Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Voter Apathy? I’m Not Concerned about It

The last post was a bit dark. I’d spent the morning with a newspaper, and reading too much news is always depressing. Plus I wrote it after I discovered that the Rapture hadn’t happened after all, so I really was going to have to write another post and go back to work on Monday.

Since the last post was about a significant problem with no solution, let’s look at the lighter side of librarianship and consider an insignificant problem with no solution. The great thing about insignificant problems is that it doesn’t matter if they have solutions!

What’s this insignificant problem that has bothered some librarians? That 80% of eligible voters didn’t vote in the last ALA election. And this is terribly important because…because…hmm, I’m not really sure.

One librarian cared enough about it to put out a survey to find out why people didn’t vote. If the lack of voting mattered at all, she could be congratulated on seeking real evidence about why people didn’t vote, instead of curling up on the sofa with a laptop and speculating like other bloggers do.

Nevertheless, the answers were revealing. When asked why they didn’t vote in the last ALA election, 75% said “I was unfamiliar with the candidates.” I bet that’s especially true of the endless list of people they’ve never heard of running for ALA Council.

Some think that if you’re unfamiliar with candidates, it’s your duty to research them! Nah.

If you were unfamiliar with the candidates, it’s because you have no reason to be familiar with them. They’re not politicians. They don’t campaign. They’re just librarians like you, only working at another library that you’ve also probably never heard of.

38% answered, “I don’t understand what, if elected, the candidates would do.” That’s understandable, because for most of the positions, especially ALA Council, the candidates wouldn’t really do much if elected, and definitely nothing that would affect your life in any way.

In the case of Council, they’d spend hours and hours at Midwinter and Annual convened in a room, but the result of those many hours of meetings would have zero impact on any librarians at all. That’s why some of the Council junkies seem so bizarre to the rest of us. They actually seem to think that the ALA Council matters. Amazing.

Another 24% answered, “Voting takes too much time.” It doesn’t take that much time. I voted in all the elections I cared about in less than half an hour. Then again, I didn’t vote in the ALA level elections because it’s pointless.

Whoever gets elected ALA President will have a nice honor to put on the resume, and will spend a lot of time responding to news stories with the ALA line about whatever, but they’re not going to change anything.

Regardless, if it mattered, people would make the time. But it doesn’t matter, so they don’t.

17% answered “I forgot.” This is understandable as well. It’s hard to remember something that has no effect on your life.

On a second question, many answered that they didn’t vote because of candidate issues or apathy or a general disconnection from the ALA. Again, completely understandable.

Voting is only important if the organization is doing something for you. I know plenty of people who vote in division or section elections because that’s the level at which they participate.

I would have been interested in the number of people voted in ACRL or YALSA or LITA elections or one of their sections compared to the same people who didn’t vote for ALA Councilors. That number might have been just as revealing as the 80% nonvoting figure.

The lower you go, the more useful and practical ALA participation is. The higher you go, the more useless and impractical it is. Librarians are practical people. Those who don’t participate at the division and section level have little reason to vote.

Why waste time voting for people you don’t know who won’t be doing anything relevant to you even if they’re elected? That’s not apathy, that’s just rational choice.



  1. teenlibrarian says:

    People still belong to ALA? Wow.

  2. “Why waste time voting for people you don’t know who won’t be doing anything relevant to you even if they’re elected? That’s not apathy, that’s just rational choice.”

    That is probably one of the best lines you’ve written in a while. Pretty much summarizes why I dropped ALA ages ago and have never looked back.

  3. I made the mistake, when I first got out of “library school” of paying dues to ALA. I almost cry when I think about how much beer that money could have bought…

  4. Cattycataloger says:

    Ahh. I remember those early years when I was fresh out of Library School. I joined ALA back as a student. I cotinued to renew for a few years but then realized because of my peon status I would never ever get to a conference because “Someone” had to hold down the fort while the bigwigs were away. So not being part of the elite and not wanting to try to worm my way in I gave up my membership. Am I lost for not having it? Nope. Still got a job without it.

  5. I like your headline, Annoyed, and I agree. I’m not concerned about voter apathy either. The relatively small percentage of non-voters that wrote “I don’t care” on the survey is right there with the ones that indicated there is nothing that could be done to make them vote. I’m not worried about those people, they’re too busy not caring to vote.

    And it’s true, some people were probably too lazy or, more likely, didn’t have time to do (half-)hours (or was that just the amount of time you actually spent voting?) of research. However, many came up with good suggestions for how ALA could make doing research easier. I recommended having less candidates to research, we’ll see what happens. Somehow I doubt that members of the Council will put in the years it takes to shrink itself, but stranger things have happened.

    As for higher-level ALA, everyone has a different opinion. It’s sort of like trying to discuss the Federal government in a pit full pundits, wonks, analysts, and monkeys. There’s enough snark and feces in the air to make it difficult for anyone with anything nice to say. Still, they exist, the goodnicks who feel like they benefit from all of ALA. Some of them filled out the survey because they didn’t vote. Perhaps it’ll be easier for those people next year. I expect I won’t know about it by reading this blog. That’s okay, you speak for a different segment of the library world.

    (point of clarification – I’m a he. Last I checked.)

  6. You wrote: “I would have been interested in the number of people voted in ACRL or YALSA or LITA elections or one of their sections compared to the same people who didn’t vote for ALA Councilors. That number might have been just as revealing as the 80% nonvoting figure.”

    I was interested too. I briefly looked and it’s usually within a few percentage points of the total turnout. You’re welcome to take a closer look, though:

  7. And remember, Greg McClay of the former SHUSH ran for an ALA office, but since he was conservative, his name was intentionally dropped from the ballot, with the name dropper explaining it would not be fair if she did not also drop her own name, which she did. A lot of people know and love Greg McClay. I wonder if his disclosure of this ALA election fraud has anything to do with the existing apathy?

  8. This reminded me of the AL:

  9. AlwaysWanted2B says:

    I think there is another reason why people don’t vote and that is there just really not that much difference between the candidates. There really isn’t any controversy at the top. We don’t get ALA presidential candidates who propose something radical like closing all the school libraries in the U.S.

  10. AlwaysWanted2B:

    You’re right. Lack of difference was brought up in the survey, though, like apathy it wasn’t as big an issue as most people (including me) thought it would be.

  11. +1 to Spencer.

    When I was in high school, I didn’t bother voting for Class President and such. Why bother? These were inconsequential positions in an inconsequential organization.

  12. FinallyaLibrarian says:

    Who says you can’t learn anthing from reading the AL, that quickmeme thing is pretty cool!

  13. What’s ALA again?

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