Friday, June 29, 2007

What Being a Very Important Person is Like: Serving on ALA Council

Several people who are thinking about running for ALA Council have asked me what it is like. Even though I have been an ALA Councilor for a full year, I am still learning. The best way to find out is to attend Council sessions. For those who can’t attend the sessions, the following reflects my experience as a new (and learning) Councilor. You can find a description of Council and councilor duties at Oddly, I couldn’t find this document on the ALA website, so I have posted it on my personal website.

The first thing potential councilors must be aware of is the time commitment. While most ALA conference attendees went home Monday or Tuesday, councilors had to stick around until Wednesday. Below is the 2007 Annual Conference Council schedule. We had a similar schedule at the Midwinter meeting in January. That’s another thing; Councilors are expected to attend Annual Conference and Midwinter Meeting each year of their three year term. ALA Councilors also serve on ALA-APA (ALA Allied Professional Association) Council. However the half hour information session and hour long council session are small additions to the general council schedule.

9:00-10:00am Sunday ALA Council/Executive Board/Membership Information Session (NOT Required)

No action takes place during this session. Like the title suggests, the session is for information only. The Treasurer, President, and a few others presented their reports and received a few questions.
10:00-10:30am Sunday ALA-APA Information Session (NOT Required)
Similar to the above session, but shorter.
10:45am-12:15pm Sunday ALA Council I (REQUIRED)
I missed this session. But I e-mailed the Council Secretariat, so this was an excused absence. I don’t know what happens if you get an unexcused absence or too many absences. Detention?
During Council I, II, and III, ALA Officers and some others presented their reports. Some of the reports include items requiring Council action, such as the budgetary ceiling recommend in the Treasurer’s report. Resolutions, such as the Resolution on Funding for the National Library Service, are also discussed and voted on during these sessions.
10:15-11:15am Monday ALA-APA Council (REQUIRED)
I missed this session, but it is the same people and procedures as the general ALA sessions.
8-9:30pm Monday Council Forum (NOT Required)
A slightly less formal setting for Councilors to discuss items from the next day’s agenda. It seems to shorten Council sessions slightly by giving the few councilors in attendance a chance to debate and fine tune upcoming resolutions.
9:15am-12:45pm Tuesday ALA Council II (REQUIRED)

4:30-6pm Tuesday Council Forum (NOT Required)

8am-12:30pm Wednesday ALA Council III (REQUIRED)

The only difference between Council III and the other 2 sessions is that Memorials, Tributes, and Resolutions are presented.

Participation on ALA council also requires knowledge of parliamentary procedure, which is very complicated and sometimes confusing. In fact, ALA employs a professional parliamentarian during meetings to provide assistance and guidance. Here is just one example of the confusion born out of parliamentary procedure: If someone motions for an amendment to the resolution being discussed, discussion on the motion as a whole ceases so discussion of the amendment can begin. We must discuss and vote on the amendment before we can return to the whole resolution. Whether or not the amendment passes, we must still vote on the resolution itself. This got even more confusing during Council III when an amendment to an amendment was proposed.

I can see where parliamentary procedure can be necessary to ensure fairness and organization, but I still wish it was simpler. ALA uses Alice Sturgis’ Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure, commonly referred to as Sturgis. An introduction to Sturgis is provided during the Council Orientation for New and Reelected Councilors at Annual and Midwinter. I attend these sessions when I can because I am a long way from being comfortable with Sturgis.

In addition to the time and complication of council, sessions can also become tiresome thanks to a small number of people who talk a lot (you know who you are). A few resolutions passed with little or no discussion. But others elicited lengthy debates. Some discussion is good because it provides background, clarification, clears up misunderstandings and exposes the strengths and weaknesses in a resolution. I have changed my initial “gut” decision after hearing sound arguments. This usually occurs at the beginning of the debate. Unfortunately, some people insist on sharing their opinions long after it appears everybody has made up their minds.

Sometimes the debate isn’t even about the resolution. A motion to form a task force to study e-Participation in the association instigated a discussion on the value of e-participation and not on the formation of a task force itself. When it was eventually pointed out that the task force would study these issues, councilors continued to make recommendations to the not-yet-formed tasked force. Couldn’t these recommendations be made once the task force is formed and directly to the task force instead of on council floor?

I can’t find where it is stated, but only Councilors can speak on the Council floor. When a councilor moved to Suspend Rules so an ALA member could speak, the motion was defeated. Yet, when somebody moved to Suspend Rules for the ALA President-Elect to speak, the motion carried. Go figure.

For most of this post I have been critical of Council and you are probably thinking ALA Council should be avoided like Fergie on helium. But I still encourage you to run. First, the council roster needs a shake up. Some councilors have served multiple terms and it is not a very ethnically diverse group. (Take a look at the photo gallery.) Our conservative, change-resistant council also needs some innovators and responsible risk takers.

Furthermore, serving on ALA Council provides the rare opportunity to benefit libraries and influence ALA’s direction. If you don’t like the way ALA is going and want to change it, run for Council. In addition, many items passed during Council benefit libraries and librarians. In my mind, the most obvious are the items that will be forwarded to congress, such as the resolution to provide adequate funds for the National Library Service digitization project. Passing resolutions like this puts ALA’s position on the record. Hopefully, congressmen and women realize they can’t ignore an organization as big as ALA.

And one more thing, being an ALA Councilor also puts you in the category of “VIP.” I thought I was pretty important before, but I guess I was wrong, because I didn’t receive the VIP Housing Form for annual and midwinter until I was a councilor. A VIP block is set aside at each conference hotel for councilors and other VIPs. I have never stayed in these rooms so I do not know if they are different from non-VIP rooms. But rooms set aside for councilors will not be released for general members until ALA is confident all Councilors have housing. Pretty handy when the hotels are filled by the second day of registration.

You can also get a better understanding about the inner workings of Council by visiting the following sites.

The Council Page on ALA:
Council Actions:
Council Agendas:
Council Documents:
Council Minutes:
Council Reports:

And some other blog postings I found about ALA Council

I hope I haven't scared you away from Council. It truly is an interesting and rewarding experience. I encourage you to throw your hat in the ring by completing the form at