A Remarkable Ending to a Tough Year

December 28, 2010

Keith Michael Fiels

Given the tough economy and the fiscal crisis that has affected libraries of all types, it was no surprise that the American Library Association found itself facing a $2-million revenue shortfall this past year—about 10%. Thanks to a lot of hard work on the part of members, management, and staff, we were able to reduce expenditures midyear and end the year on a positive financial note. More importantly, we were able to do this while maintaining member services; local, state, and national advocacy efforts were all strengthened, federal legislative work progressed, and dozens of important initiatives and member-service improvements all moved forward. Membership has held steady.

Member engagement

Last spring was a tough one. The Association had to implement staffing reductions (about 10% over the last two years), a weeklong furlough, and other cost-cutting measures. We got through it, and thanks to all this good work on the part of ALA staff, the board was able to approve an organizational incentive at its fall meeting in October that compensated staff for the income lost due to the furlough earlier this year. Given the continuing effects of the recession on libraries and the library community, however, the 2011 budget projection is flat.

Looking toward the future, work is underway on implementing the Association’s new 2015 Strategic Plan, which was approved by Council during Annual Conference last June. Just before its 2010 fall meeting, ALA’s Executive Board met with the leadership of the divisions and with round-table representatives for a joint planning session related to the new Strategic Plan. With goals and objectives in place, the group of nearly 80 individuals began the development of strategies for the “Transforming Libraries” and “Member Engagement” goals in the new plan. These two goals represent the great opportunities—and challenges—facing the Association over the next few years.

Transforming libraries

On one hand, we need to provide greater leadership and assistance to libraries, which are in the midst of a historic transformation from a predominantly print to a predominantly digital world. Our external environment is changing, and libraries are changing along with it. The “Transforming Libraries” goal area is a new one to ALA, but reflects the longstanding focus of member groups on identifying and promoting best and next practices in libraries.

On the other hand, the same digital revolution is changing the nature of ALA membership as we look at new and exciting ways to engage members in the work of the Association. Social media and new technologies are changing the way we work and play, and ALA will need to change with them. One example of this is the board discussion last fall on Membership Meetings during Annual Conference. Based on this discussion, we are actively planning the Association’s first virtual Membership Meeting this year, in addition to the face-to-face meeting during Annual.

Another important initiative discussed during the fall board meeting was the Spectrum Presidential Initiative. At the end of our first year, we have pledges and gifts totaling just over $400,000 toward our goal of $1 million in new scholarships. The board enthusiastically supported the continuation of the initiative through 2011 and until the goal is met. Spectrum scholars have changed the face of librarianship and the initiative has made the Association a national leader in the area of inclusion.

Additional information is available online regarding ALA’s budget, strategic planning, and other Executive Board documents and reports.

KEITH MICHAEL FIELS is executive director of the American Library Association, headquartered in Chicago.