Letters from ALCTS

charles wilt, alcts executive director

From the Office

Charles Wilt, ALCTS Executive Director

ALA Headquarters: Probably Not What You Think

As I sat here at my computer staring out the window (I have a window), trying to think about what I wanted to write for this article, I came to the awful conclusion, that my brain has gone completely dead. Maybe it’s just the fatigue from Midwinter or the nasty weather we’ve been having or the economy (seems to have affected everything else). Whatever it is, the one thing I noticed (as I stared out my window) is how everything I can see is beige. Except for the John Hancock Building, which is black. I mean the eight story parking garage straight out my window, the Peninsula Hotel, just to the right of the garage, the Park Hyatt Hotel, which I can see over the garage along with the top of one of Loyola University’s buildings. There is the hair salon/spa which is a mix of beige and sort of light brown bricks.

Then I started looking around my office. Not any better really. There are the ALA institutional beige walls, the beige carpet (although darker than the walls so it’s probably not really beige, more the color of peanut butter), the beige blinds, the beige ceiling tiles, my beige computer stand, beige file cabinet, etc. You get the idea. I splash this up with three blue chairs and wall calendars with a bit of color. The ALCTS offices are in the 50 East Huron building, which is the original building for ALA, built and furnished in 1960. It does have one redeeming feature though, it’s partly blue, but with a beige top. The new stuff is, you guessed it, beige.

Not to depress you any more, we have tried to colorize the hallway with some posters which at least is somewhat appealing as you walk down the hall.

I mention this because most of ALA looks the same. Individuals, however, have spent a lot of time decorating their offices, trying to cover up the beige-ness with something a bit more cheery, mostly plants and pictures. But in the end, ALA headquarters is really just an office building, like so many others you see around Chicago.

ALA Headquarters is just like I said, an office building (but it’s paid for). It’s simple, smallish, on a relatively nice side street off north Michigan Avenue, and quite boring. It’s not lavish. It’s, for lack of a better word, functional. Any time someone visits here for the first time, the reaction is one of surprise, as in “you mean this is ALA headquarters? I thought it’d be bigger”, etc, etc., fill in the blank. Actually you could miss it because the only sign is above the entrance to the 50 East Huron building in now tarnished brass letters, “American Library Association.” One interesting sidelight is that on some Chicago tourist maps, ALA has a library symbol where headquarters is. Even since I’ve been here, now going on ten years, the area around us has grown up, literally, with high rise condos buildings, one of which partially blocks the sun we used to get on our front stoop. Luckily, the building project which was going to replace the Episcopal church’s Chicago headquarters across the street has been scrubbed.

That brings me to my point, if I ever had one to start with. In these very difficult economic times, ALA and us, ALCTS, remain very conservative in our finances. Except for the salaries of the staff, ALCTS (and ALA) spends very little that is not directed to the membership, whether that be education, publications, conferences, programs, and more. We are constantly adjusting what we do in the office to control our expenses and provide you with good value for your dues. As the future is uncertain, the value that an association, such as ALCTS, can offer is worth your investment in time and money. We just have to adjust how we offer that value to you, and we are and will.

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