A Hybrid ALA For 2015

Like many ALA members I focus most of my participative energy on my division and section. Prior to the Annual Meeting in Anaheim I paid little attention to ALA’s exploration of e-participation. What I did learn at the conference is that an official Task Force on E-Participation has produced a report that makes recommendations to the association related to this issue.

Even though I had no access to that report or much in the way of information about this initiative I was invited to speak at the official ALA Forum on E-Participation, for no more than five minutes, about my experience with e-participation within ACRL. After delivering my remarks members of the audience, mostly ALA councilors, could comment (and unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to respond). I was surprised by the number of folks who had real concerns about opening up ALA to e-member participation. There are some hurdles to jump, but there are people who want to participate as e-members and we have the technology to make it possible. Does ALA have the will power to change? I wrapped up my 5 minutes by urging ALA to adopt its own “put-a-man-on-the-moon” initiative. I challenged ALA to become a totally hybrid organization by 2015. That means 50% regular member and 50% e-participation members, as well as a Conference that offer 50% of its programming to remote participatnts using distance learning or webcasting platforms.

Here’s a fact that must be faced. If the LIS program where I teach a course is at all indicative of where LIS education is at or where it is headed, we are largely talking about an e-learning environment. At Drexel University, where I teach a course (both online and F2F), currently 70% of the students are enrolled as online participants. So if ALA supports e-learning for our future librarians, why are we even discussing the feasibility of e-participation? If an electronic environment is good enough for learning to be a degree-bearing member of this profession at an ALA accredited program, why would it not be a good enough way to participate in the same organization?

Since his presidential initiatives webpage identifies “New technologies, new ways of communicating, open new opportunities for members to make the most of their ALA experience” as one of his top initiatives, I expect Jim Rettig, ALA president for 2008-2009 will move the association further along in the direction of making e-participation a reality for more ALA members. That could mean more virtual members on committees, ensuring ALA has the right technology to support robust virtual meetings, partnering with companies that can make ALA programs accessible to virtual participants, developing a sensible dues structure that makes virtual membership affordable and any number of strategies that can make ALA a truly hybrid association.

At the memberships meetings on e-participation individual commenters spoke on the need for keeping any and all meetings open and accessible to members (there seems to be a fear that virtual meetings will lead to more secrecy and lack of participation but my experience has been that e-meetings are more open and allow for greater attendance), expressed concerns that the technology will inhibit discussion and allow the more technology-adept participants to control discussions (again, if anything, my experience has been that attendees are much more likely to participate virtually – and let’s face it – strong personalities can easily control and influence F2F meetings), and shared fears that e-participation will lead to the demise of ALA.

I stand behind my statement that anything you can do in a F2F meeting you can do in a virtual meeting – including voting. Granted, we sacrifice non-verbal communication to some degree (with webcams we can support video participation), but both F2F and e-meetings have their tradeoffs (e.g., high cost of conference attendance versus ease and affordability of e-participation). My feeling is that if you look at the overall tradeoffs between a traditional F2F ALA and a 21st century hybrid ALA, I strongly believe every library worker has far more to gain from a hybrid ALA than he or she stands to lose from moving to an e-participation future.

ALA needs a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) and the time is right for shifting directions to a hybrid association by 2015. When you examine all the factors that support e-participation – costs and hassle of air travel (sure to get even worse); rising costs of conference housing and meals; environmental impact of conference travel; waves of e-graduates from LIS programs – it looks more and more like the best decision. Of course, for 2015 the conference location is San Francisco, a city ALA has bypassed for many years. It may be hard to for ALA members to pass up a chance to go to San Francisco. But San Francisco or no, let’s hear it for “Hybrid by 2015”.

25 thoughts on “A Hybrid ALA For 2015”

  1. Thanks for the post, Steven. I am a big supporter of ALA creating more opportunities for e-learning. You make some really valid points about the number of “e-graduates” from LIS programs. I have to wonder why some people think that e-participation will lead to the end of ALA. I really don’t understand it. I think opening up committees and conferences to virtual members would make ALA grow even stronger. There are so many of us out there that just can’t justify travel to expensive conferences (for a multitude of reasons). In the last year, I’ve been able to attend more professional development “seminars” online than I ever would have in a face-to-face environment. And I know I would be able to participate in ALA much more easily if 50% of its membership opportunities were virtual. Hey, I’d even settle for 30%!

  2. It seems odd to me that this could be controversial. Not to say that there won’t be some difficult details to hash out, but ALA will continue to miss out on the work of a growing number of talented, dedicated people if they continue to insist on twice-a-year in-person attendance. My sincere best wishes for the success of your BHAG.

  3. as a distance education librarian I am 100% behind your idea and glad to hear someone wanting to make this a strong goal for ALA events. I foresee more and more folks taking online classes and workshops esp due to geographic divides that constrain travel, rural areas lacking other options, and the flexibility of it. For large conferences this idea not only saves people money, is more environmentally friendly, and allows for more participation BUT it is also the way of the future and we should be “practicing what we preach,” eh? how can I promote online options for students and faculty and then not participate myself in this method if offered from my leading library association? (of course I’m sure I’ll still travel on occasion since I do love the F2F social aspects, exploring new cities, and eating at yummy restaurants… since, IMHO, virtual food just isnt as good 🙂

  4. F2F is a huge revenue producer for associations. I’m sure that’s why we don’t see much of a change. Forward thinking associations need to determine ways to recoop lost revenue other than hitting members up when replacing F2F with virtual. Leaner and ….well, not meaner, we hope.

  5. Tighter travel budgets and increased environmental costs are the two biggest reasons to move to hybrid conferences. Imagine the benefits from the single savings of not having to throw 20,000 or more cups into the trash. But why start with ALA in 2015? Why not start with ACRL in 2011? Or LITA in 2012?

    Smaller gatherings have occurred in an online environment. Surely a successful hybrid convention from one of the divisions would encourage ALA to allow greater flexibility at its own conferences. Can we start by taping some sessions, and uploading them to the web? I’d love to make the videos freely available, but you could always place them behind a member’s logon. Can we request that two sessions in an upcoming conference be held in a blended environment, with some people participating in the physical conference room, and others participating via a Meebo chat session? Can we find one renowned international librarian/scholar to present from his/her home country, with two-way video in the conference room?

    When LIS programs first offered programs in an online environment, the numbers were not huge. But they are growing. I would anticipate the same evolution in hybrid conferences.

    Fundamentally, what actions can we try now to encourage ALA to move to a hybrid environment soon?

  6. It’s absurd to say that meetings that require travel to expensive cities are more open and accessible than … the Internet ?!? I can hardly believe it as I type that. There are so many librarians who can’t begin to pay for that kind of travel, and don’t have institutional support. They are effectively shut out of the organization unless they’re involved in a section that has electronic participation.

    I hardly ever go to ALA. It’s a waste of my institution’s money (or my money) to spend that much on hotels and travel to do what I can do just as well at my computer. And it’s ecologically unsustainable.

    I’m all in favor of your BHAG, though it frankly surprises me that it should be so difficult that it qualifies as a BHAG. I’d call it a no-brainer.

  7. The reason I hear, over and over in back-channel conversations, is the two f2f conferences/meetings are the major funding stream for the association. 🙁

    We need a redesign of the funding model – there have been several thoughts posted “in the wilds” (which I first saw here) which may not stand up to scrutiny on their own but should be incorporated into a more comprehensive new model.

    The problem is any new funding model will probably need to be implemented in a revolutionary, rather than evolutionary, way.
    i.e. developed, discussed, and implemented in 1-3 years max — no limping along for over a decade like the e-participation process.

    We are definitely living in interesting times for the association.

  8. This topic came up for discussion at the Emerging Leaders session at Annual last month. It’s definitely on the mind of many in that group (including myself).

  9. It’s been a huge professional disappointment in my two years post-MLS that I haven’t been able to be active in ALA because I don’t have funding for two meetings/year (including when I was still in the US; now I’m overseas in Egypt). I would love to be active in ALA, but simply cannot afford the travel without employer support. I’m also not sure, if I could only attend two conferences a year, that ALA would be my first choice–because then I couldn’t attend ACRL every other year or Internet Librarian ever, and so on.

    I suspect LACK of e-participation opportunities will be the death of ALA. Certainly the doors are closed to many newer/younger/poorer professionals right now. Then again, the current power structure, who can afford to participate, isn’t necessarily going to be the one to change it.

    I am still an ALA member, but I’m not sure how many years I’ll pay the dues if I can’t participate otherwise.

  10. Others have already posted the comments I was going to make about cost, institutional support, environmental impact, accessibility, so I won’t echo them.

    I’ll just point out that I find it hugely ironic that meeting(s) to discuss virtual participation in ALA were held in person, with no opportunity for, well, virtual participation. Those who most needed to be heard at those meetings — those who are currently excluded from in-person participation for all the reasons outlined above — couldn’t participate.

  11. From conversations with several members of TFOEMP the group as a whole has embraced asynchronous for the final 6 month push to get their recommendations in order and the report to Council written.

    I hope the final drafts of their report make it into the wilds *before Midwinter* for dissemination, consideration, feedback, and commentary!

  12. It would really help more members participate more fully in ALA if we became more hybrid! We already make certain presentations available on the ALA website. Why not eliminate the professional digital divide dilemma by enabling those of us without travel money to access the conferences?

  13. Am I glad to hear somebody finally bring this up! There are some librarian professional meetings and training already going on in Second Life. There is a learning curve there, but it at least has some of the aspects of F2F.

  14. Don’t laugh, but let’s do these mtgs in 2nd Life–this way you can “interact” with each other and network like you would if you were there in real life. Listening in at your desk not knowing who else is in the room is kind of boring and flat. Granted, I don’t have an avatar, but if I could actually attend the business part of RBMS virtually w/o asking my work to pay for 2 different plane tickets (!!!), I’d create one in a heartbeat. My work will not pay for me to fly to Austin (location for the RBMS preconference in 2006) to attend a preconference and then fly to New Orleans (site of the RBMS meeting/ALA meeting) to meet with the same exact people I just left in Austin. To administrators, this makes no sense!

  15. Lest this post give the impression that the majority of the ALA Council was seriously concerned about or opposed to the E-member proposal, I would add that a number of councilors voiced their strong support of e-participation during the meetings. As I listened to the comments both pro and con I wondered how many of these individuals, on both sides of the issue, had ever attended a virtual meeting or a webcast. If you’ve never personally experienced it how can you support or oppose it? I urged them all to make sure they did before they voted one way or the other – and even offered to help any interested party attend an online learning session – or a meeting – but no one has yet to take me up on the offer.

  16. A conference that has truly embraced the hybrid concept is the Next Web conference. I stumbled upon the website mid-conference and was able to view amazing events and speakers in real time – even though the event was in Holland. They use many types of web tools in very proactive ways and do it well.


    I don’t think it will even take us until 2015 to build a hybrid organization and convention. And if it does, it will be a real shame. We will be far behind the curve by then – as a profession we are smart enough to pull this off and crafty enough to find the resources to do it.

  17. Can anyone provide a link to the task force report? I searched the ALA web site, but so far have not been able to unearth it.

  18. ALA has a presence in Second Life. I was there while the conference in Anaheim was taking place along with a few others and we received reports from an ALA official in SL on what was taking place in Anaheim (there was a total of three ALA staff available for questions, etc.). It would have been wonderful if the live event could have been streamed there (which is very doable).

    The cost for ALA to set something up by the next conference would be minimal, and by doing so would allow the growing number of librarians and library staff in Second Life to attend and participate. Those who have never been in Second Life could register ahead of time (free) and go through a basic orientation prior to the event. Virtual worlds are here to stay and this could be a good introduction for many who are not yet familiar.

    There are also programs like Adobe Connect, Emmulate, etc. These are all useful and I have attended dozens of virtual seminars this way. However, those types of programs do not allow for the same level of interaction participants can experience in Second Life. The next ALA conference held in SL would be a progressive move and one many would appreciate.

  19. I’m an e-graduate of an LIS program and would love to attend ALA, but being new to the field I don’t have the resources, and I’m already feeling alienated from what’s going on. I read everything I can, but it doesn’t replace interaction. Virtual would be great!

  20. I do think there’s an incredible value to face-to-face conferences. I’m not sure virtual conferences alone can replace them. But Twitter has become a great way to stay connected to some friends who are colleagues, the kind of folks I’d be most eager to see at a conferences, as well as a great way to connect with more established librarians. I’m currently working on a proposal with another librarian whom I likely never would have met or approached outside of Twitter.

    I propose that virtual conferences, combined with the kind of professional networking that happens with blogs and Twitter or other social networks, could almost replace face-to-face.

    I would not want to see large conferences moving to Second Life, however (or other similar virtual worlds). There are too many additional barriers. For people in rural or international settings, the bandwidth could be a problem (I suspect this would be an issue for me in Egypt).

    And many might not have the right hardware on their computers. I worked at a well-funded ARL a little over a year ago and could not access Second Life on my work machine because it didn’t have the right video card. And this was on a pretty new machine, nothing extraordinary but more than adequate for a reference and instruction librarian.

    Certain technologies seem ubiquitous when they aren’t. My point is this: let’s make sure we’re not erecting new barriers when we dismantle the old.

  21. One thing that might help move ALA along a bit faster is if we started having hybrid meetings of this type in our libraries. Many of my library colleagues work in other locations — when we have all staff meetings, they are invited to join us by audio / conference call. I’d love to see us use technology (Skype, Second Life, or some web meeting software, etc) to facilitate and enhance these non-face-to-face meetings. If libraries started doing this, we’d collectively have a sense of how they worked and might be more wiling to try it for our national conferences.

  22. I want to comment on the statement above: “I would not want to see large conferences moving to Second Life (SL), however (or other similar virtual worlds). ” The writer then mention the barriers for some due to hardware and bandwidth requirements. And this is currently true. Though once SL and other virtual worlds work well on handheld devices (iPhone and smart iPhone like devices), then this barrier and many others related to the digital divide will begin to fade away (many expect that will occur within the next year or two).

    My prior post on using SL was meant as simply another avenue for people to attend conferences virtually, and one which enables people to have a closer to f2f experience than most other technologies. I felt that there could be more than one way to connect virtually to ALA conferences. For those who could not or chose not to use SL or other virtual worlds, there could also be other technologies used such as Elluminate, Adobe Connect, etc.

    I attended an ACRL event using Meebo a couple of months ago and it actually worked fairly well. There are many free or inexpensive ways to connect and network virtually these days. I look forward to the options future conferences may offer.

  23. I appreciate all of the positive comments and concerns about ALA e-participation. I was another of the speakers at this ALA discussion about e-participation, and just wanted to mention a few points.

    First, I spoke on the panel as a representative of the ACRL Instruction Section. If that Section is in itself at all representative of other ALA groups, then ALA is already functioning to some degree in a hybrid fashion. I talked about the Instruction Section’s PRIMO committee that does all of its work asynchronously and does not meet at conferences. And I talked about the completely virtual Library School Outreach Task Force that I chaired for the Instruction Section. We never met in person either, and instead, for a year and a half, conducted all of our work through phone conference calls, email and a wiki.

    Prior to our last phone conference call, we found out that ALA considers phone conference calls to be meetings. The open meeting policy meant that I had to publicize the call in advance and invite participation. I did that and we had some welcome guests who listened in. The only issue was confidentiality, as we had solicited some information from library schools with a guarantee of confidentiality, so could not share that information with our guests. Confidentiality is an issue too, for groups like PRIMO that conduct “peer review” for online instructional materials, as well as for listserv and other discussions regarding personnel who may have applied for open positions, as well as some other matters.

    When I spoke on Saturday at ALA, someone did raise the issue of revenue derived through conferences. He was concerned that ALA would lose money if it decided not to hold Midwinter Conferences in person, for instance. Someone (it may have been the same person, though I can’t quite remember now) then said that ALA was already losing exhibitors as there were fewer people going through exhibits.

    All of that made me think that ALA needs to focus on its mission and figure out different funding streams, as has been suggested, rather than on the potential for lost revenue if e-participation is expanded. There are many people who can’t afford to attend conferences, as has also been stated. Second Life does offer an excellent additional option to draw more people in, though we do need to be aware both of the access requirements (high capacity graphics card and high speed connection), and of the fact that simultaneous avatar capacity in a single location is limited to about 65. Satellite viewing within SL can help expand this capacity greatly, though, and you can participate through text or voice chat, as well as IM. Whether or not this will be a viable alternative in the long run remains to be seen, but IMHO, it’s certainly worth exploring.

    ACRL will be holding the first of some planned panel discussions in SL on its site on the ALA Island on Tuesday, August 12th, 5 pm – 6 pm SLT (PDT), on starting an academic library in SL. Please join us there or ask a colleague in SL to project so you can listen and observe.

  24. I quit attending ALA years ago precisely because of the ecological footstep problem. The proposal is agood start, but Midwinter shouild be entirely and exclusively electronic except for maybe Council and Exec Board. Please also consider that January is a difficult and hazardous time to travel in most of the US. I would love to attend electronically, but never, ever in person.

  25. Over ten years ago when John Berry was president of ALA I chaired a task force he appointed to webcast the president’s programs. It was planned to be the camel nose in the tent. It worked very well and the programs were available on the ALA archives. I used them in the online classes that I taught. The cost of each program (these were first off programs) was around $6,000. Many if not all programs are videod since ALA uses the big screens and the captioning for the audio disadvantaged. While I have had no official reasons presented as to why the program died out many of the people that seemed unenthusiastic about it were staff or officers who had their eyes on the revenue streams.
    I did propose a restructured financial model but it didn’t get any traction.

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