Charles Wilt, ALCTS Executive Director
Having been involved in the ALA planning process these past many months, and having just participated in the ALA Planning Retreat a couple of weeks ago, it is striking the amount of feedback ALA has received from the many surveys and focus groups it conducted to prepare for the ALA Ahead 2010 planning effort. If you are interested (and most of it is interesting reading), the planning documents are located on the ALA Web site by clicking the "Our Association" button at the top and then clicking on "ALA Strategic and Governance Documents" on the left. I particularly noticed (and it really came as no surprise) the amount of feedback received about the struggle new members have navigating ALA, its structure, its conferences, and virtually everything about ALA. The fact that ALA is a very big, complex, and at times frustrating organization is probably not news to many of you who have over your careers overcome these mountains. However, to a new person, it can be daunting. If it is too daunting, that person may give up and we, the collective we, have lost an important addition to our intellectual capital.
If you look around ALCTS, you will find a tremendous store of intellectual capital. I mean the individual and combined intelligence, experience, creativity, and volunteer ethic that reside in the members of ALCTS. That intellectual capital is something that we, ALCTS, need to nurture and grow: not just for new members, but also for all members.
So why is this important? The primary reason for associations to exist is to do just that, provide an environment for its members to "associate" or as it is more currently called, "network". Associations are built for professional development. The members may not realize that's what they are doing when they serve on a committee or task force, or write a report or engage in "networking", but in reality associations provide the opportunity to do these things. Those interactions are the very ground from which our intellectual capital is nurtured and grown. To create a community of interactions (networking) is in fact one of the greatest benefits an association can offer its members and potential members.
So how do we nurture and grow this capital? The answer to this question is not really difficult. The difficult part is making it so (to borrow a phrase). And that answer is: provide significant opportunities for experienced members to diversify if they want to; provide substantial opportunities for new members to gain entrance into the network; provide mentoring opportunities for students and new members to learn to navigate the maze.
The theory is that if you build it, they will come (okay, enough movie-isms). But it is quite true. If a person finds a welcoming home, and chances to grow and develop professionally, the value (of what ALCTS offers, for instance) goes up immediately. It is, in these days of competition for members and time and just about everything, value that is foremost.
What do we do? Believe it or not, ALCTS is built for rapid response. (The literature tells us that rapid response is attractive to new generations. Get in, do something, get out. Repeat.) At this point, you might be saying that ALCTS is anything but rapid. Ah, just look around at what we do. We have interest groups and discussion groups that can be a haven for rapid response. Check out all the task forces and subcommittees that are continually being created. We have hot topics. We are the cutting edge of new developments in many of our areas of interest. We have both traditional (committees) and non-traditional ways of engaging members.
These opportunities that we create generate an atmosphere of nurturing and growth. The better we do it (invest in our intellectual capital), the better association we become.