What Does the ALA President Actually Do?

“You’re a candidate? That’s great! I’ll vote for you! Um … what does the ALA President do?”

During the time I’ve been a candidate for the position of ALA President, I’ve experienced this conversation more than a few times. Fortunately, there is a job description available [PDF]. But, I thought I might pull out a few of the more significant general statements and provide a bit of commentary here as well.

Representing Members: Presenting the ACRL Excellence Award to the Z. Smith Reynolds Library in 2011

“The role of the ALA President is to be the Association’s chief spokesperson and to work closely with the ALA’s Executive Director in identifying and promoting library issues nationwide and internationally. The ALA President is recognized as the Association’s leader by its members.”

To me, the most important component of this is the clear statement that the ALA President represents members in carrying out the role of chief spokesperson and collaborator with the ALA Executive Director. As a members-focused candidate, I have worked to ensure that I am aware of the issues that are of concern to our members and to propose actions that I would take as President to address those concerns. As President, my priority will be to continue to be in conversation with the ALA membership at large and align my efforts with our collective concerns. I have also worked with Keith Michael Fiels, ALA Executive Director, for many years and anticipate that we would have a very strong partnership and be highly productive in our collaboration.

“He/she also is vital to the governance of the Association and serves as presiding officer at Executive Board and Council meetings.”

At this point in my life, I have no idea how many meetings I’ve been in much less how many I have chaired – in the thousands and thousands. Last I checked I was servicing on 32 committees in my institution or in professional associations. What I do know is that I am skilled at meeting facilitation, comfortable with a variety of approaches to parliamentary procedure, and have been commended for my ability to ensure that all viewpoints have a chance to be shared. As a democratic organization, the ALA President has the responsibility of ensuring that process and procedure serves our democracy and that they do not stifle participation or engagement.

“The ALA President also serves as President of the ALA-Allied Professional Association* [ALA-APA].”

A role I welcome and embrace. See more at Why I Support the ALA-Allied Professional Association.

“Based on the experience of successful Past Presidents, an incoming ALA President should realistically expect that this position will be equal to at least a half-time job.”

Noted and prepared. (Though I also think this may be understated!) I am fully prepared to take on the full range of responsibilities of the position and understand the scope and breadth of what is required. Having served as ACRL President, I understand the nature of this kind of leadership role. I am grateful to have the support of my library administration to take on this role and dedicate the time and effort necessary to be an effective ALA President.

I was somewhat surprised to see that the job description does not include mention of advocacy or our professional values. Perhaps that is assumed as the purpose for which all of this work is done; however, from my engagement with issues related to diversity and inclusion, I believe that it is important to name the purposes for which one acts.

I did notice that this job description is from 2006 and so perhaps an update is in order. While not the kind of thing that gets a press release, I did a lot of back-of-the-house association organization work with respect to committee charges and structure as ACRL President in addition to the more outward-facing initiatives – perhaps I can do that at ALA President as well!

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