Rethinking, Reinventing

Working together to strengthen our Association for the future

June 1, 2013

Keith Michael Fiels

In late April, the ALA Executive Board and the Budget Analysis and Review Committee met to review the status of the current 2013 ALA budget and to approve a preliminary budget for the 2014 fiscal year that begins September 1, 2013.

The continuing impact of the recession on libraries and projected revenues this year and next year means that ALA has had to make another round of budget reductions—approximately $1.8 million worth—this spring. The picture for FY2014 is even tighter, which translates to another $1 million in reductions in the general fund offices and support service units this fall. This means a nearly 20% reduction in staffing and budgets since the beginning of the recession.

More important, this means that every office and every member group will need to look closely at all the programs and services they are currently providing. With resources tighter than ever, we’ll need to focus on those that are most essential and those that further our strategic priorities as an Association.

There has been a lot of discussion recently about rethinking and reimagining ALA. One of the Association’s greatest strengths is that it provides a “home” for everyone: librarians, library workers, trustees, and friends from all types of libraries, representing all interests and all perspectives within the library community.

Over the past 130 years, members have formed 11 divisions, 20 round tables, 57 state and regional chapters, nearly 30 affiliates, a thousand committees, and numerous online discussion and special interest groups. New groups are being formed on an ongoing basis. Each of these groups approaches its work in a unique fashion, and each is driven by the members who created and sustain the group.

This makes for a very, very complex organization. The complexity provides plenty of opportunities for engagement, and increased member engagement is one of the Association’s five strategic goals. It also allows us to harness the energy and creativity of thousands of active members to continually advance nearly every aspect of library services locally, nationally, and globally. And it provides us with tremendous impact and influence when we speak as one.

This complexity, however, is also one of our greatest challenges. ALA now supports almost 1,600 pricing permutations and rules. Accounting tracks thousands of separate accounts. Our IT staff supports multiple platforms for many everyday applications. Communication involves a rapidly growing number of channels and media. More than 300 individuals—both staff and members—add content to the ALA website.

These complexities are a direct result of our “member-driven” philosophy, but they can make change a slow and cumbersome process.

All of this means that we will need your help as a member to make sure we focus our efforts on what is most important. Like the many libraries that have had to reduce their budgets since the beginning of the recession, we will have to make careful decisions about where we concentrate our efforts. To do this, we will need every ounce of member creativity and member support.

ALA has continued to make real progress on a number of critical fronts (examples include ebooks, the value of libraries, public policy, diversity, and community engagement) despite a tough economy, and we’re seeing encouraging signs of recovery from libraries around the country.

Many more challenges lie ahead for our libraries, our profession, and the public we serve. Our job will be to make sure that we have the strongest, most focused Association as we work together to meet them.

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


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