The dust is finally settling on ALA Midwinter 2017 and I left Atlanta on Tuesday feeling like this conference was different than other ones. I know that some of it had to do with the ways in which the world changed around us during the conference, but the shift in my feelings wasn't only driven by external forces.
As I've moved into my mid-career years, I care more about ALA-level governance. In some ways, I think this deepened interest stems from my volunteer work within ALCTS. But I also think it comes from the recognition that at both the macro-level and micro-level, the Association reflects the values of the member volunteers who act as its leadership. Beginning in November, there has been a lot of chatter about whether and how ALA represents the values of its members. And while there are some people among its leaders who are paid staffers, many people in positions of power are members.
It would be foolish not to acknowledge a significant number of systems and structures that are meant to further white supremacy and oppress marginalized communities within ALA. At two different times, in two public venues, a black woman was either not given the opportunity to speak or was cut off when she was speaking. During Council II, ALA Council resolved to continue to have the MLS as a required qualification for the ALA Executive Director position. And while ALA Council resolved at Council II to protect caregiver and parent volunteers from punishment if those duties kept them from attending in-person ALA commitments, there is still no protection for people who are unable to attend for other reasons--financial or otherwise.
I have made it a priority to attend at least a little bit of ALA Council meetings at ever ALA Midwinter and Annual conference I attend. But this time I devoted significantly more time to attending these events. I attended both ALA Council I and II and felt like I got a good sense of how these meetings function. I also saw the ways in which ALA Council is (and isn't) a representative body. Many of the same councilors got up to speak at every opportunity, and many of the councilors seemed...disengaged from the process entirely. While the resolution on the MLS requirement for the ALA Executive Director position had a good bit of discussion, I wished that there had been lively conversation around every topic. I didn't attend Council III, so I can't speak to what happened there. I also didn't attend any of the Council Forums, so maybe discussion and discourse happens there instead of in the actual Council sessions? I also wondered to what extent politic-ing happens around Council resolutions. Do councilors form voting blocks?
I also attended the ALA Presidential Candidates' Forum. It was interesting to hear three candidates give platforms that both overlap and diverge wildly. I left that event not feeling sure about who I think should lead our association, and feeling like I have much more work to do before I make that decision. It was valuable to hear not only the prepared statements that the candidates made, but also to hear questions from the audience about the things that mattered to them. I look forward to reading more about and from the candidates in the weeks between now and the ALA election.
Finally, I attended the ALA Town Hall which gave members an opportunity to state their frustrations, hopes, and dreams for the association. As I stood at the microphone to make a comment, I recognized how brave you have to be to stand in an enormous room and speak your truth in front of a room of people who don't all share your views. Many, many people had much more impassioned and eloquent things to say than I did. But I felt an obligation to state publicly that I am holding ALA leadership at all levels accountable for the ways in which their actions support (or don't support) our association's emerging commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion.
My sense from all of these experiences is that if we truly want our Association to reflect our values, we have to find candidates for ALA-level leadership positions who are willing to advance those values and them hold them accountable for the work they do (and don't do) on our behalf. I think this means fielding and voting for candidates whose values align with our own and then holding them accountable by attending Council meetings and publicizing what happens there. I livetweeted council, as did many other people in the room, in the hopes of boosting a signal about what is emerging as important work of the Association.
I keep tweeting about this, but it's worth saying again: Association governance work is boring, but it's also valuable. There are a million other things you could be doing other than reading the ALA Council listserv and attending Council meetings and forums at conference. But if we want ALA to reflect our values in an increasingly divisive and challenging world, we need to do this work. I don't think that the change that people want to happen within ALA is impossible. But I do think it requires being intentional. I'll be watching, reading, listening, and voting. If you're an ALA member, I invite you to join me.