Professional organizations

If it’s broken

One overriding theme I hear is that ALA is broken. I’d argue that’s not far off the mark.

Here’s an example: the room assignments. Another? The insistence on face-to-face meetings to conduct business. Makes sense if you’re geographically close, but some people are on tight budgets and travel can be difficult. Particularly in this day and age of high gas prices, delayed (or canceled flights), and – best of all – social networking.

Why ALA isn’t using nings and wikis and blogs better, I have no idea. I have some idea as to why AASL isn’t: the top leaders don’t know, understand or want to take the time to learn these new tools. It’s that whole “this works, why change” attitude that is so frustrating to newer members and (I think) inhibits participation.

Look around any room and the number of 50+ vs. <35 is astounding. And the under 50? Few are getting involved. Many are frustrated. Not the way to run an organization, or even a division of an organization.

To me, it’s not just a question of keeping up with the times, it’s about our ability to remain relevant to the greater world. When the Washington Post has an article about getting rid of libraries generate as many comments as this one did, it’s clear that we’re needed. Then there’s the whole Hollywood Librarian movie, which could have been a great marketing tool and instead is more of an insider job. Where were the patrons from the first article? Why weren’t they involved in making this movie?

Clearly, there’s internal perception and external: we’re needed. Our visionaries tell us to Twitter and to get a Second Life and to create dynamic websites and portals for our patrons. Our patrons respond positively to our services (and decry those that would do away with us altogether). So why is it so difficult for the organization to move into that direction (we are, just using bad – as in difficult to use easily – software and with no administrative buy-in)? Insisting on expensive travel for meetings, and a lack of transparency are hurting us.

1 thought on “If it’s broken”

  1. I would like to comment on the concept of “broken.” I am not speaking here as an ALA staff member which I am (ACRL) nor as an ALA long-time member which I am nor as a boomer which I am. I am speaking from my experience as an organizational consultant. Is this conversation about what is broken or what can be?ALA is one of the most member-driven organizations I know. Thus change – certainly any change to do with Council – must be member-driven.Certainly new skills development for ALA staff is critical to meet new demands and I think ALA is making efforts to provide learning events related to blogs and wikis. Most divisions have blogs of one sort or another. And staff are catching up to the membership – at least many staff are. There is still much to do in this arena.But the main point here is that change takes time and, crucially, WILL. Where there is no will to change there is no change. I have seen this happen in libraries espousing change but not able to actually make it happen. Will relates to desire and the place you are wanting to go. ALA members espousing change must have the will to stick with their ideals, hopes, and vision and to positively engage others to follow them into the change effort. It is a leadership issue as well. I realize that many are taking leadership by just creating this space for action and dialogue so that is good. But it will take a lot of influence, persuasion, explanation, and vision about what to create (not just what to get rid of) to inspire others to action.Change is not about what is broken but more about what the future holds – what we should create. It is important to define current reality so you know where you are departing from, certainly. However the greater part of effective change is to identify where you are going, describe the shape of it and the power of it so that colleagues will want to go there.Kathryn Deiss

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