From the Office: So you want to be ALCTS Executive Director

Executive Director Charles WiltIn September 2010, I wrote my News article on being an Executive Director at ALA. That article is probably more relevant now than it was back then, so I’ve re-printed it here for you, slightly edited. The search for the ALCTS Executive Director position will begin in earnest just before Annual Conference, when the job position is posted and circulated to lists. (Depending on when you read this, you might have already seen the description circulate).

I would encourage any of you reading this to consider applying for the position or encourage someone you know to do so. Brian Schottlaender,, is the chair of the search committee. Its work begins after Annual Conference, and continues through the fall until a new Executive Director is named. The plan is to have someone identified by the holidays, so he/she can attend Midwinter Meeting in Chicago as ED-designate. If you have any questions about the search, Brian is the person to ask. Of course if you have any questions about the position or working at ALA or living in Chicago (which I don’t -- I live in the ‘burbs), you can ask me.

In that September 2010 article I tried to give you the flavor of what it’s like doing what I do. What I said then still pretty much applies today. Bottom line: being ALCTS Executive Director is a great job.

When my son was younger, he asked me what I thought was an interesting question. He asked me what an executive director does. Not a surprising question, since at the time his mother, my first wife, was also an executive director. He was curious since he was the only kid he knew whose parents were both executive directors. Guess he wanted to know if our jobs were real jobs. I don’t think he was really convinced, even after seeing that I had an office and people worked for me and with me and other people worked in the building.

Long story short, it wasn’t that easy to tell him what I did. “I run an association” was, I think, my general answer, not that this was much of an answer. Occasionally as he’s gotten older, he still asks me what it is I do. It’s a little easier to explain but not much. It was much easier when I was a librarian and he asked.

I often think that most members, maybe including you, wonder what I do and how I got here. I do get asked how I got my job. My reply: “dumb luck.” But first let’s talk about what I do as a division executive director in ALA.

What I do. The official line is that I manage the resources of the association and work with the Board of Directors and the membership to ensure those resources are appropriately managed and grown to provide value for the members. Resources is broad term that refers to everything we do: financial, programmatic, publishing, meetings, staff, etc. The devil is in the details, however. Many details. No -- many, many details. The other most important aspect of what I do is to represent the interests of ALCTS in and to ALA, mostly internally. In other words, I’m the voice of ALCTS in the building, as are Julie Reese and Christine McConnell [ALCTS’ other staff] within their own realms. If I don’t speak for ALCTS, no one else will because they are busy speaking for their own groups.

So on to the details. I guess I have six main jobs: the budget, the staff, the President and the Board, ALA, helping members, and making sure everything runs well and we move forward. The last is a catch-all or “duties as assigned.”

The budget: Although the Budget and Finance Committee has significant input into the process, mostly the chair and the Board has to approve both the preliminary and final budgets. It’s up to me to write up the draft that everyone works from. The budget template doesn’t change much from year to year. We only have certain project areas that we fund and certain revenue and expense projects, so it’s not too complicated. I do spend time looking at trends over a couple of years to formulate the budget, particularly the previous year. The work is not preparing the budget; it’s monitoring the budget each month as we go through the year. I write reports for ALA after most months and do long- and short-term projections based on current numbers and the budget. If you don’t like budgets, you don’t want to be an executive director.

Division executive directors have the responsibility for hiring their own staff, deciding what the responsibilities of each position are, and then evaluating each staff member. Although I determine the position description at the outset, ours are more fluid in how they are actually performed. Julie, Christine and I share many tasks, and we are constantly tinkering with their positions so that what they do matches what ALCTS needs. It takes little effort on my part to manage the staff, since both Julie and Christine are very motivated and dedicated to ALCTS. That makes my life much easier.

Although I work with any member, and certainly members who serve on committees, etc., my primary reporting is to the President and the Board of Directors. Working with a Board is not something I had any experience in doing when I accepted this position. It was quite a learning experience. The Board is there to set policy and strategic direction, which I and the staff are to carry out. The relationship has to be one of mutual respect and trust which ends up being a constant effort on my part to be communicative and forthcoming since our Board changes over half its members every year. Besides the Board, it is my job to respond to the overall leadership when they need advice and questions answered. That to me is why I’m here, and why I try to respond quickly. Depending on time of year and what’s going on, responding can take a good deal of my time. But again, that’s why I’m here.

I already mentioned my role within ALA, to be the ALCTS advocate, but it is also being aware of the larger organization and working to forward ALA as well as ALCTS. So serving on committees, task forces, etc. are part of the job. As you do, I go to a lot of meetings.

Helping members I mentioned briefly above. This goes beyond helping the leaders. ALCTS gets inquiries regularly through its various media outlets such as the address, Connect, etc. Many of these I answer myself, since I think it important for members to realize that there is a person on the other end of the address who can do something about what they need. Of course, Julie and Christine get their share of my forwards.

“Duties as assigned”: like other executive directors who don’t have a large staff, I have to do other “non-executive director like” jobs around our little enclave. For instance, I handle the awards, the appointment process, a lot of news releases, setting up discussion lists, rosters, and more. It may seem odd that I do this but it gives me more contact opportunities with members that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t.

That should give you the basic idea. Being an executive director is not something I went to library school for, and did not see in my career path (such as it was). I also had no inkling that I would ever get a chance to work for ALA. The job is both highly rewarding and highly frustrating. My boss, Mary Ghikas, always says that division executive directors need to be able to deal with ambiguity. That may be an understatement. And then there is working in a membership organization. You all make it worthwhile.”

Charles Wilt
ALCTS Executive Director (2001-2015)