Archive for the ‘Things I Didn’t Know’ Category

Making ALA Voting Easier

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

If you’ve been an active voter in ALA elections, you know that the ALA Governance Office made some changes last year to start making the whole process easier. For example, JoAnne Kempf in the ALA Governance Office put together a handy brochure about the candidates and various offices to help make sense of the crazy long ballot. For the first time, voters could also use mobile devices to fill out their ballots.

This year, even more changes for the better are coming. I recently learned that we’re finally going to get change my own personal pet peeve as a voting member, the separate login. That’s right – for the 2013 election you’ll finally be able to log in with your regular username and password. Please take a moment to do a little chair dance with me.

Another feature I’ve always wanted is an “I voted” badge I could share and put on my personal site, and I’m happy to say this is also being implemented for 2013. Once you submit your ballot, you’ll be shown the badge and share options. As an ALA staff member, I can’t share how I voted, express support for a particular candidate, or help with a candidate’s campaign, but I definitely want the ability to easily show that I did vote as a member.

In addition, ALA staff got together to standardize how candidate information will appear on the ballot across all units, and JoAnne will do an updated brochure about the candidates. JoAnne and Lois Ann Gregory-Wood are continuing to improve the process where they can, but we’re always open to your suggestions.

The 2013 election will run from March 19th through April 26th, with announcements made on May 3rd. You can find past election statistics on the ALA website, but the percentage of voters has generally been trending downward since a high of 39% in 1970. I’m hoping these kinds of changes will reverse that trend, because we all need to take an active interest in the future of our association. When the time comes, I hope you’ll help us get out the vote!

Addendum, March 18, 2013: Unfortunately, it turns out we’re not going to be able to offer voting using existing member logins this year. Instead, eligible members will get the same type of email they’ve gotten in the past with a unique login they use just for voting. Hopefully we can implement single sign-on for the 2014 election.

A Snapshot of Annual Before Annual

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Annual is big. Really big. I knew this when I took on the task of improving the “Event Planner” folks use to plan their conference schedules, but until I had to work on standardizing all of the data, I didn’t really understand HOW BIG.

Logically, you kind of get the numbers. Legend has it that at their height, Midwinter had approximately 2,000 distinct sessions, while Annual had around 2,200 (I’ve also heard 2,500 but can’t fathom that so I’m sticking with 2,200). It’s no wonder it’s impossible to make sense of the program and participants feel like it’s raining sessions.

I have some better numbers to report this around, though. The first version of the Conference Scheduler that was integrated into ALA Connect was for Midwinter 2011, and there were just over 1,100 sessions. That’s still a lot, but it’s a far cry from 2,000. Most of those were committee meetings because Midwinter is generally considered the “business meeting,” although that’s changing and we’re seeing a lot more discussion group activity there.

Having just launched the second iteration of the Conference Scheduler in Connect for Annual 2011, I can tell you that we’re down to just over 1,600 sessions. Some of that decrease comes from committees holding virtual meetings outside of conference, and some is from sections and round tables holding “all committee” meetings where several groups meet in a big room at once instead of each requesting a separate room and time.

Just for comparison as the Association moves forward, though, here are some specific numbers for Annual 2011:

  • 693 committee meetings
  • 348 presentations/sessions
  • 196 discussion groups
  • 46 forums/updates

Keep in mind that there’s some overlap between these categories, so the numbers are kind of fluid, And while there are just over 1,600 sessions in the Scheduler right now, that number will grow as we add all of the author signings and more informal social events (have one of those to announce? send it to me!).

That also doesn’t take into account all of your meetings with vendors and friends, and every presentation you want to go to will still be scheduled at the same time on the same day. But I”m intrigued to see where these numbers go.

I also wonder how to quantify hallway discussions, which are usually the best part of a conference. In case you haven’t walked an ALA conference lately, we have a lot of hallways. In fact, I think a vendor should give away pedometers so we can have a contest for most steps walked on the Annual campus. I’m not sure who would win – some staff members, Executive Board members, or those of us who constantly get lost.

Having manhandled every one of those 1,600+ session records, I can definitively say that there is something for everyone at Annual. Next I want to think about how we get a better snapshot of Annual After Annual, especially to figure out how we can help facilitate all of the stuff that happens but doesn’t show up in the official categories (ie, committee meeting, presentations, etc.).

All of which is a roundabout way of announcing that the 2011 Annual Conference Scheduler is officially open. Let us know what you think about it!

Numbers about You

Monday, February 9th, 2009

I’m the lead person on our ALA Connect project to create a collaborative, online workspace/professional network for our members, something I’ve been working on pretty intensely for the last year. One of the most difficult pieces was synchronizing the site (which uses Drupal software) with our membership database (called “iMIS”). In making that connection, we came across some interesting numbers as we figured out which pieces to synchronize.

For example, we learned that at the end of 2008, ALA members have an average of 2.1 participations, which are essentially affiliations with an official ALA group (committees, discussion groups, divisions, events, interest groups, member initiative groups, round tables, and sections). If we narrow down the scope to members who have at least one affiliation, 42,000 members have an average of 3.2 participations.

I’m heartened that the majority of members have more than one affiliation, because I think it means they’ve found at least one small slice of ALA that is relevant to them. Where the numbers get even more interesting is when we look at the full range of participations across all members. Clearly, some people have found quite a few areas of interest to them in ALA.

Participations Number of Users
30+ 21
20+ 127
10+ 1794
5+ 6956
1+ 33390
0 21821

One of our main goals with ALA Connect is to help members find the other interesting and relevant pieces of the gooey, amorphous cloud that is ALA. Personally, I hope Connect helps those 21,821 members find ways to get more involved (should they want to), because as the person categorizing the more than 1,000 active groups in the Connect subject tree, I can honestly tell you that ALA is so big that it truly does have something for everybody.

Why did they search that, I wonder?

Friday, October 31st, 2008

When the ALA website went live last month, it did so with an added feature: the custom Search Engine Results Page. There are three parts to this, “key matches,” the usual kind of search results, and some ranked results from “big” Google. I had the task of building the initial set of key matches in the final hours before we went live, when most of the pages would be in their intended places. Since then, there have been changes, and some topics really do need key matches. Time for a tune-up.

So, we ran a report of the top 100 queries used on the site. Most are no surprise. Both banned books and banned book (oh, wouldn’t it be nice if there were just one!); library bill of rights and bill of rights; and censorship, copyright, collection development, and standards. But why would over 2,000 people search “google” on the ALA site?

Whatever. There isn’t a single good page to route someone to, so I’ll just fill in the gaps, make some key matches for the pages that seem to elude people, and fill in all the permutations for the Newbery Medal while I’m at it.

The report also provides the top 100 keywords used. 13% of the searches included the word books, but only 5% included library.


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.

My Favorite BBW Event So Far

Monday, September 24th, 2007

Banned Books Week is still five days away, but Iowa State University is getting a jump on things with its Banned Books Jeopardy game. To be played tonight, “This is a game pitting prominent local panelists with literary backgrounds against each other to answer questions about banned books and authors.” Have a better one? Enter it on the Map of BBW Events!

More info about Banned Books Week here (including real life events), with a list of activities sponsored by ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom taking place in virtual worlds here and OIFtube videos here.

I’ve been familiar with BBW for years, but it wasn’t until I started working at ALA that I realized it’s a collaborative event that is also sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Association of American Publishers, the National Association of College Stores, and endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

The Best Way to Send Large Files to ALA Staff

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

In case you ever try to send a large file to an ALA staff member via email, it won’t go through if it’s over 20MB in size, because files that large get blocked due to storage and bandwidth issues. However, there is a workaround – a special form located at – that lets you send up to three files at once to someone at ALA. (The form is so secret, it’s even called “untitled.”)

When you click on the “upload” button, the file(s) is uploaded to one of our servers where the staff member can then grab it. The script also emails the person to let them know that the file is there. Handy dandy.