Organizational Adaptability

Working Group members: Lynda Clendenning, Dale Swensen, Katherine Walter

Background: The working group reviewed the 7 Measures of Success Survey results and the comments from the survey and discussed some ideas that Organization and Bylaws (O&B) Committee is working with. In this brief document, we review some concerns noted in survey comments or in our discussions, outline recent developments that have been positive steps for improving organizational adaptability in ALCTS, and ideas or issues that could be next steps for improvement.

Areas of concern particularly noted in comments of respondents:

  • ALA bureaucracy
  • Succession plan at the section level
  • Duplicative? committees
  • Old names for committees or discussion groups, names that have not kept up with the field

Positive developments in last few years:

  • Hot Topics programming, forums, symposia, program tracks
  • Empowerment of division-level committees
  • Ability to do business by email between meetings and listservs.
  • Recommendation to move from discussion groups to interest groups—self initiating, access to funding for equipment, increased publicity avenues for programs, can set own course as long as related to the interests of ALCTS
  • Use of task forces to move issues through more quickly
  • Strategic planning database
  • LRTS backfile digitized, new manuscript tracking system purchased

Possible next steps:

  • Look at concept of leadership development within sections’ appointment processes. People who understand policies, procedures, and structure are better prepared and more productive when they move into leadership roles.
  • Encourage O&B to continue investigating organizational issues relating to interest groups.
  • Continue exploring the idea of virtual committee members and other means of virtual participation on the part of ALCTS members.
  • Look to other organizations for organizational structure ideas, such as the Modern Language Association (MLA) where high activity results in a higher status within the organization. In MLA, divisions are very high activity with lots of members, and discussion groups are smaller, more niche-like in their interests. In particular, a discussion group can become a division if the activity and interest swells.
  • Consider the idea of identifying “primary section” of members. Some members may retain membership in a section because of a historic interest rather than because they are actively interested.
  • Consider listing interest groups for people to affiliate with
  • Look for overlapping functions    

What might ALCTS do to excel at organizational adaptability?

(Comments received from December 2007 survey)

  • I’m not sure—as an ALA division we are pretty well at the mercy of the larger organization, which tries to be nimble but really cannot move very quickly. I think we as individuals are continually adapting, every day—perhaps one of the best things ALCTS can do is simply listen to us and continue to engage in conversation with us about the needs of the membership. We can adapt to change at the committee level and below, by setting priorities and reviewing them on an ongoing basis. Actually, I believe this is done as a matter of course, so I don’t have any other suggestions.
  • Our responsiveness is improving, but could still be better. Procedures put in place in recent years to fast track publications and programs have helped immensely.
  • It’s taken years to get changes made that should have been made instantly. The changes were proposed, voted, etc, but the ALCTS office just didn’t do it. Unacceptable.
  • I do think we respond well, particularly in light of the fact that officers and leaders change every year, which creates an environment where continuity is a challenge.
  • ALCTS shows little willingness to change how it does things. Central to this is an unwillingness to take a leadership role in Open Access publishing. The reason given is financial, and ALCTS needs to realize that bringing in money is not always consistent with service to members and the profession.
  • I’m not sure how much more flexible ALCTS can be within the huge bureaucracy of ALA. Take time twice a year to review systematically collected data in a planning group, with a few simple questions for everyone to answer, to spot successes and weaknesses early. I used to work in a school that moved from bottom 25% in state on student achievement in every category to above 50% over a 6-year period, while being in a poor rural area with high unemployment; the first teacher’s meeting of year was an all-day look at achievement data beginning with three questions: what did our kids do well on last year? what did they do poorly on last year? did all the groups do well/poorly in those areas? After we’d identified strengths and weaknesses in achievement, we discussed the strategies we’d used to improve and agreed what we needed to keep doing. Finally, we picked two or three schoolwide strategies to address a weakness. Looking at data in a group every year pushed us to identify what we were doing well and change in areas of weakness. Doing it in a group forced us to concentrate and encouraged discussion.
  • Rapid response? Not so much. Things just take time in Library land. Probably not ALCTS fault 100% of the time though...
  • We need to be able to make decisions more quickly. I wonder if the turn-over in ALCTS President each year gives us enough continuity? WE do have a succession plan at the board level....I think we need to put more energy into a succession plan at the section level...we need to be appointing people to committees with a thought to their eventual chairmanship of that committee.....we need to train folks within the section...the All committee meetings can be used to state clearly what the section wants from its committees.
  • I believe ALA slows or holds back a lot of changes that could be for the better. ALA seems to be a blockade for their divisions. It would be good if I could belong to ALCTS without being burdened by big brother ALA
  • While there are ways to address current issues at meetings, the organization doesn’t seem to be able to change its structure. We’re unsure of the role of the committee that i chair should be but there doesn’t seem to be any course of redress. how would we go about changing the roles and functions of committees, discussion groups etc?
  • The strategic plan stresses rapid response; however I feel that we need to do more than give lip service to that concept; to do that requires a shift in thinking and planning which I believe is happening, but slowly. The old phrase the proof is in the pudding applies in this instance—or talk is cheap—or any number of epigrams—we need to demonstrate that we can change, respond quickly to change, if we really want to be successful and competitive in today’s market
  • Change cannot work our well unless everyone is invested in it. Better use of virtual communication mechanisms to garner the teamwork necessary and to act on the best suggestions for change are required.
  • ALCTS tries but the bureaucracy is sometimes overwhelming. Too much consensus building sometimes and not enough leadership.
  • Stop planning. Start doing things. We have good people, so putting them into action will bring good results.
  • All of ALA is somewhat mired in mud, so to speak
  • I think the way that ALCTS has organized its programs so that hot topics can be turned into programs quickly is a good example of this (or a good example of how the ALA machine can be circumvented to be responsive to member needs!)
  • Rapid response is not a term that might be associated with ALCTS. More resources to respond rapidly are sorely needed.
  • Consider redundancies within the organization (e.g., multiple committees on CE). Consider decision making processes within the organization and at what levels final approval should occur for various types of section decisions.
  • Understanding that change is a given, ALCTS should educate/communicate to its members the importance and underlying reasons for change as it relates to the organization. Organizational health and stability is highly dependent upon the ability to adapt to change.
  • Hard to do when you meet with the schedule we use. We give lip service to the electronic association, but we really are an in your midst group when it comes to decision making
  • Lose the bureaucrats and let librarians lead the organization
  • ALCTS is part of ALA which is an enormous organization. With anything that large making changes is at best like trying to move an elephant with a hand cart. ALCTS does do a better job at changing than ALA, but rapid response is not a term I would use for either.
  • Examine processes across the organization, including steps in gaining board approval—and evaluate the extent to which steps add value.
  • ALCTS has started to empower division level committees to make more decisions rather than waiting on the Board to vote. This is necessary to keep things flowing.
  • A bureaucracy the size of ALCTS has a hard time changing quickly. I don’t know if it’s possible.
  • Divorce itself from the mother institution!! They are our biggest handicap
  • There is incredible resistance in ALCTS to any kind of change, whether internal to the organization or in technical services per se. The primary defense mechanism against adaptability is getting bogged down in excessive talking about/study of whatever change is being considered.
  • Move forward with shortening timelines and reduce the amount of paperwork and red tape to accomplish things. A start has been made, but ALCTS is not very adaptable yet—it takes much to long to make changes. Some of this is understandable because ALCTS must work within the ALA structure. Is anyone doing this same survey about how well ALA itself rates on these measures?
  • ALCTS has made it possible for librarians to promote preservation in the digital arena. This is only one instance of the organization’s noteworthy ability to respond to member concerns and cultivate positive and necessary change.
  • I do not sense a great deal of resistance to change in the association but I am not sure that we are particularly rapid, we could improve here
  • This is probably ALCTS greatest’ problem, but it is also tied into requirements of ALA in planning meetings and producing publications. The idea of interest groups was to help with adaptability, but may increase confusion about who covers what and the number of possible meetings to attend. It works well for LITA, though, but they are a smaller group. When there are many groups, there needs to be more coordination between all of them so they can each know their role and work towards the same goals. It hard to do this in a large organization, especially one that is part of an even larger organization. I suppose the way to excel at organizational adaptability is to let everyone know how much flexibility they have and then let them run with it.
  • One good example of ALCTS’ efforts in this regard is the way it built in opportunities for hot topic programs at conferences.
  • Minimizing bureaucracy and creating flatter/flexible organizational structure.
  • Rapid response is better with email, but is hard to get answers.
  • There is talk, and perhaps a will, but not yet a way. Strategic plan calls for this, so we are looking for improvement.
  • But what can we do about being a bit hamstrung by ALA—look how long it has taken LRTS to go online and the pace for updating the website is so slow for today’s norms
  • Look at the organizational structure and be willing to consider tearing it down and starting from scratch. Are the sections as they have always been really what we need today? Is there really a clear distinction between (say) acquisitions and collection development? Doesn’t cataloging affect all of us? Do we have a real working relationship with RUSA or just some in-name-only joint committees/discussion groups?