Member POV: Engagement from the Bottom Up
I’m a governance nerd. If I’m going to belong to something, I have to understand how it ticks. How effective is it? Does it actually wield power? Is it relevant to me as a new professional? That is why I have made a concerted effort to attend the sessions of ALA Council and ALA Executive Board, the two bodies that govern ALA. As I understand it, Council sets policy and Executive Board implements said policy. Sounds a little bit boring, right? Wrong! Both are actually really interesting.
Council is interesting but really confusing for a new observer. You walk in and you have no idea what the big numbered signs are (they are for the microphones placed through the Council chamber), or who sits where (between the chapter councilors, the councilors-at-large, and so on), or why some aspects of Council are the way they are. Council also works on its own schedule: I missed Council III at Annual because it ended an hour early and I almost missed the Executive Board elections at Midwinter because they also started an hour early.
Logistics aside, the content of Council is interesting and dare I say, fun. I also had the benefit of watching Council contentiously debate a resolution at Midwinter that was the closest you can get to librarian fisticuffs at a professional conference. There are so many different interests striving to work together to further the profession, and it’s reassuring to see the amount of debate that occurs. As a new ALA member, I’d be a lot more worried if Council operated in lockstep: I think it’s safe to say that is very much not the case. I also got to meet quite a few Councilors and they were very friendly—even to a lowly library school student.
The next level of ALA, Executive Board, had always been a mystery to me—almost Illuminati-esque. Did you know that most sessions of Executive Board are open? I didn’t either. I only figured that out because I had an open slot in my schedule at Annual and found out from a veteran ALA member that I was welcome to sit in. I still stuck out like a sore thumb but that’s okay. In the session I observed, the board worked hard to sense the pulse of the Association. There were reports on everything from the vendors to the divisions to the students. Yes, believe it or not, the people at the highest levels are trying to help you. It’s also a great place to network. How many other places do you get to sit next to the ALA President-Elect?
I have learned that engagement can occur at any level. Here’s my challenge to you: Sit in on anything to do with ALA governance. It doesn’t need to be Council; it could be a YALSA board meeting or a committee session. I guarantee that it will be educational in one way or another. It may even pay professional dividends (like your being appointed to a committee or being asked to run for Council). Engagement only cost me a couple hours of my time, and I’ve come out of it with a richer understanding of my Association. The jury is still out on how much I like ALA as a whole, but I do know that I want to be involved.
CHRIS KYAUK is a librarian at the San Leandro (Calif.) Public Library.