Forward Together

Charting a path to a more vibrant and effective organization

January 2, 2020

From the President: Wanda Kay Brown

Meeting members and learning how and where they found their place in ALA has given me the opportunity to reflect on my own path. I was lucky enough to be guided and mentored early on by members of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, and through my involvement in that group, I found a path for engagement and leadership that brought me to where I am today.

But as we hear often, many members find the path to engagement too confusing, too insular, and too expensive. How do we address these concerns while also modernizing the way our Association functions?

This is where we start. For the past 18 months, as a member of the Steering Committee on Organizational Effectiveness (SCOE), I’ve been on the front lines of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a more vibrant and effective Association that supports libraries and library workers in a society and culture that was almost unimaginable when our current structure was developed. To help realign our Association with the world we live in today, we have collected recommendations called Forward Together.

It wasn’t easy to get here. As a committee member, I can assure you we didn’t always agree with one another. But I watched as we struggled with our differences and focused on the greater good. Each of us represents a distinct perspective, discipline, or library type, and we used our backgrounds to ensure our final recommendations will work for all members, not just ourselves or people who think like we do.

Our aim is to encourage those who don’t feel they have a place in ALA to participate and flourish. Forward Together codifies an institutional commitment to diversity in our governing bodies and builds safeguards against homogeneity.

Not everyone will agree with our recommendations. We understand there are a few caring and extremely involved members who are concerned that the ALA described in Forward Together may take away levers of power. These members have given much through their service to ALA within the current structure and may be less receptive to change. We do understand that. However, we feel strongly that this plan can and will work. While we continue to review and refine our recommendations, we are weaving in some of the strategies we are so excited about.

We currently have no exact correlation for the proposed leadership assemblies described in Forward Together, but they seek to be direct, open lines of influence to the Board of Directors. Leadership assemblies maintain the functions and strengths of existing groups such as ALA Council, the Chapter Leaders Forum, and the Round Table Coordinating Assembly. (In fact, this is already happening: In October 2019, leaders convened virtually for the first Chapters Assembly, and I heard great things about it from participants!)

What this means practically is that the first Council vote on the adoption of these recommendations will likely not take place at the 2020 Annual Conference in Chicago as originally stated but instead at the 2021 Midwinter Meeting.

This extended timeline provides the opportunity to do an in-depth financial review. It also allows the votes to happen with the same Council rather than a split group. One of SCOE’s stated goals was to “enable sustainable, long-term change (including evaluation of progress and more frequent future adjustments).” We are modeling that by trying and doing as we go.

Changing culture takes time and intent. I invite you to read the report and engage with its conclusions at forwardtogether.ala.org. I believe our work will help many more members find their place within ALA.

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