Professional organizations

‘Tis a puzzlement

Two years ago, I was honored with an appointment to AASL’s Nominating Committee. Possibly as a result, I am now serving on ALA’s Nominating Committee. Instead of looking for someone to run for division president, and for others to run for Affiliate Assembly, this year I get to help convince people to run for ALA President and ALA Council. It’s a great responsibility, as you can imagine.

Much of our work is supersecret, and if I told you I’d have to kill you (since this is a blog post, that would mean killing a whole lot of people and while we are trying to get away from the librarian stereotype, I don’t think “mass murderer” is the way to go!). But there are some things that you should know, hence my writing. The official charge is to find two candidates for ALA President-Elect in 2011, and to create a slate of a minimum of 51 candidates for ALA Council. At the end of our deliberations, and potential candidate reflections and filings, the Chair of our committee (Robert Newlen, who in real life is Deputy Assistant Director of the Knowledge Services Group at the Library of Congress) will meet with the ALA Executive Board and present our slate. He’ll also talk about things like the number of people we originally approached, and the diversity of the slate.

Diversity here is complex. We’re talking about a diversity of type of librarian, of division members, of ethnicity and age (if we can determine that), length of membership in ALA, regional diversity and a whole host of other “subgroups”. Last year’s Chair shared some of the statistics with us at our first meeting, during ALA Midwinter. Here’s the one that shocked me: 7% of the slate came from the “youth services” divisions. SEVEN PERCENT.

I’m continually floored by the discrepancy between the combined membership totals of AASL/ALSC/YALSA and the numbers that actually vote in ALA elections. It appears that our willingness to serve is equally limited. ‘Tis truly a puzzlement.

Now, I get why it’s difficult to consider running for Council: it’s a multi-year commitment to attend two conferences annually AND stay longer than non-Council attendees. There are financial issues (for many, support from our employers is difficult to obtain), there are timing issues (can you really be away from your job that long, at those times of year?), and there’s the issue of “what’s in it for me?” A recent electee to Council confessed that thus far, very little of what she’s seen and heard pertains to our jobs as school librarians.

Here’s the thing: if we don’t run, if we don’t vote, we don’t get to complain about those things. We don’t get to moan about Council resolutions or lack of support for our causes, our issues.

There have been several wonderful candidates for both Council and for President from our Divisions. Because we don’t support our own by voting, they don’t get elected. They don’t get elected, we don’t have as big a voice as, say, the members of LITA or RUSA. If you haven’t gotten your confirmation e-mail about elections, get hold of the ALA Membership people. Find out why you didn’t. The election will open in another week or so, and you have until late April to actually vote.

Can you honestly say “I don’t have enough time to vote”?  Does the direction our professional organization takes that unimportant?  Given all the budget issues that we’re facing, with public libraries cutting staff and closing branches and President Obama’s education budget omitting the words “libraries” and “librarians” (have you signed the Twitter petition?), is now the time to not be a strong part of ALA and use the weight of our membership numbers to persuade local, state and federal officials that strong school libraries and strong public library programs for children and teens is essential?

Let’s surprise everyone this year by having a record turnout for AASL, ALSC and YALSA voters.

2 thoughts on “‘Tis a puzzlement”

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