Not a sacraficial lamb to slaughter
Posted by lpearle on 21 November 2011
The big buzz at AASL11 was Barb Stripling is running for ALA President. Yay?
Let’s try that again, shall we:
The big buzz at AASL11 was Barb Stripling is running for ALA President. YAY!!
Why the initial “yay?” from so many people? Many people know that she’s a great candidate but we also know that presidential candidates from the youth services divisions rarely get elected (not never, just rarely). Several people murmured that she doesn’t have a chance.
I had the honor of serving on the ALA Nominating Committee in 2010 and I can promise you that Barb wasn’t chosen because the committee really wanted Gina J. Millsap to be the ’13-’14 ALA President and needed someone to run as a sacrificial lamb against her. Trust me when I tell you that isn’t the case. The process is much more complicated and thoughtful than that. So herewith is both a backstage view of what happens and how Barb can have a realistic chance at getting elected.
First, when my committee met we started by looking at past potential candidates – could this be the year they ran? We also divided up the divisions and made plans to call their presidents to get names of people they felt were potential presidential candidates. All those names were then called. It went something like this:
Me: Hi, I’m calling on behalf of ALA’s Nominating Committee. Do you have a few moments to talk?
Potential Candidate: Uh… sure.
Me: Well, this is all confidential, but we’d like you to consider running as candidate for ALA President next year.
At this point, I’d get one of three responses: 1. “God no!”, 2. “Wow. Me?” or 3. “What would it entail?” (no one ever said “God no!” but ultimately there was a “no” response). What does it entail? It entails talking to your spouse/partner/family and your employer, because there will be a lot of travel. It entails participating in a way that you haven’t before, acting as the voice of ALA and American libraries. And it entails raising a campaign war chest of over $10,000.
Yes, folks. The candidate must fundraise for their own campaign and it’s expensive.
Several really qualified, wonderful people backed out after learning what was expected of them as president and as campaigner. Some said an initial “yes” and then backed out for various reasons. The names get whittled down and discussed and re-discussed. My concern was that we choose candidates that had some sort of on-line presence, someone who could speak to the younger, less engaged members of ALA. For each name I checked to see if they had a blog, a twitter feed, a Facebook page, a column in a publication: something that spoke to them having name recognition beyond their little corner of ALA. Other committee members had other concerns, and each was taken seriously. When we finally had a slate of candidates to present, there was much elation.
So the process of asking Barb to run wasn’t easy, and there’s no way of knowing who the other potential candidates were or why they didn’t run. What I do know is that the entire committee felt this was a viable candidate who could run a great campaign with a chance of winning, someone who would make a great president and spokesperson for ALA.
It’s important that the youth services divisions vote – statistically, historically, members of those divisions do not vote even for their own candidates. Why is a mystery. If those members all voted for Barb… but it will take more than just them. Barb needs to be a candidate who appeals to LITA, ACRL, PLA and RUSA, speaking out about their issues and concerns, not just linking youth services issues to theirs. She needs to have a significant presence on the web and at conferences and institutes. She needs to reach out to younger members who do not feel part of ALA (because it’s too large, it’s too expensive to come to conferences, because it’s not meeting their needs in whatever way) and make them feel that they are needed and included and that she speaks to and for them. How? By blogging and tweeting and e-mailing and speaking and doing all the things that we expect from our leaders, but don’t often get from ALA.
It’s not impossible for me to imagine Barb Stripling as ALA President. It is impossible for me to imagine that the Nominating Committee can’t see that as well.