I’ve been thinking a lot about governance lately. That said, I will avoid the topic of the recent U.S. election as much as possible, even though it is a factor in what makes me think about governance. Instead, I will focus on library governance and what makes it work and not work. Spoiler alert: active participation.
I am an admitted governance junky, an unapologetic lover of Robert’s Rules of Order, and someone who tries to finds beauty in bureaucratic process. I blame my heritage. I come from a long line of federal government employees, all of us born in the District of Columbia. You might say that my family bleeds red tape.
So it is usually with gusto that I throw myself into governance activities. I’ve been active in the ALA for over 20 years. I have my old friend and colleague Lynne Lysiak to thank for that first recruitment into LITA, my “home division,” where I spent many happy years before devoting more time to “big ALA,” culminating most recently with my election to the ALA Executive Board.
In recent days, the gusto with which I have approached ALA governance was consumed by a flurry of activity. It was time to put on my active listening ears and governance hat. I won’t rehash the threads here, but will simply link to the message to members posted by ALA President, Julie Todaro. What I found in the end was not despair but the usual comfort and optimism that I find in doing the work of the association. It was actually pleasing to see the high (and even loud) level of engagement from several pockets of the organization.
Though I might be painted as a wonk, or someone who prefers a very practical approach to association governance, I will admit a sincere love of the more activist approach to library efforts and advocacy. It was nice last week to relive some of the activism that came as a result of the PATRIOT Act passage, for example. Wonk and Activist. I don’t think the two positions are mutually exclusive. In fact, I wish more advocates with put their positions into practice through active governance and engagement. I’ve always tried to tell my colleagues that you let more air in by opening a window from the inside than by throwing rocks at the windows from the outside.
I greatly appreciated the posts from Sarah Houghton, Rory Litwin, Emily, Drabinski, and Ingrid Henny Abrams. There were others that I missed and lots of voices on social media outlets. I hope to hear these voices quoted in the halls of ALA conferences and on the floor of ALA Council. I also hope that they consider even more volunteering with the Association (I know some already do quite a lot!). I was equally pleased with the message to members that ALA President Julie Todaro posted to the American Libraries blog. I was frankly less pleased with the #notmyala thread on Twitter (including my quick analysis that half if its posters aren’t even members of the ALA). Social media is sometimes as quick to pass judgment as large bureaucratic organizations are slow to act. This is a dangerous combination.
I guess my point is that the best way to affect change in an organization is to be a part of it. I’m not about to apply that simplistic approach to every membership organization, but I do think it applies to the American Library Association. As The Magpie Librarian (Abrams) states:
If you are feeling the way I feel and you’re hesitating to add your voice to the mix because you’re concerned about not saying the perfect thing, don’t worry. We as paying members of the ALA have the right to express our opinions publicly when our leaders are speaking for us in a way that makes us uncomfortable. (full post)
I would add that ALA members have a right to express their opinions when leadership makes them comfortable as well! And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that the best way to express one’s opinion as a dues-paying member is to VOTE! ALA is a membership organization with an elected governing council, elected President and Treasurer, and council-elected Executive Board. This is member-governance at its finest. This isn’t Management vs. Trade Union, Republican vs. Democrat, or ‘us’ vs. ‘them’. We are ALA.
I have 2 ½ more years on ALA Executive Board. I’m more competent as your ears than I am as your voice, but I endeavor to do my best. Never hesitate to let me know what you think. If you’re not a member, I might ask you “why not?” If you are a member, I might ask you if you vote. If you vote I might ask you to volunteer. But with all those warning aside, please tell me what you think about how ALA can govern better. You can post here, email me (andrewkpace at gmail dot com) or message me on Twitter @andrewkpace.
This latest discussion isn’t quite over yet. There’s still some more governing to do. And there’s still some more membering to do. I look forward to it. I hope you do, too.