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It’s ALIA AGM time! This is why you should care.

I just know that everyone is as excited about the ALIA annual general meeting as I am! It’s been marked in my calendar for months. Sure, that’s cos I  have to go and it involves interstate travel, but still. When I was in Singapore I went to the IFLA AGM by choice, and I enjoyed it, so there is fun to be had at these things.

This blog post is another in my unofficial series of “Why you should care about this governance stuff”. I’m going to try and convince you to a) come to the AGM, if you’re in Canberra, or b) send your votes in by proxy. The main reason you should do this is because those who vote at the AGM get to make decisions for all ALIA members, and there’s usually only a very small number of people, so it’s not very representative. You can do something quite simple to change that.

At last year’s AGM there were no special resolutions on which to vote, but this year there are – in fact there are 26 of them, and yes, each one gets voted on individually. There is method in this madness. There are 26 changes to ALIA’s constitution that the board has recommended. Rather than bundle them all together, risking an “all or nothing” vote, each one is being voted on separately. You can find details  of all of them here.

Now, I may have gotten your hopes up about these constitutional changes. The fact is that they’re not very radical. There were more radical changes that were discussed, at length, by the board, but none of them survived the board voting process. So what we’re left with are mostly uncontroversial wording changes.

Special resolution 10 allows us to reduce the number of members required for a quorum at the AGM from 21 to 11. It’s basically there to make it easier to get a quorum – there’s not that many members in Canberra that come along to the AGM, despite the free wine (did I mention free wine? There’s free wine! C’mon, what kind of librarian are you?) More interestingly, special resolution 11 will allow attendance and voting at the AGM by “electronic link”, that is, remote attendance and voting. This is a good thing, and will bring us into the modern age. Although you’ll have to provide your own wine if you attend remotely.

Special resolution 13 proposes moving the information about the national advisory congress (NAC) from the constitution into a by-law. This is not a sneaky way to stop holding the NAC. ALIA has every intention of continuing to hold the NACs, but having this in the constitution gives us very little flexibility – not the least because any change requires a vote of members, such as this one.

While to my mind the other resolutions are uncontroversial, I do encourage you to read through the list – you might object to something that I find mundane, and I don’t want you to think I’m discouraging you from paying attention. Quite the opposite.

Now, my point: you can vote on these resolutions even if you can’t attend the meeting. How? Through the magic of proxies! You can give your proxy (i.e. your vote) to another ALIA member by filling out a simple form. The person holding your proxy can hold multiple proxies – there is no limit.

When you give this other member your proxy you can give them a directed or undirected proxy. If you give them a directed proxy, you are saying “You can vote on my behalf, but you must vote this way” and you specify whether you support or oppose each resolution. If you give them an undirected proxy, you are saying “You can vote on my behalf, vote however you like”. If you know which way someone is going to vote, and you agree with them, it’s common to give them an undirected proxy. It’s possible for one person to hold both directed and undirected proxies – they may have 2 proxies to vote for a resolution and 3 voting against it. It can be complicated for them to keep track, but we’re all smart people.

So, again to my point: you can vote at the AGM without even going! All you need to do is find a member who is going, who is willing to take your proxy. You then put their details, and your voting instructions (if any), on the ALIA AGM pageYou must submit this form before 5pm Monday 19th May, or it will all be for naught.

I’m going. Even though I am a director, I can hold proxies. I’m willing to take directed or undirected proxies. If you would like to give me your proxy, stick my name and membership number (048016) on that form.

It’s very easy to be represented at the AGM – you just need to make a little bit of effort to do so.


Board meeting eve

Tomorrow morning I’m flying to Canberra for the last ALIA board meeting of the year. I’m doing the FIFO thing, there and back in one day, and I’m totally going to pretend that I work for a mining company and get paid buckets of money cos that’s how FIFO people live, right?

It’s not likely to be a tokenistic meeting, this one. We’ve got some big items on a long agenda. Two things of particular note are the results of the member survey and the review of ALIA’s constitution. The former is something I find really interesting – I’ve worked for two survey companies in my career, and they taught me how to ask questions and how to interpret survey data. I’ve been pouring over the results, as I assume the other directors and I know the ALIA staff have been. It’s simple to ask a question like “What would we have to do to increase membership and increase satisfaction amongst members?” It’s not simple to find an answer. I’m aware of the weaknesses of surveys – in this case, this was a member survey, which means we might get a lot of information about member satisfaction and about reasons for membership, but we probably won’t get a lot of information about why people aren’t members. That doesn’t mean we can’t use the data to start that discussion.

The constitution review is, to be honest, starting to turn my brain to mush. I’ve poured over so many iterations of this document that I’m starting to lose sight of it. We’ve had some fantastic debates, we’re proposed radical changes and then argued ourselves out of them. By the time the membership gets to see this document they’ll probably wonder what I was carping on about for so long, but the version we put to members won’t show the full history of the discussions we’ve been having. Trust me when I say that it’s been an interesting experience! I really hope we can make the deadlines we have to make to get this to the membership for voting next year, as I would love to be part of the board that helped make this happen. It would make me proud, even if the changes do end up seeming small.

The other fun thing on the agenda for this meeting is ALIA’s budget for 2014, where we get to have our say in how we spend ALIA’s money. This is a good discussion to have after receiving the results of the member survey, as we now have a better idea of our members’ priorities for ALIA.

Remember that nominations are currently open for the next board elections. If you’d like to know anything more about what being on the board involves I’m very happy to chat about it – please do consider nominating.


Should you nominate for the ALIA Board? Yes you should!

Exciting news folks – nominations are now open for the ALIA Board of Directors! Yeah, I know, you’ve been waiting for this.

The fact is, this year notwithstanding, this is an event that has not traditionally attracted much excitement. Outside of ALIA, that’s cool, but inside the ALIA membership it should be a big deal. Ideally members would be eager to stand for these roles, and other members would place high standards on those that nominate, seeking information about their agenda and approach, in order to make an informed vote.

This isn’t the case, and it’s not going to become the case overnight. I know why most people ignore this – there’s a lack of understanding about what the board does, people are pressed for time just managing their own lives let alone someone else’s company, and even if you could find the time, why spend it on this? The responsibility for changing these attitudes rests with the board itself, and past directors, who are the people who can build understanding of what the board does and what the rewards are.

So I’m going to try and do my part. First up, I would encourage all members to consider running. While it’s not an easy job, it is something that is within the reach of most people. Diversity on the board is healthy, so please don’t rule out running just because you’re young/old/in a rural area/working in a small corner of library land/have strange hair/never done this before. Start with the assumption that you can do it.

Being on the Board means attending meetings – in person and by teleconference – but it also means lots of other stuff. In the six months I’ve been on the board these are the things I’ve been involved in:

  • Determining the strategic plan for 2014 (with the awareness that the current overall plan ends in 2015)
  • Revising the constitution, making recommendations for changes, to put to the membership for a vote
  • Revising the by laws, making recommendations for changes following the review of the constitution
  • Guiding ALIA’s approach to large advocacy campaigns, such as federal elections
  • Financial oversight, including reviewing monthly budget reports and the overall organisational budget
  • Reviewing the structure of advisory committees, developing a relationship with assigned committees
  • Working on ALIA’s projects, such as the future of the profession or ebooks and elending
  • Reading monthly membership reports, including recruitment strategies
  • Contributing to the ALIA member survey, including reviewing detailed results
  • Reviewing the performance of the executive director
  • Representing ALIA at events (such as other association conferences, the ALIA National Advisory Congress, and on external committees)
  • Responding to member inquiries and feedback
  • Providing advice to the executive director as required

Does any of that sound interesting to you? Do you think you could do that better than the current board? Time to put your money where your mouth is!

Why bother? Well, I find being on the board rewarding. I’m learning so much about all aspects of our profession, as well as lots about how an organisation runs. I’m a bit of a corporate governance wonk – I find the processes and procedures involved really interesting. I like feeling as though I can be a part of making ALIA stronger, either through providing direction or through my own actions (i.e. holding myself accountable to members, advocating for members’ interests). I’m working with a team of people that I have a lot of respect for, and am learning a lot from them. The things I’m learning and involved in go way beyond what I get to do in my paid job. Being on the board has expanded my experience and my perception of my work.

There are a few things that you’ll need to know before you nominate. First up, you’ve got to be an ALIA member, so if you’ve let your membership lapse you’ll need to get that renewed before you nominate. It’s also important that you have your employer’s support. Most of the teleconferences happen during work time, and there are occasional issues that arise that require a quick response. If you’re not allowed to use any work time for ALIA activities you’ll find it very hard. Some board members, myself included, have come to compromise agreements with their employers about the amount of work time used. Travel costs are covered for board activities, but you’re not paid for the work. It’s a volunteer position.

Before you nominate make sure you understand the legal obligations you’ll be under. I’d recommend reading ALIA’s constitution thoroughly, and the by-laws, and some general information about board governance. ALIA is a not for profit company limited by guarantee under the Corporations Act, and directors are subject to the various liabilities outlined in the act (although we do hold directors’ insurance). This is a good resource. I don’t mean to scare you, but corporate governance is not usually taught in library school, so you’ll need to educate yourself on this.

Finally, I’m very happy to answer any questions. Please consider nominating. This is a big election – five positions up for grabs – and the easiest way to ensure that the people that get those positions are the best people is to have some choice.

Your opinion sought: ALIA board terms

We discuss lots of interesting and exciting things at the ALIA board: the future of the profession, conferences, money. But sometimes we have to do some housekeeping, and that’s what this blog post is about.

The ALIA board is in the process of reviewing the ALIA constitution, looking for things that need to be updated or changed. One of the things that we’re discussing is the term of office for board members. The current constitution states that board members are elected for two year terms, with a maximum of two consecutive terms – a maximum of four years in one go.

There are two problems that the board is grappling with, in relation to its membership. These are that it’s (usually) difficult to attract people to stand for election, and that two years is actually a really short time to serve on the ALIA board. Let’s look at these individually.

2013 was the first year in several in which an election for the board was actually held – which means there were more candidates than there were vacant positions. In the interests of an involved and democratic organisation, I’d like to see elections held every year. I’d like to see lots of competition for this important role, and elections used to select the best candidates. There are risks when there are no elections: we all know people that have inflated views of their own talents, and if all they have to do to get on the board of ALIA is to nominate, well, that’s a little scary (please note this is not a comment on the quality of board members past or present!). It’s important for member engagement that they have a say in who represents them in running the organisation.

People will, in theory, stand for election if the role is attractive to them; they have to feel like it’s achievable, worthwhile, rewarding, and, this is important, they need their employer’s support. ALIA has various ways that they could influence each of these elements, and the term of office is one of them. A short term of office, in which one can’t achieve anything, would prevent the role from being seen as rewarding or worthwhile. A long term of office might mean that people see the role as unachievable, or it might impact the support they get from their employer. (It’s worth articulating here that being on the board requires time and flexibility from employers, and cannot in reality be conducted only in one’s personal time. Some employers might feel that this is an imposition on them. Quick shout out to my employer UNSW Library, who generously gives of my work time!) So you can see that we don’t want a term of office that is too short or too long. We need the goldilocks term.

Which brings me to the second problem. When I took my seat on the board I was coming from a long history of active ALIA involvement. I’d run a group, I’d convened a conference, I’d sat on an advisory committee, I’d even worked for ALIA. One could saythat I was at somewhat of an advantage; yet still the volume of information that I’ve had to take in about every single aspect of the organisation is massive, and I still feel very wet behind the ears. Imagine how much harder it is for someone coming in with less ALIA experience than I had. Feedback from other board members, past and present, is that it took them at least a year to get a proper understanding of the role.

If you spend your first year figuring out what you’re meant to be doing, you’ve only got one year left to actually do any of it. That’s not a lot of time when you’re operating on a strategic level in an organisation, when you’re working on projects that typically take three or more years to play out. It means that we don’t get the satisfaction of seeing the project finished; it also means we’re not held accountable if it goes awry.

Which brings me to the question we’re debating: is two years the right length? We’re basically having a debate comparing two, three and four years. Two years is short, but maybe too short. Four years is long; IMHO, too long, and I would not have volunteered for a four year term, and I wouldn’t do so now that I know how much work is involved! Three years might be a nice length, but it’s complicated to administer – and some people might see it as too long as well.

At the last board meeting we talked about this for some time, and came to the conclusion that we really should find out more about what members think on this – not the least because those in the room are not a representative selection of members, given that we have volunteered for the board. Hence this blog post. I’m seeking your opinion. Please tell me what you think about this. Do you think three or four year terms are too long? Would a longer term encourage you towards nominating for the board in the future, or put you off? You can use the comments section, or you can email me at alysondalby at gmail dot com, or even on Twitter at @alysondalby.

(In case you’re interested in how this actually works, this is not a formal consultation process, rather an informal information gathering. The board will use this to put together a proposed change to the constitution, which then gets voted on by the membership. But we can’t have a vote on three options – we can propose a change, on which members can vote yes or no. Hence we are trying to figure out what that change, if any, should be. If, by the way, you feel we should leave it at two years, please say so – don’t assume that a lack of feedback will encourage the status quo!)

Mea culpa, or, what I’ve been up to lately

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.)

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!

Preparing for my first Board meeting

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.