While at the recent AASL National Conference I had the pleasure of spending time with several people new to the World of AASL. They weren’t new to “Big ALA”, but they’d spent time in other divisions despite being school librarians (I know so many others that belong to ALSC or YALSA and have little to do with AASL, too).
While they enjoyed the presentations and the opportunity to see their peers outside the large ALA conference, they didn’t enjoy AASL. I understand why, but what saddens me is that so few others seem to – or if they do, they’re not interested in changing things. So, why?
- AASL encourages a Cult of Personality in a way that other divisions don’t seem to. There are a group of Big Names who are definitely deserving of their fame, as they are often sources of inspiration and new ideas. But there’s a sense that you cannot disagree with them and that citing others doing similar things is somehow disloyal. Disagreement and some dissension is good for an organization, let alone for humans. If you can’t take questioning about your ideas, methodology or pedagogy, isn’t that a huge problem? Other division have their Big Names, but the veneration isn’t there.
- AASL is not that welcoming to newbies and outsiders. I’ve often decried the age issue at AASL’s All-Committee sessions: I should not be one of the youngest in the room. One of my dining partners said that she’d joined an AASL committee after years in another division and at her first All-Committee session had been soundly ignored by the other, older (both in age and in AASL activity) members. How is this helping with outreach to other divisions or encouraging new leaders?
- AASL is not growing new leaders. Despite the wonderful leadership panel, very few of the AASL leadership is actively mentoring and sponsoring younger members, encouraging participation, committee work and leadership. So few of the Emerging Leaders have actually emerged, and I know at more than one person who is giving more time and attention to another division despite being really good leadership material for AASL. When I served on the mentoring committee, nothing was accomplished in part because the act of mentoring is difficult and while many members have had great mentors that helped them, they’re not interested in paying that forward.
- AASL is an echo chamber. I’ve seen it on so many different social media platforms (especially twitter) and in presentations: I cite you, I applaud you, and you return the favor. Publicly. One recent tweet wasn’t even responding to Tweeter A’s comments, it was Tweeter B applauding that Tweeter A was tweeting so thoughtfully. And that comment got retweeted! Why wasn’t that a DM? Because in AASL, you need to be seen to be following and appreciating the Big Names.
I could go on, but those are the biggest gripes I’ve heard from people who would make great, insightful, productive, innovative, engaging members and leaders of AASL, but they feel so unwelcome in the association that they prefer to spend their time and energies in other divisions (or in some cases, other associations entirely). That’s really too bad, but they’ve told me they’re not willing to drink the AASL Kool-Aid, to be ignored and discounted by the Big Names and leaders. At least two won’t attend AASL13, even to present. The problem isn’t that it’s just a few unhappy voices, it’s that these voices are being heard by others in the other divisions. That is a huge image problem for AASL, when people other divisions consider to be Names (or even just names) can’t be positive about their experience with AASL members and conferences.
And sadly this lack of caring is institutionalized in the “home office”, which in this case equals those employed by ALA as well as those serving on the Board and in Affiliate Assembly. There are a few who buck this trend, but when year after year social gatherings (like the ISS Networking Social) are ignored by the current President and when at the National Conference the President doesn’t make the rounds (ok, greeting 3000+ people can be difficult, but so many people have never spoken with the President up close) I can’t help but wonder what’s going on. I’ve blogged about this before, written e-mails to friends that have been President (or Past, or Elect) and nothing changes.
Will this new post change anything? I doubt it. My voice within AASL is too small, and those with bigger voices won’t care. My hope is that those outside AASL see this and realize that not everyone inside has drunk the Kool-Aid.