ALA elections are coming up, and I’ve been thoroughly entertained by all the campaign commercials appearing on television. At least you don’t get so many negative ads from librarians as you do from real politicians.
LJ has an interview with the two candidates for ALA President. They both seem like they would be fine. They gave slightly different answers to the questions, but all of them were okay. I’m sure the also have websites laying out their strengths and explaining why they should be ALA President.
Reading the interviews, I was struck by one thing. It won’t make an iota of difference which candidate gets elected. There’s nothing one of them could do that the other couldn’t, and there’s not much either of them can do anyway.
For example, they both talked about the hot button library issue of the day: ebook publishers and their arm’s-length relationship to libraries. We need leadership, etc., to solve this problem, etc. etc.
Except no amount of leadership from the ALA is going to solve this problem. It’s all well and good to speak as if the ALA had any power whatsoever, but it doesn’t. Legislators don’t listen to the ALA, and neither do publishers.
What better evidence for this exists than the ebook summit ALA representatives had with ebook publishers a could of months ago. The ALA was trying to get more publishers to license ebooks to libraries.
Since then, one has stopped licensing new titles at all and the other has another has tripled prices for ebooks. I’m not sure how much ALA leadership the library world can tolerate on this issue.
Regardless of who gets elected, or if anyone gets elected, nothing will change.
In addition, the ALA mindset is so ingrained in any candidates for President that there’s not really much to choose from. All the candidates agree that the same things are good, which makes the election even more boring.
That got me wondering. What would an ALA Presidential election look like that actually mattered, and that something was actually at stake?
In order for that to happen, there would have to be some equivalent of an Annoyed Librarian candidate, someone who wouldn’t just mouth the same platitudes, or who might but who would give them a different interpretation.
What if a candidate came out and said that Band Books Week was pointless, and that most librarian talk of censorship was baseless? Or who urged the ALA to stop obsessing about the alleged right to access Internet porn in public libraries?
There are various other issues that librarians disagree about, but librarians who disagree with the standard ALA-approved responses to all questions never get a hearing. We don’t even know how many such librarians there are, because there’s no way truly alternative candidates would make it on the ballot except as write-ins.
So here’s my challenge to next year’s nominating committee. Try to find candidates who seriously disagree with each other on some important issues and put them on the ballot. Don’t just go with the same insiders. Be bold and provocative.
Then maybe more ALA members would vote in the elections instead of deleting that election email because they know that their vote won’t really help decide the future of anything important.