Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Too Many Councilors, Too Long a Ballot

A few weeks ago I wrote about a dispute on the ALA Council list with one councilor arguing that the Council was bloated and useless or something like that. He’s back at it again, this time railing against the length of the ALA Council ballot, another sign of bloat I suppose.

The ALA Council ballot is indeed long, with 80 candidates vying for only 36 positions highly coveted by people who want to sit in a large room with a lot of librarians for 4 straight days and be bored silly. The claim is that’s just too darn many candidates to really examine. In an email with the subject “Let’s do the math,” we’re asked,

how much of our time and consideration is each candidate statement and proposal worth, on average? Two minutes? Five minutes? Ten minutes? Let’s go the safe route, and say that a proper analysis of each ballot item should take around three minutes on average – some more, some less – about the length of time it would to thoroughly read each statement and then give it a minute of thought. At that rate, a proper, conscientiously undertaken analysis of this ballot would take 243 minutes of the voter’s time – over four hours.

Let’s tally it up: a 200+ page packet of ballot materials that demands four hours of time to read and consider properly, plus a dues hike, plus councilors who claim that they spend only 14 seconds on each ballot item. I wonder what all this says to the ALA member who ISN’T on Council?

The guy’s definitely got a point. I spent 10 minutes each reading the biographies and statements of concern of every councilor and voted my conscience for the 36 I thought would do the most to further the interests of the organization and the profession.

Oh my, I couldn’t get through that sentence without laughing. Of course I didn’t do that. I did what everyone else does. I scanned the list and voted for anyone I’d ever heard of, especially if I’d heard of them and didn’t like them.

 My favorite response to the persistent hassle and interminable discussion had the subject heading “Write the Resolution Already”:

Council can go on debating the issue the size of Council on the ListServe but it won’t be settled there. The time has come to write and set forth a resolution for Council to consider at its Annual Meeting.

Reviewing a draft statement may bring out more of the factual and objective evidence for the argument that we are not getting.

Simple and to the point. No need for further discussion.

The oddest response came with the subject line “Please don’t respond to Sean.” Yes, someone posted to the Council list recommending that other councilors shouldn’t even participate in a discussion.

Sean Reinhart is what Eric Hoffer called a “True Believer.” Sean doesn’t like the topics of the resolutions that were brought forward in Council. He decided ALA needed to decrease the number of councilors-at-large, since he perceived that they are more liberal than chapter councilors. Once he came up with that solution, he had to find problems that he thought the solution would solve. One is the time it takes to vote in an ALA election. The logical fallacy that fewer councilors to be elected equals fewer candidates is just one of the many problems with his solution. However, as a true believer, no argument is going to change his mind. In fact, arguments against his views will just reinforce his opinions. That being the case, the rush to disagree with every one of Sean’s pronouncements, indeed, does take longer than it takes to look at all the candidate bios, and it’s totally unproductive. I’m not pointing fingers at any person. I, too, have responded to Sean. Like the person who speaks on a topic and then tries to call the question, I hope that we stop responding to Sean’s messages.

Now things are just getting nasty. Perhaps Sean isn’t willing to change his mind, which seems to be the case for most people involved in this discussion, but that’s not what Hoffer called a True Believer.

His book was about how fanatics start and join mass movements, not people who argue at length with at least some reasons in a democratic discussion forum. True Believers would be more likely to refuse to engage in discussion than to present any arguments. Why bother? They know they’re right.

The most amusing part of this whole discussion can be summed up in an email from a Councilor I don’t usually agree with but who has always seems sensible:

Oh, I forgot that some have the perception that ALA Council has POWER.  This always cracks me up.  We really don’t have that much.  Most of the things they want us to be able to do are to change things about how ALA Headquarters does things or some ALA Division or Committee.  There is often little to nothing we can do in these areas other than make requests.

To argue so vociferously on either side of this issue, to be so passionate about it, assumes that it matters somehow, to librarians or to the profession as a whole. But it doesn’t matter. Outside of the relative handful of people who run for these offices, almost nobody cares.

80 candidates out of, what, 30,000 members? That might be a lot of representation, but when anyone who wants can run it’s not a lot of people who are interested. The barriers to participation are almost nonexistent.

To put it in some perspective, if all you had to do to run for the U.S. Congress was send an email saying you wanted to run, would we get 80,000 candidates? That number seems low to me, since every nitwit with an axe to grind against the government would sign up, even though Congress these days is even more ineffectual than the ALA Council.

People don’t care. They don’t run for Council. They don’t show up to the meetings. It makes you wonder why we even have a Council at all. Everything could just be a ballot initiative for the full vote of the membership and then Council could go away.

 It works for me.



  1. I suppose the problem with any organization is the larger it gets, the more bureaucratic it gets and the less anything gets done. And of course arguments that don’t solve anything happen more frequently and my favorite, people proving the worth of their position through arguments instead of actions.

  2. Happily Obscure says:

    ALA is basically an useless organization. I quit my membership a few years ago. There was no benefit to me joining. I got a lousy magazine in the mail from them every once in awhile, but that was it. The conferences are too expensive and too far from home. I’m finished with library school so I don’t need scholarships from them. Sure, I could apply for an award or a grant, but I work at a small private school that serves mostly upper-class students, so I’m probably not winning any grants anytime soon. One could argue that ALA lobbies on behalf of the interests of libraries and librarians, but your reporting proves what I’ve suspected for awhile now- it pretty much does nothing. I’m saving my money for membership fees for the state and local organizations. Those are where I do see evidence of usefulness.

  3. Granby at Vellinghausen says:

    I only join ALA during the years when I go to the ALA Annual Conference. The cost of non-member registration exceeds the cost of membership plus member registration. That’s the only reason I join. During years when I don’t go to ALA, there’s no reason actually to join the organization.

    • Interesting, @Granby at Vellinghausen, as I just joined the Freedom To Read Foundation solely to attend an online webinar that ALA’s FTRF is making available only to FRTF members, namely, “Filtering, Leafleting and Book Banning: an overview of recent court cases involving libraries.” “This webinar is available to all current (2013) members of the Freedom to Read Foundation.”

      “Dear Dan, Thank you for your membership in the Freedom to Read Foundation! To access your membership information and other member-only content on www . ftrf . org, you can sign in at: http : / / www . ftrf . org / ….”

      Why does the FTRF have “member-only content” given its name, its proclaimed promotion of equal access, and its supposed opposition to the so-called digital divide?

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