During the Core Election Town Hall on September 30, candidates were asked the following questions, but time did not permit live answers. So, the candidates have responded in writing.
1. Do you support the recommendations for changing ALA’s governance structure, put forth in 2018 by the Steering Committee on Organizational Effectiveness (SCOE), and currently championed by the Forward Together Working Group?
Evviva Weinraub Lajoie:
Overall, yes. I support their recommendations and the ongoing work. The recommendation gathering was careful, inclusive, and timely and it would not be in the organizations best interest to dismiss the recommendations. That said, my biggest concerns about the implementation of the SCOE recommendations is that we are not doing it fast enough. An organization like ALA is a behemoth and there are a zillion moving parts, but we risk significantly more if we don’t make drastic changes quickly.
Yes, I do. I have participated in a number of meetings to provide feedback on the ideas put forward over the years, and I think the final recommendation is strong, if a big change. ALA is a large association with a complex governance structure. While there are excellent historical reasons for that, I think for the vast majority of the membership it is incomprehensible and irrelevant. Low election turnouts are one example of how only a limited number of members engage with governance on any level. The new recommendations make it more likely that members can see a way to participate in ALA governance at the level they can manage. Many people cannot participate in ALA Council, but might be able to participate in standing committees or leadership assemblies.
Overall, yes, I do support the direction of Forward Together. It’s not a perfect proposal: nor is keeping ALA the way it is. For the Association to continue supporting and advancing the work of its members, we need to explore and adopt new ways of operating.
I’m particularly supportive of a larger Board that incorporates both directly elected directors and appointed directors. This will need to be supplemented by a clear set of criteria and goals for the composition of the board, which will inform nominations and rounding out with appointments.
For Core, I’m confident that we can guide the work of the Division Assembly to advocate for our interests and collaborate with a wider view to the whole Association. I’m definitely keeping an eye on how we build connection and accountability between the Assemblies, our members, and the Board. If we’ve learned nothing else from developing Core, it’s that ongoing communication and honest response keeps everyone moving and engaged. We build better together.
I do support their recommendations and the ongoing work! I think SCOE’s recommendations are the result of a lot of careful work and feedback gathering, as well as a frank and timely assessment of the Association’s financial capacity to continue business as usual. That is to say that we need to start adapting more rapidly or risk losing the association entirely. I have a lot of respect for the comprehensive input and engagement SCOE centered in the process of developing the report, and that the Forward Together Working Group is taking forward.
Any path forward will represent compromises and reconciliations, and in truth, I worry that we spend too much time debating potential issues of the proposed design rather than just trying something different when we know what we have in place is not working. Ultimately, if I have any objection it’s that the process has been slowed by the Association’s bylaws and processes.
Overall, yes I do support the SCOE recommendations. Those of us working on the Core proposal received frequent updates on SCOE progress, and I think they devised as inclusive a process as they could at the time. Whatever ALA does going forward will require new ways of thinking, new ways of organizing, deprecating some areas of investment, and increasing concentration in others. The impact of COVID will certainly play an evolving role in decision making going forward as well, much of which could not have been anticipated in the work SCOE produced. Change needs to happen quickly, though, and rather than have a complete and perfect plan, effort should now be concentrated on managing reasonable change, evaluating, and adjusting and iterating accordingly — i.e.,. move from the planning and approving stage to implementation. And in some cases that will mean Core leading the way, setting examples, and establishing new norms that ALA may need to adopt, and not the reverse.
2. What do you plan to do as president or president-elect of Core to bolster the overall financial sustainability of our new division?
Evviva Weinraub Lajoie:
Financial sustainability is a tricky proposition for the division because we are currently so dependent upon membership dues and revenue from continuing education to provide us with the resources and staff we need to be successful. In any economic downturn, membership is often amongst the first thing people drop when looking to save money. What that means for Core though is that we not only have to continue to articulate our value to our membership, but to deliver on our promises. We spent a lot of time while discussing and promoting the merger talking about what a combined staff would provide us, and I think, in the short term, we need to deliver on those promises. Beyond that, we need to think very carefully about how we can diversify our revenue streams, whether that means investment in advancement activities and promotion of planned giving, or identifying valuable strategic partnerships.
ALA divisions need members to be sustainable, for multiple reasons. If members are not joining a division, it is because it is not providing them value, and without money, the division will never be able to provide more opportunities for members. So the first thing is to increase member engagement so we can sustain the current membership and attract new members, while still being good citizens of the library world and providing access to materials created by the division such as journals to those who cannot or do not choose to be members. A strong continuing education project is one way to ensure members have timely access to emerging content, and thinking creatively about what that looks like in the current educational environment is going to be critical. We also have an opportunity to lead with publishing and providing new models for content access.
From the perspective of the division, we’re lucky to have a Core Executive Director who is practical and straightforward about our financial sustainability. Kerry has built a budget that reflects where we are and makes reasonable projections for the next few years. As members and member-leaders, our role is to keep an eye on what our activities cost and to keep building a division that people want to be a part of. What does it look like to run a virtual-first division? How do we keep our important work happening when we’re all pulled in a million directions during the pandemic? What new funding models will keep our staff employed and supporting our members? We need to be creative, and a new division is exactly the right place to do that.
A lot depends on ALA, though. Just like we build better together, our stability leans on the other divisions, round tables, and broader Association. Evviva, Chris, and I have been at the front, asking difficult questions and persisting when information was confusing. With Tracie Hall at the helm, I think we’re starting to move forward and get a clearer picture of what it will take to keep ALA moving for the future. Past approaches won’t cut it. Developing a structure and processes that support our true work and that create equitable opportunities for all members will take all of us and our best thinking.
If we want financial sustainability we need to quickly coalesce and share a compelling reason why members should renew and non-members should join. As president, I would center library employment and pay in our communications. “How would this help?”, you might ask.
Here’s the thing– employment in libraries is down, significantly, and it mirrors the loss of members in the Association. Since 2008, the Bureau of Library Statistics has tracked a decline in library sector jobs of about 15% (60k jobs, 20k of which were degreed). Since 2008, ALA membership is down 17%.
The only way to make Core sustainable is to make library jobs sustainable. We need to be the vanguard of the profession, communicating the importance of libraries to our society. Adding classes is great, seeking sponsorships is helpful. I would definitely be keeping my eye on revenue streams and potential for those opportunities, but the only way we make our way forward is through centering library labor.
Work VERY closely with Kerry Ward! Kerry is committed to making financial stability a primary goal, and is deeply invested in this role of the Executive Director. Kerry approaches this work with transparency, creativity, respect for our traditions, but also a firm grounding in what is realistic, practical, and will ultimately reap rewards for the Division and its members alike. Specifically, I would like to see us build on the strengths that impact members most directly (e.g., continuing education), while also identifying operational aspects that should be significantly reduced (e.g., administrative overhead related to governance), or that could be made more efficient and cost-effective (e.g., bringing publications under a unified platform). However, a division president only serves for one year — our objectives will necessarily be long-term and realized over multiple years; efforts will need to be shared by all, as will the compromises. Ultimately, financial stability will only be achieved if people receive enough value from the organization to warrant the expense of the membership. At a time when financial constraints are being experienced by so many library colleagues across the country, we will have to demonstrate that value and earn those membership dollars more than ever before.
Interested in watching the town hall recording? Visit the Core elections page to learn more about the candidates and the election.