ALA: Dollars and Sense

Posted Monday, November 11, 2013 - 12:16
Financially viable, financially solvent
Mario González

This is my first column as ALA’s new treasurer, and I would like to use this opportunity to share with you my overall observations about ALA’s current financial situation.

Despite the recession, ALA is a financially viable and financially solvent organization. One of these strengths is the fact that the Chicago headquarters—both 40 East Huron and 50 East Huron—are owned outright by ALA and have no mortgages.

While our membership numbers are slightly lower than they were at the beginning of the recession, membership continues to be steady and strong. Nearly two out of every three library school students and about half of all library professionals are ALA members. The Association has thousands of active committee and interest group members, dedicated elected leadership, and a dedicated and hardworking staff.

ALA’s endowment continues to grow, and it now contributes significantly to the annual operating support of the ALA offices, divisions, and round tables. In addition, ALA’s other operating net assets—which include division, round table, and short-term investments—help contribute to the organization’s stability and operating support.

The Association is also strong in that three-quarters of the revenue that supports our library advocacy and legislative activities, as well as our work on intellectual freedom, user privacy, copyright, and other critical issues, is derived from non-dues revenue. These sources include professional publishing, conferences, online learning, and corporate and foundation grants.

In all of these revenue-generating areas, our business models are evolving to keep pace with a changing environment and changing member needs. ALA conferences are constantly being improved upon based on member comments and suggestions. Publishing now offers a wide variety of print and digital formats and products to meet the needs of today’s professionals, and ALA is offering hundreds of online webinars and courses on every conceivable topic. Resource Description and Access (RDA), the global successor to AACR2, is now being adopted worldwide (30 countries and counting) and is being translated into dozens of languages. As always, we continue to explore new ways to create the revenue needed to support important member programs and services.

There is no denying that the last four years have been as challenging for ALA as they have been for all types of libraries. Revenue has been flat since the beginning of the recession, and the ALA staff is now smaller than it was four years ago.

Throughout this difficult time, ALA member leaders and management have concentrated on sustaining the member services and programs that libraries and the public depend on, and have managed to move ahead on a number of important new initiatives. ALA continues to be creative and well managed, and we expect to end the current year on track despite another financially challenging year.

I haven’t talked a lot about numbers in this first column, but over the course of the next three years, I will be reporting in American Libraries, AmericanLibrariesMagazine.org, and AL Direct on key developments and trends, as well as on our annual budgets and year-end results. For up-to-date information on ALA’s budget and finances, I hope that you will visit the treasurer’s web page, where I will be providing regular updates on where we stand and how we’re doing.

I am honored to serve as ALA’s treasurer and am always happy to hear your thoughts on how we can best manage the finances that support our good work and how we can keep members informed about financial issues and developments.

MARIO GONZÁLEZ is director of the Passaic (N.J.) Public Library.