ALA Civics: Did You Know ALA Has a Motto?

Posted on May 4th, 2011, by

I didn’t know ALA had a motto until I started doing some research for Civics Class, so I tried to “stump the Keith” to see if our Executive Director knew it. Watch the video to see how he did. 🙂

The best reading, for the largest number, at the least cost.

The motto was adopted in 1892 and reinstated in 1988. Overall I think it holds up pretty well, although these days I’d be tempted to substitute “information” for “reading” based on our mission. That actually resonates with me personally and will help me explain ALA.

What do you think?

Starting at the Beginning: ALA’s Mission

Posted on April 27th, 2011, by

To kick off ALA Civics Class, I talked to Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels (aka, The Big Kahuna) about our mission. ALA does so much that sometimes it’s difficult to figure out what’s at the heart of the organization and why we do what we do. ALA has to align its services to its mission, just as libraries do, so it’s important to understand the scope of ALA’s mission.

I also asked Keith what the mission means in action and how he evaluates whether an initiative aligns with said mission.

Honestly, I hadn’t read ALA’s mission statement since I started working there. Given the professional debate, it’s interesting that there’s no mention of reading or books in it, concentrating instead on learning and information. Personally I like that focus because it includes books, technology, physical space, literacy, instruction, and everything else we do.

One of my goals for Civics Class is to help you figure out where you want to contribute to that mission and how. So what does ALA’s mission mean to you?

Background Reading for ALA Civics Class

Posted on March 30th, 2011, by

I’m still putting together our first class materials (actually, @thearystocrat is doing the heaviest, but awesomest, lifting for some of it), so here are some background materials for you to go over in the meantime.

Here’s the official 2011 ALA Organizational Chart (47.3Kb PDF). You can see the typical silos-like structure that org charts are meant to show, but I think of it as a representation of how staff and dues are organized.

After you look at the official org chart, take a look at the informal one that Mary Ghikas created a few years ago. It’s more of a representation of the interactions between various pieces of ALA. I think it illustrates why we’re having Civics class in the first place – there’s a lot going on there. Did I mention that ALA is 134 years old?

You’ll need help decoding acronyms as we go through class, so keep this link to the list of ALA & LIS Acronyms handy. And of course, “LIS” stands for “Library and Information Science Studies.”  😉

Although we’re going to take a different approach, ALA member Michael Golrick took a stab at ALA 101 in 2010. You can get a head start on a few of the things we’ll cover by reading through his posts.

If you’re really brave, you can look through the ALA Constitution and Bylaws or try virtually thumbing through the Handbook of Organization, where you’ll find listings for things like the Committee on Committees and the Committee on Organization. No, I’m not kidding, and yes, they’re actually useful and necessary. And double yes, we’ll talk about why later on. True policy wonks can dive into the ALA Policy Manual.

Technically, you don’t need to read any of this ahead of time, although we’ll reference some material from the Bylaws and the Handbook down the road. This is just background info as we gear up.

You should, though, take a break and watch The Wheel of Confusion video we did a few years ago to poke some fun at all of this. Keep score and see how well you do playing along.

ALA Civics Class Syllabus

Posted on March 23rd, 2011, by

Here’s what I’m thinking of for our syllabus. I’m sure we’ll meander, go on tangents, and take extra time with some of these topics, but it’ll give us a helpful foundation for explaining why some of the weird things about ALA are the way they are.

  1. What is “ALA?” – divisions, sections, round tables, member initiative groups, assemblies, and offices (oh, my)
  2. ALA governance and how it all works – ALA Board, ALA Executive Committee, Council, President, BARC, and elections
  3. ALA committees – let’s make some sense of the 1200+ committees (yeah, you read that right)
  4. How to get on committees – advice for the committeelorn
  5. Virtual participation – what does this mean, what’s happened so far, what still needs to happen, how do we get there
  6. Getting things done in ALA – underused options like membership meetings, resolutions, and subcommittees
  7. Other ways to get involved – ways to volunteer that don’t involve committee work
  8. ALA conferences
  9. ALA affiliates and other library orgs – how do they all fit together? what’s the difference between them?
  10. Why ALA? – why we need ALA and what’s in it for you

What’s missing? What do you want to add to one of the headings? Now is a good time to speak up, because we’re in the process of building something special to dive into the amorphous topic of “what is ALA.”

I think we’ll also have some conversations on Twitter using the #alacivics hashtag, which I’ll be tracking so I’ll try to close the loop and bring those discussions back to this blog so that there’s one central site for finding everything. Note, too, that all of the class material will be under the category heading “ALA Civics Class.” Watch out for pop quizzes.

An ALA Fireside Chat

Posted on March 16th, 2011, by

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.

Event Planner Redux

Posted on May 28th, 2010, by

The event planner for the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., June 24-29 is now available.  Using feedback from a survey conducted last summer, comments heard from some of our active members, and some just plain testing, several of us have worked to improve its performance.

The first big change was to impose naming conventions to the unit – subunit field for each meeting.  Divisions were simple.  A division like ACRL has the unit field of ACRL and the subunit field for each of its sections; a division without sections, like YALSA, has just the unit field.  Then we pulled all of the round tables out from under ALA, so that NMRT, GLBTRT, and SRRT will be found directly.  We sorted the Affliates by adding subfields for each of them BCALA, REFORMA, THEATER LA, etc. are now AFL – BCALA, AFL – REFORMA, etc.  Finally, we reworked all the ALA-level committees so that they stand on their own, for the most part, and are not listed under the headquarters unit providing staff support.  Thus, the Intellectual Freedom Committee is under ALA – IFC, not ALA – OIF, the office that provides the support.  This is because OIF also supports the Committee on Professional Ethics, the Freedom to Read Foundation, and the Merritt Fund.  So, if you are looking for everything sponsored by a committee of interest, start with a search of the unit – subunit.

Next we regularized how meetings are titled, so that when there are committees with the same name, like Membership Committee, we added the acronym.  This makes for more text on the print out of your schedule, but if you’re representing your division to another, you’ll know if the meeting is to get input or to present input depending on your role.  We hope it will also help with searching.

Then we tackled the on-screen messaging.  In our training room, we watched a first-time user of the planner try to complete basic tasks, discussed the missteps, and wrote up new language we hope will be beneficial to all.

Lastly, we tested, and questioned, worked with the vendor, and tested some more.

It should be better than in the past, though there are limitations.  The planner runs on a database that does not have authority control as we know it built in.  We were also working with a data file that had been prepared weeks earlier by a number of meeting planners and volunteers.  All we could do was work on vocabulary control to try to ensure greater consistency of search results.

This may be the last run for this particular planner software, though what we have learned will be helpful as we build a planner into ALA Connect.  We’ll still be working with the same meeting planning software, but we have learned a lot about configuring it and writing instructions for the meeting planners.

Do let us know what you think.  As indicated on the planner login page, contact Karee Williams,, with login and technical questions.  I am happy to field the search questions; use

Happy Ho-Ho-Holidays!

Posted on December 23rd, 2009, by

Just a quick note that ALA will be closed on December 24 and 25, as well as January 1 for the holidays. We hope you have a great holiday season, too. We look forward to sharing a wonderful 2010 with you.

Gobble, Gobble

Posted on November 25th, 2009, by

Don’t forget that ALA will be closed on Thursday, November 26, and Friday, November 27, in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S. We’ll see you back in the office and online on Monday, November 30. We’ll probably be a few pounds heavier, but we’ll be back here to help you then.

Have a great holiday (feel free to take the day off in sympathy celebrations if you’re not in the U.S.)!

What Does Virtual Annual Look Like to You?

Posted on November 6th, 2009, by

For the first time this year,  “big ALA” experimented with offering a virtual conference component of its Annual Conference. While some of the divisions have done this in the past (ACRL, PLA) and AASL is currently running a parallel virtual event, this was the first time we’d tried this for the monster, “big kahuna” Annual Conference.

While you may be thinking about MidWinter because it’s just around the corner, we’re thinking about Annual, so the Conference Planning Committee has already started talking about how to improve next year’s virtual Annual. We have a three-year contract with Learning Times, so that will be the platform, but many of the other pieces are up in the air at this point, which makes it a good time to ask for some input.

We can’t promise anything at this point, but what’s your wishlist? There are already some “givens,” but building a structure around them, what would you like to see? Here are just a few of the questions we have, but feel free to give us feedback around other issues, too.

  • We can’t do this for free, not if we want to offer a quality, stable video feed. Keep in mind, though, that our members do tend to stream some of the more popular sessions, such as Top Tech Trends, and that will continue. Which sessions are you okay with as volunteer streams versus quality feeds?
  • We can’t stream the keynotes because the speakers don’t give us permission, and in fact, they usually forbid it. Otherwise, though, what types of sessions do you want to participate in remotely?
  • What does “participate in remotely” mean to you?
  • Where are the price points that fit? Are there tiers or does one-size-fits-all work in this type of situation?
  • Where can we add value to improve your virtual conference experience? Are you more interested in just sessions, or do you want virtual hallways, networking opportunities, and other comparable experiences, too? If it’s the latter, what do they look like?
  • If you’ve seen this done well somewhere else, we’d love to hear about it. Just give us a URL and a description of what you liked about it.

This is your chance to give us input to help shape the future of virtual ALA conferences, so please share your thoughts!

MentorConnect on the Launchpad

Posted on September 11th, 2009, by

Update: MentorConnect is now live – go to your Connect profile and give it a try!

We’re excited to announce that next week, we plan to launch a new service within ALA Connect called MentorConnect. Now that we’ve finished phase one for the site (collaborative work space, profiles with networking, and offering the ability to create communities that live outside of ALA’s hierarchy), we’re focusing on implementing two new services aimed at members who want to get involved professionally, but not necessarily at the committee level.

The first of those projects is MentorConnect (“MC”), a service that allows ALA members to create mentoring profiles that highlight their expertise and experience. After they’ve joined MC, any ALA member can search for a mentor using a variety of criteria (gender, type of library, ethnicity, etc.) and request mentorship. Once created, the mentorship is tracked within MC, with a space for providing and archiving feedback. The system will even prompt you every few months to make sure you’re staying in touch.

ALA Connect's MentorConnect service

Here are some screenshots that show some of the features. This first one is an example of a mentee profile. Mentor profiles look pretty much the same.

a mentee's profile in ALA Connect's MentorConnect service

Once you’ve created a profile, you can then search for a mentor.

find a mentor in ALA Connect's MentorConnect service

MC keeps a record of all of your mentors and mentees, including past ones.

my mentors view in ALA Connect's MentorConnect service

At any time, you can view the feedback for a particular mentorship. When you add new feedback, the other person will get an email notice, and she can log in and reply.

a mentorship in ALA Connect's MentorConnect service

The MentorConnect tab will appear on your profile next week, along with a link to it in the left-hand sidebar. If you don’t like something about MC or if you encounter a problem using it, please let us know. If you do like it, let former ALA President Jim Rettig know, because he funded this initiative during his term. Thanks, Jim!  🙂