other association out there. Most associations have trouble getting their members to participate in conversations online to gather input and feedback, whereas there’s no shortage of either of that from ALA members, a fact that has been greatly in evidence the past few weeks (see Exhibits A, B, and C for starters).

I knew what I was getting into when I started this job (after all, ALA is 134 years old), but the recent conversations about it, both before and during #hcod, have been a little tougher for me to read because of a unique position I occupy. I’m a degreed librarian and an ALA member. I work at ALA because I’m passionate about libraries and librarians. And as one of the few ALA staff members who puts herself out there on social networks as an individual to publicly answer questions, solve customer service issues, and help explain how things work, I’ve generally considered myself a kind of outpost (hopefully I won’t freeze beyond the outer marker).

As I watched these recent conversations build, I could tell that they were asking for something more and that I wasn’t really the right person to respond to them. They required a response from “ALA,” which is simultaneously a broad and narrow swath of people. When I see questions about “what’s wrong with ALA” and “where is ALA,” it’s tough not to take it personally because technically I am ALA. Except that I’m not.

I can’t speak for “ALA,” issue a position statement, or chair a task force. Those are all responsibilities handled by ALA members, so as a staff person I play more of a supporting role. As an outpost, my role the last few weeks has been to alert others to the discussions, which I’ve been doing on a regular basis. I can’t control what happens once that information is received, but one of the things I think we see pretty clearly is that despite the progress ALA has made during the last few years (and yes, there has definitely been progress), there’s still no good place for ALA members to have a public conversation with their elected leaders. I hope that’s something we can work on, beyond the formal spaces of Council and membership meetings.

We also need to do a better job of explaining how ALA works and how members can make things happen within the organization. That’s where this blog comes in. That had been my goal in starting Marginalia back in 2007, but the rest of my job took over and blogging fell by the wayside. That’s going to change, though.

After four and a half years at ALA, I think I finally have enough of a handle on it to help explain the inner workings and secret handshakes. But it’s going to be a two-way street. I’ll share what I know and help draw back the curtain, but it’s up to you to read the blog, ask questions, and most importantly, do things with what you learn. Let’s figure it all out together, because I still have a lot to learn myself.

I may not always have a great response and sometimes it may take me a little while to find an answer, but I’ll do my best to reply honestly and provide context. I sit at some interesting intersections within ALA, so one of my most satisfying roles so far has been to connect people so that they can work together and help each other to #makeithappen.

Our first big project that we’ll start tackling in a couple of weeks is ALA Civics class. In the meantime, what do you want to know about ALA and how it works? Leave your questions in the comments, and we’ll start a syllabus.