Saturday, June 30, 2007

Breaking the ALA cycle

If you've ever been on a committee that ties its work to the library association's two-times-a-year cycle, you know how frustrating and inefficient that is. With only two working meetings a year it takes many years to get anything done. This accounts for some of the slowness of the accomplishments of our profession. And obviously that pace is not serving us well in this fast-changing world.

As proof that it can get better, I cite a recent project I was on that was organized by the ALA Office of Information Technology Policy. Our goal was to produce a set of principles relating to digitization and digital resources, to get those principles reviewed by a wide professional audience, and to have them passed by ALA Council so that they would enter into the ALA Handbook as association policy. We did it all in barely over a year by harnessing the (less than perfect) technology of the ALA web site. Essentially we placed our principles on the ALA Blog and sent email to all ALA units asking for comments. We had prepared the way by visiting numerous meetings at ALA in Seattle but definitely had not managed to contact every potential respondent. Over two months there were thousands of viewings of the principles and many dozen comments. We also received comments via email. By the time we presented the principles at ALA Council in Washington, D.C. we had some major groups signed on as supporters, including ALCTS and LITA. We also had visible proof that our work had been made public and reviewed.

This was a relatively small project, but it gives me some hope that we can break out of the cycle of working on ALA activities for only four days twice a year. If we are going to move our profession forward, we have to be able to harness the technology to get needed work done. Blogs, wikis, shared editing of documents -- if we do it right, the two meetings can become times when we get face-to-face with each other for the pleasure of each other's company, and not to sit in a windowless room editing some document by committee.

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