Tuesday, February 20, 2018

And these doors all have locks on them

While we're all still thinking at least a little bit about professional association governance, I wanted to focus on something that surfaced at ALA Midwinter and which I suspect will be on our minds for a while to come: the working document put out by the Presidents and President-Elects of LLAMA, LITA, and ALCTS about future opportunities for growth and realignment. 

Because who doesn't want to think about professional association governance?

The divisions within the American Library Association are organized both the type of library (e.g., ACRL) and by functional units (e.g., ALCTS). Depending on where you're situated within your particular library, you may find your "ALA home" in multiple divisions. Given that money is often too tight to mention, ALA members often have to make choices about which part of the Association they want to support with their time and their money. ALA's functional divisions (LLAMA, LITA, ALCTS, and RUSA) have many of the same goals: recruitment and mentoring of new library workers, continuing education, advocacy, and standards. And given the concern at the Association level about the membership numbers and member engagement, it is noteworthy that the leadership and the Executive Directors of LLAMA, LITA, and ALCTS are talking about the best ways to work together to better realize the goals that are shared among the divisions.

One of the things we try to do over here in the Unified Library Scene is talk about the importance of relationships that lead to better outcomes for users. So, yes, let's talk about how we can realign our missions and our work to make better experiences for members. For example, imagine how valuable it could be to have library technologists and metadata creators working together to develop and implement standards related to the description of library resources and the automation of library technology.

One line in this document stands out to me, though: we have come to realize how much actual overlap in strategic mission, continuing education, and topical interest there is between our divisions, despite the different structural elements and the importance of member identities associated with being part of the division.

As much as we try to talk about relationship building here, we also talk about being clear about what you're doing and why. I'm glad that LLAMA, LITA, and ALCTS are thinking strategically about how to best adapt to a present where member needs are different than in the past and how to best move the Association forward into a future where we will need to prove value to our members as we compete for resources. But I also think that part of the reason that people to choose one functional division over another is because of the identities of each individual group. Just as blurring the lines between functional job duties in libraries has lead to identity crises for library workers, I worry that blurring the lines between divisions will lead to identity crises for the divisions and their members. It seems like the way that we, library workers, choose to respond to existential crises is to become more siloed and more territorial, and that's my fear about any kind of integration or realignment happening between these functional divisions. It's hard to bring groups with different goals and different constituencies to consensus on things, and I worry that while we're making hard choices that a lot of people will lose out.

Although the alternative to figuring out how to work more closely together is to watch all three divisions go extinct, so we definitely need to get to work.

I hope that as LLAMA, LITA, and ALCTS figure out how to navigate this present and this future, its leaders find ways to honor the parts of them that are what draw their members to them while jettisoning off the parts that are not as useful. And I hope that this future is member-driven and member-centric.

Stay positive,

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