First, the apology. I know I promised that after the ALIA Board election I wouldn’t abandon this blog, and I promise that I both haven’t abandoned the blog nor has my recent silence been because the election is over. But I know it might look that way. I’m sorry about that.
There are three reasons the blog has been quiet. The first is that I’m still trying to figure out what to write about the things I’m doing with the ALIA Board. The fact is that some things are confidential, and not because they’ll always be secret but because they are in progress, and confidentiality is sometimes necessary when exploring a matter. It’s why they say that you shouldn’t watch either laws or sausages get made: because the steps along the way can be ugly. So I’m still trying to find the balance between being as open as I can without actually hindering the work of the Board.
The second reason is that I’ve gotten a new position at my workplace, and it’s taking up a huge amount of my brainspace. I’m now working with digital repositories, and I’m having to do a self-guided crash course in digital librarianship. At the end of the day what I really want to do is collapse on the couch in front of an inane television show of some description. What I don’t want to do is turn on the computer again.
The third reason is that I’ve been overseas for almost a month, mostly on holiday but doing a quick conference presentation while I was there. Hot tip: if you ever get a chance to watch the once-every-five-years Latvian Song and Dance Festival, do not pass it up. Also, Helsinki rocks.
But Hugh Rundle’s latest post in response to ALIA’s Library and Information Agenda reminded me that there’s much joy to be had in the online professional conversation, and reminded me of things I wanted to write about.
First up, the last ALIA Board meeting. As I mentioned there’s a lot of stuff in the Board meetings that stay private until they’ve reached a certain point of consensus, but there’s also a summary produced after each meeting which are the ‘take home messages’. These are the things that we can speak publically about, either because there’s no reason for them to be confidential or they have reached the aforementioned point of consensus. Readers wishing to be active members should check out these documents.
There’s one thing in the summary from the July meeting that I’d like to highlight, and that’s the bit about the advisory committees. I’m not sure all ALIA members know what the advisory committees are, but they’re important. They’re committees, ostensibly appointed by the Board (usually after receiving nominations from members), that are meant to advise the Board on certain matters. Basically, the Board isn’t that big, and can’t possibly include someone to represent every sector and special interest in our profession. Also, Board members aren’t elected to represent only certain sectors – we’re meant to represent the membership as a whole. So if the Board is debating something that might affect, say, TAFE libraries, they should get input from the people who know about TAFE libraries. Likewise, the people who know about TAFE libraries might hear of something that the Board should know about, or they might want ALIA to do something to support TAFE librarians in particular. So there needs to be a mechanism by which they can bring these matters to the Board. Hence the existence of the TAFE Libraries Advisory Committee.
I have sat on an advisory committee – I was on the New Generation Advisory Committee, and it was a very interesting (mostly positive) experience. One of the many lessons I learned was that the process outlined in the above paragraph is the ideal, but not the reality. The reality was that we were often a bit confused about what we were meant to be doing, we were rarely actually asked by the Board to do anything, and, I’m sorry to say, our submissions to the Board often received no response.
Earlier this year ALIA finally conducted a thorough review of the advisory committees, including touching base with some committees that hadn’t met for over a year. Substantial discussion at Board meetings demonstrated both recognition that the committees had not been well supported or utilised, and commitment to improve that. We talked about how we can ensure that we’re asking for input from advisory committees whenever we can, and about how we can report to them and get them to report to us. Basically, we want to make sure that matters which affect a certain group of people will actually receive input from that group, and that the group know that it happens. Radical, I know.
One of the things that we, as Board members, agreed to was that we would each act as a point of contact for several advisory committees. This is not a new idea – when I first started with NGAC we had Kate Sinclair as our Board contact – but I’m really pleased to see it reintroduced. How it will work in practice is somewhat up to the committee and the Board member to nut out, but the idea is that if we have one Board member acting as the liaison point for each committee, then the communication will flow better in both directions. It’ll be our responsibility to keep the advisory committee informed of what we’re doing, and it’ll give committee members a direct communication channel. It makes both parties accountable to each other.
If you’d like to have a greater say in what ALIA does and what issues the Board works on, or what we do with the issues already in front of us, keep an eye out for more announcements about the advisory committees. There will likely be opportunities to join committees coming up over the next year as we try to revitalise some of the dormant committees and create new ones where the need exists. And for those of you who have patiently worked away as part of an advisory committee, I hope to be a part of making better use of your efforts in the future.
(P.S. I’m going to the IFLA conference in Singapore this week – it’ll be my first time at an IFLA conference! I’ll try to find the time afterwards to write a blog post about it. If you’re going as well, come and visit me in the poster sessions, or at one of the many social functions that I’m sure we’ll all be attending.)