Thu, 07/05/2012 - 13:32
Careful consideration and planning are necessary to reshape the Association
ALA President Maureen Sullivan
A year ago, then–ALA President Molly Raphael called for “all of us to work together and build a better future for all library communities.” As president-elect I took these words to heart and made the commitment to continue the work of Molly’s presidency during my term. Our strategic plan, ALA 2015 (PDF file), is an excellent framework to engage all of us in fulfilling the overarching goal to build “a world where libraries, both physical and virtual, are central to lifelong discovery and learning and where everyone is a library user.” This invites us to focus our collective attention on our communities—to understand the needs, interests, challenges, expectations, and opportunities of the diverse and changing constituencies we serve.
A highlight of the 2012 ALA Midwinter Meeting was a program in which Rich Harwood of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation described the work of his organization and offered ideas about opportunities for us to turn outward to our communities. He invited us to recognize and act on two core values: courage and humility—the courage to step forward and assume a leadership role in community engagement and the humility to accept that we cannot be all things to all people, to listen to diverse points of view with an open mind, and to recognize that we do not have all the answers. By convening community conversations, we will catalyze community collaboration in addressing issues and solving problems.
Much of my career in librarianship has been devoted to leadership development. There are now a number of high-quality programs available in our field. I have identified two areas of need: first, preparing leaders for what will be different in the digital world, and second, creating an ALA leadership development institute. While some Association divisions and chapters offer excellent programs, ALA as a whole does not have such a program. The development of a proposed curriculum, an action plan, and a timetable for the establishment of an Association-wide leadership development institute is underway. We expect to offer the first institute in 2013.
ALA has also partnered with the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to design a 2 ½ day institute in late fall or early spring for leaders of all types of libraries. The institute will focus on the challenges of leading in the digital age.
Why the time has come
Several factors have convinced me that it is time to give serious consideration to rethinking ALA. Among these factors are: several recent ALA presidential initiatives and their respective reports, such as the Future Perfect Presidential Task Force Report (PDF file), the Report of the Presidential Task Force for Improving the Effectiveness of ALA’s Council (PDF file), and the ALA Young Librarians Working Group Final Report and Recommendations (PDF file); the current and prospective budget situation; the ambitious goals set forth in ALA 2015 (PDF file); forces for change in the larger context in which we live and work; and numerous conversations with members, prospective members, and ALA staff.
In The Race for Relevance: 5 Radical Changes for Associations (ASAE Association Management Press, 2011), authors Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers make a compelling case that today’s association leaders have a responsibility to address the need to make fundamental changes in their organization so it can thrive. My plan is to guide us into every undertaking with careful consideration and planning. To be effective, we need to create a process that builds on our current strengths, includes opportunities for broad engagement, and shapes a strong framework for the future.
We continue to face serious issues. But we also have a wealth of opportunities to make the case for the role and contribution of libraries in ensuring informed and engaged communities. I welcome your ideas and suggestions. Together we can build on ALA’s status as the oldest and largest library association and ensure it remains the best and most relevant association for everyone working in this field.
MAUREEN SULLIVAN is an organization development consultant to libraries and professor of practice in the Managerial Leadership in the Information Professions doctoral program of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College in Boston. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.