We Are ALA

Reimagining our Association for the future

October 24, 2012

Maureen Sullivan

I recently learned that another national library association has adopted the slogan “I am (my national library association)” as a means to engage its members.

My immediate reaction was to think of ALA and how, if we were to follow suit, I would want our slogan to be “We are ALA.” We, the members of ALA, our libraries, our communities, and even the larger world face many challenges as we increasingly work in a global society that is rapidly becoming a digital universe. In this ever-changing and fast-paced context, ALA must strive to be the best professional association it can be. To do this requires a collaborative effort to reimagine our Association for the 21st century.

Rethink and redesign

A recent book, The Race for Relevance, calls for every association to rethink and redesign itself to meet the needs and expectations of its current and future membership. The authors, Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers, make a compelling case for recognizing that the traditional association model is not what is needed today. Professionals who join and stay with associations today want value for their investment; meaningful engagement; easy paths to active contribution; resources that are directly relevant to improving their practice; appreciation and use of their knowledge, expertise, and talents; and opportunities to contribute when they are ready.

ALA offers many opportunities and resources to our members, and yet I consistently hear about the frustrations of “getting involved in ALA” and “from where will the next generation of leaders come?” I believe it is time to ask, “If ALA did not exist today, what would we create?”

To begin this work, I asked the Executive Board and division leadership to work within an appreciative inquiry framework to address these questions:

  • What are the collective strengths of ALA?
  • In our current context, where are there opportunities for ALA?
  • What are our aspirations for the future? What do we want the future ALA to be?
  • What results do we want to accomplish in the next few years? What will this Association be?

I began the formal effort to rethink ALA with these sessions because the fall meetings presented a significant opportunity to engage the governance bodies of ALA and its divisions early in the process. The results of our conversations will be disseminated and will serve to jump-start further discussion among the broader membership. We will develop structured opportunities for meaningful discussion and will make use of ALA Connect and social media to do so. The process will be designed to be as transparent and inclusive as possible. I want to elicit the best ideas from our membership, staff, chapters, and organizational units.

This work will be a major change effort for the Association. To achieve a sustainable and more nimble organization, this needs to build on our current strengths; allow for discussion of different perspectives and options; listen to the many different voices within ALA; focus on imagining a future Association that attracts, engages, and retains members; and offer a series of ways for individuals to contribute. The process needs to be iterative, one in which we stop to assess progress at every stage and judge what needs to happen in the next stage to ensure eventual success.

I am committed to doing all I can to lead this work to a successful conclusion. I hope you will participate and help create the best future for our Association. I welcome your ideas. Please send them to me at msullivan@ala.org.

MAUREEN SULLIVAN is an organization development consultant to libraries and professor of practice in the Managerial Leadership in the Information Professions doctoral program of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College in Boston. Email: msullivan@ala.org.


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