Letters from ALCTS

charles wilt, alcts executive director

From the Office

Charles Wilt, ALCTS Executive Director

Reorganization and Adaptability: The Challenge

Last month I set out a list of five proposed challenges:

  • Flatten the organization
  • Get rid of the bureaucracy
  • Redefine and repurpose the sections
  • Streamline our processes and procedures
  • Move more to virtual governance/business

At the end of my article I asked the following:

“Once the challenge is identified, how are we going to accomplish the task?”

So how indeed are we going to accomplish the task of re-organizing and answering any one of those challenges, let alone a combination, or even all?

So what if I suggest the “extreme task” that might in fact cover all five of the challenges; well maybe four out of five, if I can make a logical argument?

What would happen if we de-constructed the entire organization and rebuilt it based on communities of practice, not on somewhat archaic notions of how libraries are organized these days? This would mean doing away with “sections” as we know them, and installing a more flexible model based on communities. We experimented last year with a new tag line for ALCTS: “Collections, Communities, Collaboration.” Maybe it is time to see if there is really any substance behind the tag line.

We are, in fact, the only division that deals in its entirety with collections: the “physicalness” of libraries. Our constituents are not limited by location, type of library, population, or service within the library. The replicas of the old ALCTS buttons just say what we represent: selects, protects, and so on. You know, as well as I, that this provides us with a unique strength that we have not been able to exploit to the maximum. We have come a long way however, but it remains that given out unique place among ALA units, we have yet to realized our full potential. And we need to stop worrying about what everyone else is doing. Sure, LITA takes some people and RUSA takes some people, yet we have not been aggressive enough to take those people back. If RUSA wants to do collection development, okay. But RUSA does not do collection management. If ALCTS does not provide a meaningful home for collection managers, then who will? And so on.

Moving on.

Communities. Where I started. What would happen if we did indeed build an organization around what members do, getting those like members together (networking), no matter from where they come? The important thing is to where they migrate. We would still have cataloging, but it would be defined differently, as in who needs to be involved in the conversation, what information needs to be distributed, and what conversations need to take place within the broadest interpretation of what cataloging regardless of point of origin. This also does not mean that the structure needed would go away, but it might be defined differently. The purpose of communities is to move the conversation (however defined) forward.

So what about the structure that exists and is perceived to be necessary? What would happen if we eliminated all of the duplication of committees and only had one program committee, one publications committee, one planning committee, one CE committee, one policy committee, etc.? Everything would filter to that group, again, no matter the origin. I did argue earlier that the section committees provide an important vetting role, but why is that necessary? It does not add “nimbleosity” to the mix. If we eliminated some duplication, would that free up more time and space for conversation? Just a thought.

And lastly: collaboration. I guess I only have a question. Would a less rigid structure and organization actually encourage collaboration?

To me the ultimate question is: does a rigid structure serve our purposes?

I am done for now.