Letters from ALCTS

charles wilt, alcts executive director

From the Office

Charles Wilt, ALCTS Executive Director

Re-organization and Adaptability

One year ago, my ANO article was on “Structure,” as in the structure of ALCTS. At the end of that I wrote the following:

So you are wondering when I’m getting to my point. Well, now. If as I mentioned in April that we are the masters of our own design, then we are also masters of our own structure. No one, in ALA or outside, has told us how to organize ourselves, so we are free to re-invent. And we have done so with some success. I however want to challenge each and every one of you, member, committee chair, section chair, Board member, everyone, to examine this structure we created way back in 1957 and shifted a bit in 1989 and in the nineties. Is it the structure that will advance us into the future? Are we what we should be, or maybe it is time to do a little “rehab.” I am not going to give you a laundry list of possibilities but would rather you seriously consider whether we could compete as we are.

How things have changed and not changed. This past spring, you, the voting members of ALCTS, passed overwhelmingly a bylaws revision moving discussion groups to interest groups. The change might seem a bit cosmetic to some, but the nature of the change is not. With one revision, ALCTS both expanded opportunities for its members and simplified its structure.

Over the last several months, many of you took the “7 Measures” survey that was adapted for our use. It is still available if you have not taken it. If you read the summary about organizational adaptability, you will get an idea of both what faces us in a complex organization like ALA and a specific need to police ourselves regardless of what ALA does or imposes on us.

So the challenge is what? Flatten the organization? Get rid of the bureaucracy? Re-define and re-purpose the sections? Streamline our processes and procedures? Move more to virtual governance/business?

Proposed Challenge #1

Flatten the organization. This has merit, but what does it mean? For example, I could see if we eliminate multiple steps to approve programs and publications, but how much oversight are the governing groups of programs and publications willing to give up? All programs could go directly to the program committee, bypassing the sections. All publications could go to the publications committee, bypassing the sections. But would this really help? The sections, for example, perform an important filtering/development function for both programs and publications (also for CE, but that is still in it infancy). How would the increased workload on the division committees further confound the problem, slow it down, and stall it? The challenge then, is how can we make the process faster and more responsive, maybe rather than bypassing steps? We do not talk a lot about facilitating the process, and maybe it is time to start. Or does it mean something more drastic, like moving to a model such as that used by PLA with clusters?

Proposed Challenge #2

Get rid of the bureaucracy. Maybe this is linked to #1. I am always interested in hearing ideas about how we can streamline the structure to make it more “nimble and flexible.” I just have not heard many that greatly improve the “bureaucracy” without either harming the organization, fall outside what we can control, or would take a massive “re-think” of who we are and what we do. The latter is not a bad idea either in its own right and I believe that sooner than later, we are going to have to do just that. “Bureaucracy” is not bad in itself. It gives us the means to get things done in an orderly manner. It is when bureaucracy takes over that we run into trouble. How much can we eliminate and still function? I do not know.

Proposed Challenge #3

Re-define and re-purpose the sections. Over the last year, this conversation has started. Serials has changed to Continuing Resources, in name. Now PARS, in terms of its structure. Acquisitions has held discussions. The bylaws were one of the forces that held us back on this. A big change was made a year ago, taking the section names and charges out of the bylaws so they could be more easily changed without a member vote. More can be done, however. PARS, for example, is looking at what committees are needed, and what IGs are worthwhile. There has been talk of merging sections as was done in the ‘80s and ‘90s to form our current organization. We do have a great advantage over some other divisions in that we can essentially see ourselves not only as job based but also content based in our organization. This means that if we look at cataloging as cataloging and not catalogers, we have already expanded CCS’ influence and potential. Same is true with the other sections. Some think this is revolutionary and a huge departure from our past, but I am not so sure.

Proposed Challenge #4

Streamline our processes and procedures. We have made huge strides in eliminating a lot of unnecessary procedures and processes, but as noted, there is always more work to do. This one in particular fits with the others and might not be seen as a separate issue, although I know it is. Again, we are part of a larger organization and some of our policies and procedures reflect that larger organization. We cannot ignore ALA, but we do have a certain freedom to conduct our own business as we wish.

Proposed Challenge #5

Move more to virtual governance/business. We have done well in this area, but the need for face-to-face interaction will not go away completely. Speaking of the Board, there are many discussions that are just more successful in person. Much can be done virtually and we should be pursuing that more diligently in all committees and groups. I am hopeful that the forthcoming online communities that will be unveiled in October by ALA may help that. We will also be under tremendous pressure to move to virtual participation if our own members cannot travel to conferences as they have in the past. It seems to me that 2009 provides a good opportunity to explore some alternatives in conducting our business and our governance.

I purposely separated out some challenges I think we need to address in the coming year or two. We do have a goal in our strategic plan for organizational excellence. However, once the challenge is identified, how are we going to accomplish the task?

Contact Charles Wilt