This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the California Library Association “Reimagine/Reinvent” Conference as a candidate for ALA President. I spent most of the time at an information table in the exhibits hall, talking with CLA members/conference attendees and listening to their thoughts on libraries, their work, and the role of ALA. It was exciting to learn about all of the different library types and their communities. I am grateful that so many people took time to speak with me.
I heard many comments about the great work that ALA does and its valuable programs and conferences. Unfortunately, I heard even more about the challenges of getting access to those resources and the barriers to participation in ALA. For some, membership itself is out of reach because of the cost of dues. For others, they are members but cannot attend in-person because, as one quipped, “if I go to a conference, the library closes!” And, even for those who do attend, finding their place can be a challenge.
I left CLA ever more resolved in my vision of full participation in ALA. Imagine if everyone in libraries was an engaged member of ALA. We’d be unstoppable in our advocacy for our libraries, those who work in libraries, and our communities!
Figuring out how to overcome the financial barriers to membership will not be easy; we are going to need to work hard on that since dues are an important revenue source for funding our wonderful ALA activities.
At the same time, financial barriers to membership are not absolute barriers to participation. As ALA moves to making more resources openly available, ALA strengthens the library community and expands our reach and inclusion. I believe, however, that we can do more. And, really, we must do more. If we do not, we will always fall short of our goal of inclusion because we will always be missing the participation of some of our colleagues. We cannot settle for that.
In 2006, I served on the Subcommittee on e-Participation of the ALA Committee on Organization. The subcommitte was charged:
To identify the benefits of various kinds of potential e-participation; survey emergent e-participation practices in the general library association field, including ALA divisions and units; review and research background documents, including existing Association policy, with especial attention to the meaning and purpose of the Association’s open meeting policy; identify goals; explore possibilities; and report back to COO with findings and recommendations.
Though the notes from those discussions have a certain quaintness about them a decade later, what still resonates today are the purposes for our work, articulated in the report of the follow-on ALA Task Force on Electronic Member Participation: increase opportunities for ALA members to participate in the business of the organization, derive benefit from their membership, and enable ALA members for whom (for whatever reason) travel is a hardship, to participate more fully in the business of the organization, or to partake of its offerings (2008-2009 ALA CD #35).
ALA has definitely made progress in the past years on electronic member participation but technology continues to evolve and enable new possibilities. I think the time has come to be a “virtual first” organization. Let’s switch the default and assume that all groups will work virtually and only meet in person as needed. Let’s switch the default and welcome any committee member who wants to contribute and not just those who are able to attend Midwinter Meeting/Annual Conference. Let’s switch the default and presume that all conference programs will be recorded and, if not streamed live, available as part of a virtual conference package for later viewing. Many of ALA’s divisions and roundtables have pioneered innovative practices in these areas. Now is the time to make them common across the entire association and Reimagine/Reinvent member participation in ALA.