Archive for the ‘How ALA Works’ 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.

Why Run for Council?

Friday, February 6th, 2009

To work with passionate people like the ones in this video to make a difference.

ALA Council: Who, What, Why, and How

Video thumbnail. Click to play
Click To Play

Annual2008 Report (State of the State?)

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

For Midwinter and Annual each year, Keith Michael Fiels prepares an update of ALA activities for Council and the Executive Board. Here’s his latest report. Dates and locations for Council and Board meetings are available on the Annual 2008 wiki.

So, I’m going to Anaheim…

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

Rumor tells me that ALA has no hotel rooms left for Annual Conference in Anaheim. Well, rumor can be a helpful source — but not this time.

So — what’s the situation? At this point (May 6th), we show 7992 sold or committed rooms on Friday night, rising to 8212 on Saturday night, with 8025 on Sunday night. Friday, Saturday and Sunday are the “peak nights” — the nights when there are the highest numbers of sleeping rooms being used by people attending the ALA Annual Conference. Those figures put us right in our normal range — in a conference campus with lots of hotels. It’s still possible to get a “pending” message from the ALA’s housing bureau. (As of May 6th, there are 40 “pending” reservations.) Why? Usually it relates to the specifics of a given request — a particular arrival or departure date, a specific room type or configuration. Historically, the record is good — like 100% — on clearing any “pending” requests.

Why would rooms become available late in the advance registration period? Starting at the end of this week, ALA will confirm blocks of rooms committed to exhibitors. If, for instance, an exhibitor anticipated taking 6 staff members to Annual Conference and is actually taking 5, that 6th room goes back into “inventory” — and becomes available to someone else. Typically, exhibitors will reserve rooms for the maximum number of staff they would take — on the reasonable theory that it’s easier to cancel than to get a block of rooms later. Similarly, if two conference attendees plan to room together — but each made a separate reservation — the “extra” room reservation will eventually (usually a month before conference) be cancelled and that room also will go back into inventory. Repeat those scenarios many times — and, yes, there are rooms.

So, here are some key dates to know.

  • Friday, May 16, is that last day for pre-registration for the 2008 Annual Conference.
  • Wednesday, May 28, we close the housing reservations.

What do you do if you are unexpectedly able to attend? Register. Then, call us (800-974-9833) and we’ll do our best to get you a hotel room within the block. (How that is handled varies with the specific conference site.) But do come. The lineup of speakers is great, the exhibit floor will be bustling, and there will be a wealth of connections and conversations. See you there.

Election Year

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

It’s everywhere. We are in the midst of an exciting and interesting election year. But, that means I must remind you to avoid any action that could give the impression that the American Library Association — rather than you as an individual private citizen — is engaging in “political speech” (“the support of or opposition to a candidate for public office”) or that ALA resources are being used for that purpose. ALA, because of its particular tax exempt status, is expressly, absolutely prohibited by the U.S. Internal Revenue Code from engaging in “political speech.”

What do I mean by that? “ALA resources” would include any use of ALA titles (like councilor, chair of…, president of...); ALA discussion lists, blogs or wikis (including those of ALA divisions, round tables and other groups that are part of ALA); stationery; publications or websites; headquarters or conference meeting rooms; or, staff time. And, what kinds of activities might be included in “political speech”? The law is broad — and the threshold for “political speech” is relatively low. “Political speech” includes activities such as soliciting or making campaign contributions, providing a forum for a candidate (in print or at a conference, for instance), expressing “support for or opposition to” a candidate or political party — even if that candidate is a librarian, even if that candidate is a member.

Finally, “political speech” happens within an election year — which starts January 1 of the year in which the election will be held. That’s why members often say to me, “but we had him/her speak just a few years ago.” True. Not this year, though.

The absolute prohibition on “political speech” by associations like ALA is serious — and the “zero tolerance” enforcement policy of the IRS has been upheld by the courts. It is important that the law be observed. It is also important, though, to understand that “political speech” is different from “lobbying,” which seeks to influence legislation or regulation. Even during an election year, ALA continues to lobby for legislation and regulation that will benefit libraries and the public. For instance, during recent months, you have received requests from the ALA Washington Office to contact legislators regarding appropriations, legislation in support of school libraries and other issues. There are regulations and limitations on lobbying by organizations like ALA, of course — and ALA works within the applicable laws.

Many ALA members may not be comfortable with these rules, may see them as infringements on their personal free speech. I understand that. ALA’s intent is not to limit what any individual may do personally in the public arena — but to be clear that the resources of an organization like ALA, an association tax exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code, may not be used for that purpose. The consequence is revocation of tax exempt status. There are no “intermediate” or “warning” consequences.

Judith Krug, the long-time director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, points out that the law imposes many restrictions on speech — and these laws are one example. We — ALA staff and members — are required to comply with these laws until such time as Congress may choose to change them. In doing so, we protect the interests of the American Library Association and its members, present and future, and ALA’s ability to advocate aggressively on behalf of libraries and the public.

Want more details? Over the past several years, a number of background documents have been developed to guide ALA leaders and staff through a complex legal environment. Four such documents are available here (PDFs): ALA Legal Framework, Election Year Rules, Election Year Rules – Additional Notes, and Lobbying and ALA: Fact Sheet.

Still more? Call or email me. I may not know the answer — but I do know where and how to find out.

Electronic Mailing Lists

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

Are you interested in joining one of ALA’s electronic mailing (or discussion) lists (more popularly referred to by the brand name LISTSERV®), but don’t know where to start? 

There are upwards of 150 such lists, some open to any subscriber and general in scope, others limited to a small group for the purposes of accomplishing a specific task.  Most ALA lists are run on the ALA servers and are listed on the ALA e-lists homepage.   For instructions about joining one of the lists, please visit the “lists” page of the ReadWriteConnect wiki at

The ReadWriteConnect wiki also has information on the other tools you can use for getting involved in ALA’s work electronically–blogs, RSS feeds, wikis, podcasts–and Second Life!

Note: there are a few lists that are not run from ALA servers; these will be referenced on the web pages published by the sponsoring groups or noted in their publications.


2010 Money

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

Managers at ALA have just received budget instructions for preparing their piece of the draft ALA budget which will go through channels to become the budget approved for the fiscal year beginning September 1, 2008. For the most part these budget requests will be “no growth”—as they have been for the past few years.But ALA has continued to grow, with the new initiatives that will help us meet the challenges in the strategic plan, Ahead to 2010, being met through reallocation of existing budgets, but also two relatively small strategic funds, the Growth Fund and the 2010 funds. The Growth Fund is a small piece of the ALA General Fund designated as “start up” support for projects that are intended to provide a return on the initial investment in a 2-3 year time-frame. The 2010 funds come from a variety of net asset balance and budget lines and provide the one-time funding to accomplish a project that will enable ALA to meet the strategic goals of the Ahead to 2010 plan. (See the Treasurer’s blog for more information.)We’re taking this space to list all of these here so you can see the scope of these initiatives. Some of them will just be part of the ALA fabric; others, such as the website redesign or the Big Game, will affect you much more directly.

Growth Fund projects:

Magazine for the public to be distributed through libraries. The goal is to have a magazine, to be distributed directly to the public, and to be supported by advertising, that will answer the question “What is in the library for me?” It will be supported by an interactive website and an e-newsletter. A portal is under development to present the concept to potential advertisers, presenting the extensive focus group and other research that indicates that the magazine is needed. The hoped for launch is in about a year (late 2008, early 2009).

Strategic Marketing Collaboration. ALA will examine ways in which the general fund units of the Association can work together better to stop duplicating effort, especially with regard to promoting conferences and membership, approaching vendors for advertising/exhibits/donations, and creating and marketing publications and services. A practical set of goals will be developed by the consultant in cooperation with the Marketing Group, and these goals will be designed to improve value of membership and ALA’s organizational excellence, in accordance with ALA2010.

Member Development. Cross-unit focus on member retention, specifically student retention with targeted outreach.

Expanding Planned Giving for ALA. Promotion of opportunities for members and friends to make legacy and other forms of planned giving arrangements to ALA. The first phase was to create a new and expanded brochure which highlights the benefits of giving a planned gift to ALA. The next phase is to work to discover individuals who might be interested in learning more about how making a planned gift at ALA, a gift that will make an impact no matter what the size. This new brochure will have a soft launch at the Midwinter meeting, with a bigger launch for planned giving opportunities at the Annual Conference in Anaheim.

2010 projects

ALA Web Site Awards Database. Support development of a database to address usability issues with finding information on ALA’s 200+ awards on our website. The database would improve ALA’s ability to meet the specialized information needs of members and others seeking information on ALA’s awards: description of the award, sponsoring unit, past winners, application/nominations process and criteria. It would be searchable by unit, type of award (recognition, media, etc.), name of award, year. Output from the database would be displayable on, unit pages as appropriate, the ALA Awards page, ALDirect.

School Libraries/Youth Services Advocacy Statistics Project. Making the reports containing relevant statistics to help make the case for school libraries easier for an advocate or member in need to access quickly. The Advocacy Statistics for Youth initiative will allow partners to hire a researcher to pull statistics from these lengthy reports and create a web-based tool for members and advocates to use. It will be categorized under headings such as early literacy, closing the learning gap, relationships between school libraries and academic success, and relevancy of 2.0 tools. This will be positioned on the Advocacy University resource, but can be multipurposed as needed. It will serve as a template for similar projects through ORS and for Advocacy University. The goal is for it to launch in time for ALA’s 2008 National Library Legislative Day.

Enhancing Grassroots Advocacy. The Capwiz XC Affiliate Program allows ALA and Chapters to work together to mobilize grassroots support. It allows a coordinated effort between ALA and Chapters and other allied organizations to reach beyond the profession to tap into thousands of library users to advocate for libraries and library funding. Capwiz XC expands the universe of contacts for everyone, and allows for us to finally transform individuals who believe in libraries and library issues into advocates through easy to use technology that allows them to contribute to local, state and national efforts. In the first year, 25 Chapters joined in. These funds will allow ALA to offer all of the Chapters to join from June 2008 to June 2009.

Federal Legislative Advocacy Brochure. Development of a promotional brochure for ALA’s legislative and advocacy efforts. The brochure’s purpose would also be to encourage new members join the advocacy network, to inform members about Federal advocacy efforts, to increase National Library Legislative Day attendance, and to show outside groups and coalitions how ALA’s efforts have helped the library community, including a tie-in to “I Love Libraries” and the activities of the Office of Advocacy and Chapter Relations.

Electronic Manuscript Management System. An Electronic Manuscript (Editorial, by another name) Management System enables member editors and reviewers to manage their workload more efficiently by having one document flow through the process from submission to publication. Authors and copy editors have one document to revise and re-submit. This document handling process greatly increases the efficiency and timeliness of the journal article review process and the production process, as just one document is handled through the entire process. Since the systems can deliver files in many formats, it also means that Production Services can utilize the file format they need.

YA Diversity Campaign. The results of ALA’s Diversity Counts study show that recruitment of persons of diverse backgrounds (including race, ethnicity, language background, sexual orientation, education, age, disability and economic status) to our profession is critical. Studies show that diverse youth want—and benefit from–interaction with mentors and adults from diverse backgrounds. The goals of the YA Diversity Campaign is to increase the number of librarians with diverse backgrounds who serve adolescents through both retention and recruitment. Although just one year is funded, there is a 3-year timeline. For FY08, the projects are to support an official Young Adult Services Spectrum Scholar; establish a new conference scholarship to a member from a diverse background (possibly with an ALA Affiliate); send member leaders and staff to REFORMA, BCALA and other conferences to recruit individuals to serve young adults; and collaborate with HRDR to create a Teen section of the web site.

Website redesign. This represents additional funding needed to complete the redesign of the ALA Website. Some of the redesign activities to be completed are graphic design, completion of the content inventory begun last year, development and validation of the information architecture, and the implementation of the redesigned site. Two clickable graphic designs will be shown to members and non-members at ALA Midwinter and over the Web with a survey to collect their feedback. The survey results will be analyzed and a final design will be chosen in February. Implementation of the new design will begin in February/March.

Conference “Big Game.” The Great ALA Anaheim (ALAneheim) Mystery (prototype) A big game is a large-scale game that takes place in the real world. In essence, the environment around you becomes your gameboard, and things in it become props in the games. At the ALA 2008 Annual Conference, the game will be more of an information quest and clues will be hidden all over the conference campus – in meeting rooms, on the exhibit floor, in CogNotes, etc. Attendees will be able to sign up for a team on the conference wiki to play the game. Prizes will be awarded to the winners. The big game is a great way for our attendees to play and to create socializing opportunities at conference.

Where to Be a Virtual Committee Member

Friday, November 30th, 2007

There’s been a lot of discussion online lately about how to participate in ALA committees as a virtual member (you can find most of the links via the Improve ALA wiki, which was created by ALA members). As a result, we’ve started a new page on the Get Involved wiki for ALA committees with virtual members in order to make it easier to find those pieces of “the work of the Association” that allow for participation without necessarily requiring members to show up in person at two meetings a year. Some may still have physical attendance components, some will be completely virtual, some will be a workable mix of the two. Overall, we hope this helps you find a way to contribute that works for you.

Questions about any of the committees? Leave a comment here or use the discussion space on the wiki page. Know of a committee (or other workgroup) that’s not listed? Help us out and and add it to the wiki!

Awards and Recognition

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

In the past few days, as I scan e-list messages and blog posts, I’ve noticed numerous reminders about applying for or nominating a colleague for on of ALA’s 211 awards (if I counted correctly). That’s because most deadlines are coming up (many are stated as December 1, or more accurately Monday, December 3, 2007) so that the documentation can be assembled for committee review at the Midwinter Meeting. Alas, some have already passed.

The awards, grants, and scholarships fall into several categories:

  • Professional recognition awards honoring the recipients for achievments, sometime in a specific area, other times for a lifetime of work; the recipients may be individuals or organizations
  • Book and media awards awarded to authors, illustrators, producers, and publishers. (Note: the major children’s and youth media awards are announced on the Monday morning of Midwinter.)
  • Awards for having written an excellent article or book, or completing significant research–or grants enabling the winner to write one.
  • Various research grants, conference travel grants or fellowships; and
  • Scholarships.
  • Although there is general oversight of the whole process by the ALA Awards Committee, each award has its own procedures for identifying prospective winners, set by the sponsoring committee, office, round table, or division. Newer awards tend to follow the best practices set outlined in the Awards Manual, but like many activities of ALA, there is extensive variation. The best way to find out the procedures? Search the phrase for the award on the ALA site, or contact the sponsoring unit directly.

    So, if one of your colleagues deserves one of these awards, now is the time to act!

    Getting onto a Committee

    Monday, October 22nd, 2007

    Does your organization only pay for conference if you have a committee assignment? Do you want to join the ranks of those saying mysteriously “I have a conflict”? How do you get started, anyway?

    * Join up! First things first. You do need to be a member of ALA to be on an ALA committee (and of the division or round table where you’re seeking an appointment). So be sure your membership dues are current!

    * Bone up! Take some time to learn about the Association. Dip into the ALA Handbook of Organization, either online or in paper. The 2007-2008 edition was just published, and it will be mailed to everyone listed in it. Or surf through the various pages currently found off the “Our Association” button on the ALA home page. Spend some time with the web pages from the division or round table that interest you to see what kinds of projects are underway.

    If possible, talk with a current (or recent) member of the committee to get a sense of the type of work involved. Some committees do most of their work face-to-face at the conferences; others work extensively between conferences, using e-mail, online communities, wikis, etc.

    * Listen up! If you can get to an Annual Conference or a Midwinter Meeting, sit in on a meeting of the committee that interests you. By policy, all meetings of ALA are open, unless there is a matter of personal privacy being discussed—which mostly means that juries/award selection committees or nominating committees are the exception and are closed to observers.

    At the end of the meeting, introduce yourself to the chair of the committee. Offer to assist with a task proposed during the meeting. Leave your business card.

    * Step up! Complete the volunteer form, either for ALA, or for your division or round table. Do this in addition to volunteering in person. Indicate specifically which committees interest you and why. And don’t be afraid to volunteer for a “process” committee—Organization and Bylaws, Budget, etc. These can provide an inside understanding of how ALA or your part of it works. OTOH, while you may be interested in the premier committee in your division, don’t expect to get an appointment for it right away. Most committees are limited in size, and if half the committee have appointments continuing to next year, and the other half is mostly being reappointed, there may only be one, maybe two, spaces for new members—and probably a long list of volunteers.

    Some committees establish task forces or subcommittees chaired by a member of the committee, but staffed by volunteers who may not be. Working on a task force is a good way to get to know people and contribute your skills in a meaningful way. My first appointment was to a subcommittee of a division section committee (in other words, about as far down the hierarchy as possible), but we did some significant work, and it remains one of the most satisfying bits of work I’ve done for ALA.

    Also, look outside your home division. The “type of activity” divisions (LAMA, LITA, ALCTS, RUSA, YALSA, ALSC, ALTA) often seek out members interested in their work, but representative of different types of libraries.

    But … be honest with yourself when you volunteer. Think about what you can realistically commit to. It’s easy, really easy, to volunteer in the heat of the moment at a conference … and then get back to the office and the cold light of day on your to do list! Here’s a vignette to have in mind: As I was starting my first professional position, I was talking with F. Bernice Field, my supervisor and a past president of the division then known as RTSD—and an enormously long list of other achievements. I asked her how she got to do all of those things. She said, “Simple really. I volunteered, and then, by golly, I did what I was asked.”

    If you can’t go to conference, try for a virtual membership on a committee.

    Other options:
    Join an Interest or Discussion Group. These work differently in each of the divisions that have them. In some, it’s pretty easy to become a discussion group leader, with the primary responsibility of organizing the next meeting. In others, the interest groups have no limit to the number of members.

    Contribute in other ways. Post frequently on division email lists, blogs or wikis to get your name noticed.

    A few words about the appointment calendar. The presidents-elect (those we elected in the balloting last spring, and who will take office at the end of the 2008 Annual Conference) have just had their orientation to their leadership roles and are now beginning the process of shaping the committees which will be working during their presidencies, 2008-2009. In some divisions, and at the ALA level, the slate of proposed committee members is reviewed during the Midwinter Meeting. Letters of appointment begin to go out shortly after the Midwinter Meeting, and acceptances are due back in the late spring. This is why there is a December deadline for the ALA form—and it’s a time frame to keep in mind for all divisions and round tables, as well. But know that there may be vacancies at other times–or some committees may still have vacancies after the first round of appointments are made.

    Where to find the volunteer forms or specific information on volunteering With apologies for the “alphabet soup” – see the ALA Acronyms list, if you need to!

    ALA (Deadline: December 3, 2007)

    Round Tables also have committees; start at the main “Round Tables” page to explore these. I found volunteer forms or other significant information for the following:


    Finally, don’t just take my word for it. Check out these other blog posts with tips and links related to the committee appointment process— for example, these two:

    Molly Raphael, President-Elect of LAMA
    Sarah Kelly Johns on the AASL blog