Last week I was in Canberra for my first ALIA Board meeting, as well as induction and a governance workshop. It was three whole days of all ALIA, all the time, and I gotta say that it wasn’t easy. It was however interesting and exciting. If you’re a total nerd like me.
About half of the time was spent in activities which were about the Board, and the other half were actual Board activities. What’s the difference? The former were things like the induction (a.k.a. ‘everything you ever need to know about ALIA but didn’t know you needed to know’) and the governance workshop, where we went through both legal and practical issues on how the Board works (or should work). This included a bit where they tried to scare us through legal requirements: there are things relating to the Board that, if I do them wrong or they are done wrong under my watch, all my assets can be seized. That means my house. This is not like being on an ALIA group committee.
The actual Board activities were different to what I expected in many ways. I’ll be honest – when I’ve heard in the past that the ALIA Board met for a whole day meeting, I’ve asked myself what on earth they spent a whole day talking about. Surely there’s just a bunch of catching up, gossip, time-filling stuff, right? Not at all. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a meeting as tightly run as the one I witnessed on Tuesday. There were about 45 separate items listed on the agenda, and they absolutely raced through – if you weren’t paying attention three agenda items would race by before you realised it. Heaven help the next meeting I’m running, now I’ve seen how well it can be done.
A lot of stuff gets put to the ALIA Board. The agenda and papers are confidential, but I can give examples. There are reports from the various parts of ALIA, including departments and committees. There are proposals that need to be discussed and either agreed to or otherwise. Some of these are proposals to change the way things are done, and some are proposals to allocate funding to something. There is correspondence – people asking ALIA to do something or investigate something. There are lengthy discussions about advocacy, including topics and approaches.
We had a bit of a chat about what we can talk about outside the Board and what we can’t. There is stuff that goes to the Board that really has to be confidential, because it relates to individual people or institutions. Then there’s other stuff that is temporarily confidential, by which I mean that it needs to stay confidential while we (or ALIA staff) are working on it so that we can challenge our assumptions without people freaking out about it. So most of the stuff will be public eventually, once there’s actually a thing to say.
There’s a really strong future-focus to the Board’s discussions. The last few years seems to have been about making some fundamental changes – not the least of which were extensive staff changes at ALIA – and now there’s a sense that it’s time to move on, and use those changes to build new things. The really cool thing was that these new things aren’t decided yet. I feel like it’s a great time to have joined the Board, because it’s that magical moment when you’ve gotten the foundations nice and solid and you’re asking ‘What next?’ It’s fun to be part of that discussion.
Before I finish up I want to acknowledge the ALIA staff. The team they have there at the moment is awesome – so enthusiastic, really committed, and really helpful. Most of them aren’t library people, but they still seem to actually care about libraries, which is good because frankly ALIA can’t pay the big bucks. They’d get excited about the same things I would, like media coverage of a library issue or members showing up to the AGM. They were very accommodating of this bunch of people that came in and demanded all these things of them.
As I promised I’ll keep using this blog to talk about what the Board is doing, but in a very personal way. This isn’t an official Board blog (don’t bother looking here for breaking news), it’s about my experience of being on the Board. And it’s to inspire some of you to nominate for the Board next year. So get thinking!
I promised during my ALIA Board election campaign that if I was elected, I would use this blog to write about being on the Board – to enhance transparency but also to give others an idea of what being on the Board involves, in the hopes of inspiring them to nominate next year, and the year after that. So here’s my first “I’m now on the Board!” post.
Except I’m not on the Board yet – technically I can’t call myself a director until after the ALIA AGM next Tuesday. This is important – the little things are important when you’re doing things like filling out ASIC information forms. I was invited to attend a CSU students’ drinks function the other week as the ALIA representative, but had to be careful that I was referred to only as an incoming Board member, not an actual one.
Next Monday is when the fun starts. On Monday there’s an induction for the three of us that are new (I’m looking forward to meeting Susan, and seeing Damian again). Tuesday is the meeting of the current Board, during which us newbies get to sit tight and watch (and learn, hopefully). Tuesday night is the AGM, at the end of which the (presumably) metaphorical baton is passed, and Wednesday we get to be actual Board members and have a meeting.
It all sounds so formal and fancy, doesn’t it? When I worked at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians I used to attend the annual College Ceremony, which was essentially a graduation ceremony for all the new Fellows. Every second year we got a new President, and they were my favourite ceremonies. The outgoing President, wearing the presidential robe (very unlike a bathrobe, btw), would be presented with the presidential sceptre. They would then ceremonially hand it to the incoming President. The ceremony attendant would remove the presidential robe from the outgoing President and place it on the incoming President. The incoming President would then present the outgoing President with the ex-presidents’ medal. The whole thing was replete with pomp, all College staff that assisted with the ceremony were expected to wear their appropriate academic gowns, and it was fabulous. Somehow I suspect I’m not going to see the same thing next week…
I have been wondering how best to prepare for next week. I’ve filled out all the forms (including the scary ASIC one) and travel bookings are sorted. Other than that, I’m reading. I re-read ALIA’s constitution and by-laws. There’s a Board modus operandi document that contained a lot of useful information. I read through the notes from the last few Board meetings. I took another look at the last available set of ALIA’s financial reports, and had a good read through the Future of the Profession document. It’s listed as a “Board project”, and I don’t really know what that means, but I figure that I might get an opportunity to do something with it, so that’s good. I’ve also, for good measure, re-read the notes from my corporate law studies, especially the bits on director liabilities. Apparently any moment now I’m going to get access to something called the Board papers, which I believe involves a lot more reading, so that’ll be my weekend activity.
I’m sure I’m going way overboard, and I’ll probably annoy the hell out of the other directors by being like an over-excited puppy, but I’ve got two years on this Board and I’m not going to let them pass me by. I’ll be honest – I don’t know yet how to make the best use of this, nor what it’s reasonable to expect to achieve in two years. But hopefully by the time I leave Canberra next Wednesday evening I’ll have some ideas.