My first ALIA Board meeting

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!

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