Two different kind readers alerted me to a “nasty discussion” happening on the ALA Council listserv. I don’t know about nasty, but there are certainly some councilors who don’t like the questions one councilor is asking, or the way he asks them.
To get an idea of what people are upset about, check out the first couple of paragraphs of the offending email:
Dear Division and Roundtable Councilors:
I have an honest question for you all, and I am in need of an honest answer
from each of you, please: What is your opinion of the ALA Council? Would you
say that it is functional, efficient, and relevant to the everyday
professional concerns of libraries and librarians? Or would you say that it
is inefficient, frustrating, irrelevant, hopeless, etc.? I would appreciate
hearing your thoughts, observations, and stories about it.
I ask because the amount of wasted time and effort I have witnessed in just
the past three Council conventions spanning three cities, is truly
staggering. Fully half of the people in room are completely disengaged from
the proceedings at all times — people checking email, posting to social
media, online shopping, even playing video games for entire meetings is a
common sight. And I don’t really blame them, because the proceedings are
tedious, and the comments from the floor endless, filled with tangents,
irrelevancies, and self-aggrandizing commentary by individual councilors.
The smiley face befor the first paragraph is precious.
The email goes on to suggest the Council is “bloated” with at-large councilors, which constitute 100 out of 187 total councilors (I think).
The same person had previously suggested the Council was too large, especially compared to other professional organizations, and asked that a committee be put together to examine the issue. Instead of just doing that and then ensuring that the issue would go nowhere indefinitely, people responded that it wasn’t, leading to the email quoted above.
That one is definite more forceful. It would be hard to focus the issue more bluntly than to ask people whether they thought the Council was “functional, efficient, and relevant” as opposed to “inefficient, frustrating, irrelevant, hopeless, etc.” Especially when it’s clear the writer thinks the whole process is a big farce.
All the old hands on Council responded, often at great length. Their conclusion? Of course the Council is functional, efficient, and relevant! They don’t even know what he might be talking about.
And when people are checking email, tweeting, or playing video games the entire time? Why, those people are just good at multitasking!
Apparently, if there are any serious problems with the ALA Council, they’re all in the head of the poor fellow who just isn’t wise enough to understand the importance and functioning of the democratic process that the ALA Council is all about.
It’s especially amusing to watch someone defend the Council’s relevance to the everyday professional concerns of the members. The best strategy seems to be asking, “who can say what’s relevant?”
That’s pretty easy to answer. The members say what’s relevant, and they vote with their feet. How many ALA members show up for Council sessions unless they have to? Almost none. How many discussions have ALA members ever been in where they’ve cared what the ALA Council was up to? I mean, unless they’re trying to pass some ridiculous resolution that I criticize. Almost none. 187 people go into a big room every ALA and talk, and nobody listens.
Instead of putting together a committee to investigate whether the Council is too large, or deciding whether it’s relevant to the professional concerns of librarians, we should try an experiment.
The ALA Council should cease meeting or discussing issues for an entire year. The budgeting stuff can still go on with a few people, and the members can be apprised of anything happening there. Otherwise, Council is effectively abolished for year.
Then, see if anyone notices, other than the Councilors who now don’t have numerous tedious hours of meetings to attend, or the SRRT which will have no body to try to make its mouthpiece.
If that’s too drastic, try a truly democratic approach. Put a vote to the entire membership asking if the ALA Council is of any usefulness or relevance to their professional concerns. If the vote is no, abolish the Council. If yes, keep it.
Or keep it either way, but have an answer to the question from people other than the dedicated Councilors who would weep if they didn’t have the illusion of power and influence they now have.
Then we’d might know for sure what many of us already suspect. ALA members don’t care what the Council does because the Council doesn’t do anything for them.