My Hopes for a New ALA Executive Director

The job posting for the ALA Executive Director has gone out. Keith Michael Fiels, who has been the ED longer than I’ve been in the profession, is retiring and a search firm has been retained. I read through the job ad and the requirements put it pretty squarely in the “have been a Library Director” range, which I’m okay with. There were strong debates about the need for an MLS or not for this position. This is not a continuance of that debate.

But there are some hopes that I have for the new ED:

  • A commitment to accessible transparency to the organization. When I’ve brought up issues of transparency in the past, I’ve been told that well, if I just want to dig deeply enough into documentation of the Council, the this, the that– navigating ALA Connect in all of it’s bad interfaces, requesting permission, and showing up in person to meetings that don’t actually seem like they are open or welcoming –I’m entirely welcome and things are totally obvious. That’s not transparency.
  • Active two-way communication with the members of ALA. This is not only a leadership role, it’s a service role. If an active staff member doesn’t recognize the Library Director, I think that’s an issue. If an active ALA member could physically run into the ED and not know who they are–similar issue. Communication methods have evolved drastically. I expect a social media presence and willingness to engage in far more than the ‘usual’ places or to a very narrow group of people. My Provost holds open office hours once a month and *anyone* on campus is welcome to drop in and raise a question with her. Could we see something like that from the ED at least on a quarterly basis?
  • ED accountability that expands beyond the Executive Board. Currently the EB are the only ones engaged in the evaluation of the Executive Director. I take issue with this because there historically has been no input from the membership. When Fiels was last evaluated, nothing was solicited from the larger membership and the process was entirely opaque. Most of the other people I know in ALA didn’t even know an evaluation had happened (me included) — and I tend to run with a very engaged crew. Feedback should be solicited, encouraged, and welcomed. And please don’t tell me it will be too much data to ask likert-scale questions about the strategic initiatives and allow for a short open comment from members. We have many quant and qual researchers, and I bet I can find a couple of librarians who could knock together some text analysis to pull out big trends. And think of the interesting information it would give the ALA Office that they could use for evaluating those initiatives and identifying engaged members.
  • ALA Staff Accountability to Volunteers. Engaged members work regularly with ALA staff who are not specifically accountable to these volunteers. On one hand I understand that; volunteers change and there will always been personalities that don’t go together. However, being told as a volunteer that you are expected to take on much work that falls squarely in the job description of one of those paid staff members is disheartening and disillusioning. Watching a paid staff member repeatedly not do their job is infuriating. Seeing no change for years when concerns are raised by multiple voices drives members away and trust me…unhappy volunteers talk. Solicit feedback from committee chairs and division leaders with the intention of determining actionable outcomes.
  • Appreciate your volunteers. This lines up with that last bullet point. *We* are the organization. We show up, pay dues, pay for conferences, put together presentations, give education, write publications, run committees, create plans, give of our time when it’s frequently not encouraged by our organizations– or is in name only. We will give you an hour at 2 a.m., show up early, stay late, find ways to make things work, drag in our friends and do what we can to make this a great organization. But if we’re only ever presented with more obligations and there is never appreciation expressed for what we do– why should we continue? We’ve *paying* for the privilege of giving back to our profession — many of us thousands of dollars a year in dues, conference fees, and travel. Find tangible ways to demonstrate that appreciation.
  • And that leads me to a last point–find more ways to hear from more voices. ALA has long held the line that if you’re a librarian and certainly if you’re a member,  we can’t possibly cover your travel to the conferences and there’s NO WAY to give someone a day pass. This hard line creates an immediate barrier to bringing in underrepresented voices. I’m fortunate to have funding from my Dean to cover part of my attendance and membership fees. My salary is generally sufficient to cover the rest. I am not the general rule for our membership. ALA cannot cover attendance fees for everyone, I recognize that– but not allowing any flexibility puts the divisions in a hard position when recruiting speakers for things like 8 hour pre-conferences.  Review these policies and see where we can make changes to encourage broader representation.

I think there is much a new Executive Director can do and I look forward to working with them in the future.

 

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