Charles Wilt, ALCTS Executive Director
Although many of you have seen my name and many of you have met me, not every ALCTS member has. So with the advent of this article and the forthcoming Executive Director's page on the ALCTS web site, I hope to keep you the members more thoroughly informed about the ALCTS office. It also gives me the opportunity to share information and insights into ALCTS as an association, which is the topic of this first article.
Almost fifty years ago, a group of people decided to organize themselves around common interests and created the Resources and Technical Services Division of the American Library Association. Over the years, RTSD grew and evolved, adding new sections, combining interests, finally emerging as the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services in the late 80's. But what does it mean to be an association?
According to Glenn Tecker, a widely known association management consultant, an association is a "group of people who voluntarily come together to solve common problems, meet common needs, and accomplish common goals." An association is a "community", a community of people. The types of organizations that we typically think of as associations, like ALCTS, are unique in that the same people who populate associations are at the same time the "owners", the "customers", and the "workforce" of the organization. In fact, associations such as ALCTS could not or would not exist if that were not the case.
Until I joined the ALA staff, I operated under similar assumptions to perhaps many of you about who manages the association. I basically had no understanding that "association management" is a professional field unto itself, with its own association, its own literature, and its own credentialing. This leads to an interesting relationship between those whose job it is to manage the operations of the association and those people who belong to, serve in, and are the customers of the association. ALCTS is not a lot different from any other association.
As with any organization, it takes people with a broad range of backgrounds to make an association work. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone at ALA is a librarian. I can probably say with some assurance that most haven't even worked in a library. That however does not detract from their dedication to the association, its well-being, and its continued successes. What it does mean is that the staff that work here and are not librarians come to the association from a different perspective and with different goals in mind. The ALCTS staff, Julie Reese, Kirsten Ahlen, and Andrea Tobias, each brings her own unique talents to the association. Julie, who majored in photography, worked five years in the meeting management and continuing education departments of the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Kirsten, a violin and business double major, worked in the membership department of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Andrea, who has a degree in environmental biology, came to ALCTS from the City of Chicago Department of Environmental Services.
Perhaps the greatest challenge of any association staff is learning the language of the profession. The ALCTS staff faces that challenge everyday. It is hard enough for experienced library professionals to understand metadata concepts or FRBR. It is more difficult to be dropped into an environment in which you are expected to have some fluency in that language without the necessary background. Although the staff is here because of their expertise in association management, it doesn't dissuade any of them from closing that language gap.
ALCTS is not unlike other associations. It is the concept of our association that is unique.