Making ALA/ACRL Better – It’s Up To You

A few posts appeared in the last day or so ruminating on ALA 2.0 (as if we needed 2.0 anything else). These were mostly reactions to ALA Presidential candiate Jim Rettig’s post on ALA 2.0 – a vision for how Web 2.0 concepts could be applied to improving ALA. There’s no question that ALA needs to improve opportunities for member participation. For one thing ALA could get the online community into shape so that divisions, sections, and committees could start making use of it for online communication.

Rather than giving you a long discourse on what needs to happen for ALA or ACRL to improve I’m going to simplify it for ACRLog readers. There are three easy steps:

1. Join ALA and the division/section where you think your talents and skills best fit.
2. Join a committee and be an active participant.
3. Work with colleagues to brainstorm new ideas and solutions, and then work hard to bring them to fruition.

That’s it. Too much a simplification? Sorry to disappoint you but I think those three points are the essence of a better ALA or ACRL. If we want our professional organizations to improve it’s been my experience that it happens when members commit themselves to achieving those enhancements from the inside, not from long external essays on what needs to be improved.

As a member and chair of the ACRL College Libraries Section’s Research in College Librarianship Committee a group of us started the Your Research Coach program to directly benefit members. We didn’t wait for an ACRL or ALA staff person to tell us what to do or how to do it. We just did it – and it’s helping members. We saw that ACRL’s great InPrint publication hadn’t been updated for years. We didn’t write an essay suggesting that ACRL would improve by updating InPrint and then putting it on the web free to members. We just took it upon ourselves to get that initiative going, and now the committee is on its way to revising InPrint -with support from ACRL and lots of individual volunteers. On November 16 CLS will hold a free webcast for 100 of its members in which CLS members will share stories about successful small scale programs. We didn’t write a story in our section newsletter calling for ACRL and ALA to offer free webcasts for members; we just organized it, got people to volunteer to give the presentations, and asked ACRL to help with logistics. And guess what – all these initiatives were produced via conference phone calls, e-mail exchanges, and pre-2.0 chat rooms. Not very 2.0 I’ll admit, but certainly effective. There are plenty of other examples of member-generated programs in CLS (College Library Directors’ Mentor Program, Excellence in Academic Librarianship Award, etc) and other ACRL and ALA sections.

So if ALA 2.0 is about people working collaboratively and creatively, in and outside of the traditional hierarchy, to create new programs and bring forth new ideas, then it may be that the 2.0 spirit is already out there. We just need more people, especially our younger members, – to whom we do need to reach out to and be more inviting – to bring their ideas to the table and give their time and effort to create change. If some folks think that having wikis, blogs, IM, podcasts, etc. will help then lets use those tools – but I don’t think that’s the core of the issue. We need librarians to get off their butts and get involved. If you want change, if you want improvement, if you want ALA to be better – call it ALA 2.0 if it makes you feel trendy – but it’s up to you to make a difference.

12 thoughts on “Making ALA/ACRL Better – It’s Up To You”

  1. Steven, those are terrific examples of creating change in your section of ACRL. However, I think there also needs to be more flexibility in certain divisions/sections to allow for contributions from people who can’t join committees, or there needs to be the flexibility to allow more people who can’t attend Midwinter and Annual (or who can only attend one) to be on a committee. I have now looked through all of the sections I am a part of in ACRL and only the Instruction Section seems to allow virtual members (I’m kind of shocked that the Distance Learning section isn’t a bit more flexible in that regard). I was pleased to see that your section allows for virtual meetings at Midwinter (and I am now wishing I’d joined that instead of the DL section). But more committees and sections need to have that flexibility for people who would like to get involved, but can’t attend physical meetings due to funding limitations.

    Then again, people can also serve the profession without even being in ALA. Look at the online course that I and my fellow organizers will be offering in February It’s nice to know that there isn’t just one road to bettering the profession and that you don’t necessarily need to get involved in a committee to do good. You just need to be willing to work hard.

  2. I know of several libraries that do not provide the same level of travel support for ‘younger’ librarians that they do for ‘senior’ librarians. I think it’s great that there is optimism like Meredith describes in her recent ALA post, but I don’t see giving people a certificate for attending meetings and calling them leaders as the solution.

    Social web tools can enhance communication and productivity, but will people use these utilities? The ACRL Blog has over 500 subscribers, yet it’s the same 10 people who post comments. The larger issue is changing behavior and breaking cliques.

    The Bowl Championship Series is a good example here. Urban Meyer, the current football coach at the U of Florida, used to be an advocate for changing the system, which does not favor smaller programs, yet now that he is in a big conference and at a big school, he’s against changing the system. I think that people tend to want to make changes and gain influence when they are new, yet the danger is becoming complacent once they obtain power. Once you start climbing the hierarchy, what incentive is there to dismantle it?

  3. Thanks for your comments guys – I hope the ACRL folks are reading. I’m glad that CLS has set an example of allowing virtual participation – and we’ve benefitted from it greatly. But you both point out that lots more need to be done – and I think these messages are being heard.

    Meredith – it’s clear that when librarians have initiatives – like your own workshop or blended librarianship – we’ll just do what we need to do to take it to our colleagues.

    Hey Brian – Meredith is a new commentor – but you are right – why aren’t folks more involved? I hope both of you will give some thought to getting involved in CLS – we can use your enthusiasm.

  4. Steven, you have identified the essential ingredient to get things done in ACRL, ALA, or any other large complex organization—initiative. You cite two examples of accomplishments you and fellow members of an ACRL committee have carried out by taking the initiative. Well done! But there are only so many slots in committees. What are the opportunities for the members with initiative and good ideas but no formal position within the organization? Lack of such a position isn’t an insurmountable obstacle, but it is nevertheless an obstacle.

    The environment in which many of our potential future leaders are currently thriving includes Yahoo groups (and similar social networks) which anyone can initiate and anyone can join. These groups require leadership if they are to have influence. Without members’ commitment in addition to the initial initiative, these groups fail to bear fruit and often wither and die. Yet some thrive. Some of our younger members (younger to you and me, at least!), without direction from organizational authorities, are doing creative, worthwhile things with online communities, wikis, and blogs that offer possible models for new ways of doing business in ALA—both within the structure of committees and outside committees in complement to that structure. Technolust is transitory and leaves no path for others to follow. Creative and effective use of technology, however, can provide models and paths for others. Let’s not get hung up on trendy labels such as Anything 2.0. Let’s look for ways to tap into the energy, imagination, and creativity of ALL of our members. We should not limit ourselves to the talents of those who serve on committees (a self-selected group due to constraints that keep some members from pursing committee appointments).

    I addressed ALA 2.0 in Twilight Librarian (see because it proved to be the successful catalyst that has energized the busy members of the ALA Participation Task Force (see ALA 2.0 is an idea that has resonated with them. Our focus is on the ideas we generate, not on the label on the package, not on the coolest technologies.

  5. Jim – I’m certainly open to any and all possibilities. I can think of a number of times when we could have done more by bringing in talent from outside of the committee structure. That’s whyI was optimistic about ALA’s online community because I thought that would help to promote more “outside the committee” program development, but it hasn’t achieved its potential just yet. I may not be a younger member, but that hasn’t stopped me from connecting with them to get some non-association learning community action into gear. So I’m all for seeing more of that kind of development. Guess I’m getting a little cranky about Anything 2.0

  6. I agree with Meredith. While face to face communication is necessary in many projects, I have been involved in a committee required to go to Midwinter and Annual- which I thought resonable. That is until my shock that the meeting we had together lasted all of 1 HOUR! The group had no intention of getting started on the project at the conference, just deciding on one. It is hard to justify the kind of expense of conference attendance when this is the result. I think ACRL should look critically at committees and either make the technology, etc. available for working committees at conferences; or make certain committees virtual.

  7. Meredith – thanks for pointing out that ACRL IS allows virtual members. We also have a number of virtual task forces/working groups from time-to-time, when we have a project that lends itself to success in that environment. So, anyone who is a member of IS and wants to be involved virtually – we welcome you to fill out the volunteer form and indicate the kind of involvement you seek. Lisa (Past-Chair, ACRL IS)

  8. I see 3 basic threads to this discussion, all of which deserve unpacking:

    1) ACRL, like ALA, needs to incorporate venues in which broad interaction is fostered, and structures that allow exciting initiatives to rise up from the grassroots to the national level.

    2) The initiative for creating these venues and structures must come both from the individual (join and participate; make your voice heard), and from the organization (provide opportunities for a broader range of participants, both in terms of providing opportunities for leadership from junior and senior colleagues; heed the call to be more flexible in how people contribute).

    3) Recognize the opportunities for “local” opportunities – both the virtual (“all users are . . .”) local made possible by the digital environment, and the actual local (regional and state-wide ACRL chapters).

    If the heart of the 2.0 concept is interaction and the promotion of meaning for the individual (and I’ve lost track if that’s at the heart of the concept, but let’s say it is for now), then it’s clear that ACRL has work to do to facilitate those goals. Like Steven (I think), I’ve tired a bit of the 2.0 moniker, which, in some cases, seems to have become a shorthand for a variety of things that we have been trying to do for a long time in academic libraries, but I think it has helped bring back to the fore some long-simmering issues that have great significance for the long-term vitality of ACRL.

  9. I want to add a “me too!” to Scott Walter’s third point. As past-president of our state ACRL chapter, I had the opportunity to meet numerous academic librarians who, for a myriad of reasons (funding; EdithS’s point; midwinter coming at the worst of instruction season, etc.), were unable to participate on the national-level. I wish ACRL had a closer relationship with its state chapters- not sure of all the history there- but there are exciting opportunities and events going on at the local level, and not much of it seems to “trickle up.”

  10. Candice – I hope that you’ll come to the ACRL Candidates Forum at Midwinter so that we can get this issue (which has come up on ACRLog before) on the table. I have been lucky enough to work with a number of chapters, as well as other local and regional academic library groups, and I do believe that this is a venue for programming that is not being used to its greatest potential. For the reasons you note, I think that the state chapter is ACRL for many people and ACRL National needs to find new ways to support chapter-level programming and to allow exciting chapter-led (like Steven’s examples of section-led) projects to inform discussions and activities at the ACRL level.

  11. Hi – This reponse is for Meredith. Distance Learning Section does offer virtual memberships. I’ve been a virtual member of the Liaison Committee for like 5 years now. I guess they just don’t promote the possibility.

    I will say, though, that in my experience virtual members cannot really assume leadership positions on committees unless they can attend Midwinter and Annual. I was offered the chair of Liaison Committee a couple years ago but when I said I wouldn’t be able to attend both ALAs, they gave it to someone else.

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