Annoyed Librarian
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Future Less Imperfect

I hope everyone enjoyed their holiday celebrating the nation’s independence. There’s no better way to celebrate our freedom than gobbling hot dogs and watching the sky explode.

There was one more bit from New Orleans I wanted to discuss. Not much exciting happened, if you leave out the drinking and socializing and other tangential nocturnal activities, but there was a fun document discussed by the council, “Envisioning ALA’s Governance in the 21st Century” by the grandly named “Future Perfect Presidential Task Force.”

The link is to an attachment on the ALA Council listserv. There’s another document linked there called “workforce_anal_cover.” I don’t even want to know what that’s all about. Probably some management CYA recommendations.

The Future Perfect task force consisted of people who had neither served on Council nor knew anything about ALA governance. Maybe it should have had some people who weren’t even ALA members or librarians.

It was supposed to take a “blue sky” approach to making recommendations, whatever that is. It might be a management technique based on the old Allman Brothers song.

Another document talked about ways to make the ALA Council more effective. The Future Perfect document goes it one better by eliminating the Council altogether. The Council would be replaced by more participatory democracy, so that ALA governance could evolve into the convoluted mess of, say, California.

The most obvious indicator that the task force had their heads in the clouds was all the things it wanted ALA to do for free, like live video and audio streaming of all conference sessions. That way people who couldn’t attend the conference could watch from home. Wouldn’t that be an exciting way to spend a weekend!

Supposedly, “providing free video and audio archives of all conference sessions will help to alleviate the fiscal issues surrounding conference attendance.”

Well, yes and no. It would alleviate the fiscal issues for the librarians who don’t go, but not for everyone else, including the ALA, the librarians who do attend, and perhaps most importantly the vendors who exhibit at the conferences.

Blue skies are one thing, but a basic understanding of economics and conference funding is important, too.

Attendees and vendors would have to pay significantly more to cover the costs of all this free streaming, especially given the assumption that the free streaming means significantly less attendance. Given the rising costs and the shrinking attendance, all but the largest vendors would probably pull out of the conference altogether. That’s great if you want the exhibit floor to consist of ProQuest and Ebsco.

ALA members who don’t think about the big picture probably don’t worry about the vendors. It’s a conference for librarians, after all, right? The thing is, without attendance, the vendors don’t want to come, and without the vendors the conference would be unaffordable for most of us, plus we wouldn’t have those incredibly slow buses to shuttle us around to meetings.

It might work to provide live streaming of the conference for people who pay the conference fees. The fees are a minimal portion of going to an ALA conference.

Another strange “free” issue would be the creation of an entire ALA division devoted to “diversity.” All the other divisions are devoted to types of libraries or types of library work, so just having such a division would itself be a sign of diversity. Not necessarily a good sign, but a sign.

However, the division would be free to join, even though someone would have to fund it. ALA divisions don’t just fund themselves. One of the funding options would be for all the other ALA divisions to hand over some of their money for this new division. Since ALA would be a participatory democracy by then, fortunately we could all vote “no.”

Ghettoizing diversity does no one any good. Concern with racial or ethnic diversity in librarianship is pointless. The relatively low percentage of racial minorities who graduate both high school and college is the problem. In some cities, the graduation rates of African Americans is around 50%. That’s a terrible social problem, but not one solved by libraries. Get more minorities through college, and the concerns about diversity in librarianship will be over.

Besides, divisions and sections develop from the bottom up, not the top down, and the idea of imposing a new division unrelated to library work is the exact opposite of participatory democracy.

It also wants ALA to explore alternative cities that might be less expensive than the “tourist cities” ALA is usually in. I’m all for that if it means I never have to go back to Anaheim again, but not if I have to spend a week in Mobile or Detroit.

One problem with such alternative cities is that they’re usually not equipped to handle large conferences. ALA used to go to Kansas City, back when fewer than a thousand librarians might attend. There aren’t many cities that can handle ALA Annual descending upon them, and ALA already avoids the most expensive, which is why we never go to New York anymore.

There’s a lot about creating a culture of “transparency and candor.” The phrase was repeated enough I wondered if they’d read a book or something, which they had. Transparency is all well and good, but you can’t have transparency and candor. It just doesn’t work. People can’t necessarily be both candid and public about issues.

The Future Perfect force also wants to increase voter participation, maybe by having ALA do public service announcements about the importance of voting. More wasted time and money. They also hope that more things to vote about means more people will vote, since we don’t have anything to do but vote on ALA issues all the time.

The thing is, very few people care about ALA proper. If they participate at all, they participate in the work of the divisions, which address actual work issues, put on programs, host discussion groups, etc.

The people who sit in ALA Council sessions for days on end don’t do anything that’s relevant or useful to most librarians. Dissolving the Council and wanting more participatory democracy won’t help anything, because members would still be expected to vote on issues that had no relevance to them.

If anything, ALA should devolve to the divisions, with only a remnant of the current ALA structure remaining.  People are already voting, with their feet and their division dues. They don’t want ALA. They want PLA or ACRL or LITA or LLAMA or YALSA. ALA is there to organized conferences, and the Council could disappear entirely and few would notice.

Maybe that should be my next ALA crusade, now that I’ve pointed out the ridiculousness of political, non-library resolutions enough that they rarely make it to a Council vote, much less pass. It could be Future Less Imperfect.



  1. Come to Detroit, ALA! We may not have enough hotels to house everyone, but there are more than enough abandoned homes that could house all 10,000 librarians and then some.

  2. Oh, I laughed over the “There’s another document linked there called “workforce_anal_cover.” I do not want to know what that was about either.

    Good point: “There’s a lot about creating a culture of ‘transparency and candor.’ The phrase was repeated enough I wondered if they’d read a book or something, which they had. Transparency is all well and good, but you can’t have transparency and candor. It just doesn’t work. People can’t necessarily be both candid and public about issues.”

    Indeed, I have seen that again and again in librarianship. You can be public about some issue or you can show candor about it. You can’t do both. Show candor in public, and the hounds will be released if some higher up (whether an admin or just some celebrity blogger with clout) sees it. And they have the gall to wonder why many blogging librarians choose the pseudonymous route. Candor is not really wanted in this profession, but lip service to it always sounds good.

    I would note that the conference, with vendors, is already unaffordable to most of us. Then again, I tend to forget I am just a hoi polloi librarian. Those of you in the big fancy places are well heeled (or have bosses willing to put their money where their mouths are when it comes to professional development, if you can call ALA Annual “professional development.”)

    In the end, like many, I did vote with my feet and not paying (not that I can afford it. But if I could, there are better uses for that money).

  3. FinallyaLibrarian says:

    This concept sounds like an episode from “Dilbert”.

  4. I hate it when you write like this… it makes it seem like you could actually accomplish great things if only you devoted your energies toward problem-solving and not idiot-baiting.

  5. Part of solving the problem is exposing the idiots over at ALA for what they are.

  6. Annoyed Librarian says:

    “it makes it seem like you could actually accomplish great things if only you devoted your energies toward problem-solving and not idiot-baiting.”

    It’s possible I’m accomplishing great things in my free time. Not likely, but possible.

  7. Fat Guy says:

    If she wrote any differently, effing, she wouldn’t be the Annoyed Librarian.

  8. underemployed says:

    Workforce a@$#%! cover? Maybe that’s the document where they finally say, “oops, I guess there won’t be a great librarian shortage in 2010 after all.”

  9. joneser says:

    Perhaps there might be more diversity if the profession were more attractive – i.e. salaries and hiring prospects. Quotas and preferential hiring don’t do it.

  10. AL said, “I’ve pointed out the ridiculousness of political, non-library resolutions….”

    Would anyone please tell me why the ALA seeks to overrule “harmful to minors” statutes nationwide? What does overturning such statutes have to do with libraries? Yes, I know the ALA’s excuse, but I want the real reason members dues go to joining multiple legal cases to try to overturn “harmful to minors” statutes.

    Is the ALA Harmful to Minors?

    To me, this is just another “political, non-library” issue.

    Thank you.

  11. “…without the vendors the conference would be unaffordable for most of us…”

    Please, we’re librarians. It’s already unaffordable for most of us.

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