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.)

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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.

I’d like to thank the academy

I’ve been elected to the ALIA Board! Which I’m probably excited about beyond all reason, given the lack of actual glamour involved in the role, but apathy is not my natural state. So I’ll say this – I’m excited, and happy, and optimistic.

Thank you to everyone who voted, even if you didn’t vote for me. There aren’t any voting stats available yet, but if they are released I plan on mining them for what they can tell me about the engagement level of ALIA members in their election. The Board of Directors represents members, so I hope those that didn’t vote are happy with the choice that the rest of us made on their behalf.

Of course an extra thank you goes to those people who voted for me – I hope to repay your faith in me. I’d like to highlight the contribution to the campaign made by everyone who tweeted, retweeted, liked, commented and blogged – especially the efforts of Hugh Rundle and the ALIA Sydney group. Thank you for making an effort, and for getting us talking. As far as I’m aware this is the first ALIA election campaign that really involved social media, which might say more about the history of ALIA elections (or lack thereof).

ALIA Sydney asked me what I wanted to achieve if I’m elected to the Board. This is what I said:

I’d like to ensure that ALIA continues to maintain financial sustainability – without this we have nothing. I’d like to see a reduction in members failing to renew their membership. I’d like to see professional development events in every capital city, and I’d like to see rural and regional members participating in online events. Finally, I’d like to use this blog to continue writing about the Board, so that members get a sense of what being on the Board involves, and are attracted to it, so that next year we have an equally strong interest in nominating.

Please hold me accountable. If you want me or the Board to hear something, speak up. I’ll share everything I can (within confidentiality guidelines, of course) and I’ll tell you about the experience of being on the Board in the hopes of inspiring some of you to nominate next year.

My point, and I do have one, is thank you.

Fantasy electioneering

For my final ALIA Board of Directors election post, I’d like to answer the ‘question’ that @RogueXiphium asked me: “I’d like 3 day weekends please. And a pack of neverending TimTams. Delivered by the Old Spice Guy. On a unicorn.”

Well, Rogue my dear, this shouldn’t be too hard. Here’s my plan to make this happen.

First up, you could apply for a position as one of ALIA’s State/Territory Managers – it’s only 30 hours a month, and those hours are flexible, so three day weekends are yours! It’s also a really fun job – I did it myself for a bit and loved it. I can’t speak for whether or not it’ll give you enough income to pay the bills, but that wasn’t on your list.

Next up, Tim Tams. According to ALIA’s annual report from 2011, the ALIA House building in Canberra is worth $1,296,738. There’s probably been a change since then, but let’s pretend not. Woolies are currently selling Tim Tams for $2.50 a packet, and according to the interwebs there are 11 biscuits in a packet. So  if we sell ALIA House, we could buy 5,705,647 Tim Tams – around 5.7 million Tim Tams. It’s not neverending, but it’s a pretty big pile, and I’m not sure you’d ever reach the end of it, so it’s kinda the same thing.

I’m going to tackle the unicorn next. But I’m a bit surprised – Rogue, c’mon, if you don’t know where to find yourself a unicorn, what kind of derby girl are you?

So we have a giant pile of Tim Tams, and several unicorns. I believe that this is the appropriate bait to catch an Old Spice Guy, and I cannot help but think that a quick DM with proof of the existence of both of the above would entice him your (our?) way.

Done! Anything else, while I’m at it?

Vote! Vote! Vote!

Have you voted yet for the ALIA Board of Directors?

We’re on the home stretch now, one week until ballots close. If you’re doing a postal vote, please fill it in and post it back today, so your vote will be counted. It’s Easter this weekend – please get your ballot in the mail before the long weekend.

If you’re doing an online vote, you’ve got a bit more time, but c’mon, it’s the super-long weekend, we all have better things to be doing. Don’t leave it to the weekend – vote now!

Still not sure who to vote for? Hugh Rundle and the ALIA Sydney group both sent a bunch of questions to the candidates, which I was really pleased about. I’ve used this blog to answer any and all questions that have been sent to me, but if  you’ve got any more you can still contact me here or on Twitter.

Vote!

Have you received your ALIA election ballot?

In case you haven’t heard, there’s an election open for the ALIA Board of Directors! Yes, you are lucky I told you – you’re welcome.

I wrote a post on this blog when the ballots opened about how you can expect to receive voting information and what to do if you haven’t gotten it yet. With only a week and a half left until voting closes, I’d like to revisit this. Please follow the instructions below.

  1. Have you voted?
    • Yes – great, good on you, thank you.
    • No  – go to next question.
  2. Why haven’t you voted?
    • I don’t know who to vote for  – that’s easy, vote for me! Or see Hugh Rundle’s blog or the ALIA Sydney blog for more candidate information.
    • I don’t care – then vote for me! Or, whatever. You should care, but if you’re reading this and you still don’t care, um, why are you reading this?
    • I didn’t receive any information about voting – go to next question.
  3. Have you checked your email lately? Did you receive an email from the Australian Electoral Company? Did it go into your spam folder?
    • Oh, yes, there it is. I’ll just go and vote online then  – great, problem solved.
    • Nope, nothing – go to next question.
  4. Have you checked your mailbox for a letter from the Australian Electoral Company?
    • Oh, yes, there it is. I’ll just fill out the ballot and return it then – great, problem solved.
    • Nope, nothing – go to next question.
  5. Please call the Australian Electoral Company on 1800 224 420 or email them on help@austelect.com. It’s not too late for them to send you a ballot form.

Remember, to make your vote for Director valid you must number at least two of the boxes, and to vote for Vice President (President Elect) you must number both boxes.

Vote!