Focus On: International Relations Committee

ALCTS News interviews International Relations Committee Chair David Miller (pictured) about the committee’s work.

David Miller, Chair of the International Relations CommitteeCould you tell us a little bit about the ALCTS International Relations Committee? What is its charge and composition?

The International Relations Committee (IRC) was first established in 1969, in ALCTS’s previous guise as the Resources and Technical Services Division (RTSD). The original IRC, however, had a hard time developing an effective charge or sense of mission, and was disbanded in 1972. It nevertheless became clear that ALCTS needed a committee with primary responsibility for international relations, and so the IRC was re-established in 1981 and has continued steadily ever since. I’ve written about this and the range of ALCTS International activities in the 50th anniversary book, Commemorating the Past, Celebrating the Present, Creating the Future, published by ALCTS in 2007. Our charge, at present, is:

To lead and coordinate ALCTS international relations activities and the division's communication regarding those activities.

  • To engage in outreach activities with counterpart groups of librarians abroad, and to develop and implement international library collections and technical services programs, meetings, educational activities, and publications recommended by the ALA/IRC and the ALCTS board.
  • To advise the ALCTS board on international issues related to library collections, technical services, and standards in those areas.
  • To develop ways in which ALCTS can complement or otherwise add to ALA's international policy objectives, focusing specifically on library collections and technical services. To coordinate ALCTS section nominations to IFLA section standing committees and recommend the nominations to the ALCTS board for approval.
  • To encourage ALCTS participation (collective and individual) in international conferences and other related activities. To plan and monitor activities using the ALCTS strategic and tactical plan as a framework.

We have eleven members (two are virtual), including the chair, with Charles Wilt as the ALCTS Board/Staff Liaison.

How does one become a member of the committee? Should members possess any particular skills or experience?

As with most other ALCTS and ALA committees, it’s best to submit a committee volunteer form, and indicate your interest in the IRC. We don’t have any interns this year, but we have had in the past. It’s good to be willing to accept an internship – our interns are fully active in the work of the committee. There is no special experience required, although an interest in the workings of librarianship outside the Anglo-American axis (our usual context in ALA) is obviously important.

What are some of the challenges faced by the committee?

The ongoing challenge the IRC faces, and has always faced, is how to effectively act in the international arena, when our (ALCTS’ and ALA’s) financial resources are chronically limited. This reflects the repeatedly-stated priorities of ALA members. In a mid-2000s survey of ALA members’ priorities, “international work” ranked thirty-first out of 35 value propositions. This kind of ranking has been typical over the decades. It seems that, in the past, the IRC attempted to compensate for this by taking an advocacy approach, relying perhaps on dissemination of information as a way of arousing greater interest in international relations. This also, in and of itself, has not made much headway.

Fortunately, in recent years the IRC has developed activities that promise to bypass this stalemate. Notably, the IRC administers Online Course Grant Awards in coordination with the Continuing Education Committee. We take applications from librarians in developing countries, and award one free seat for each ALCTS online course section (see http://www.ala.org/alcts/awards/grants/onlinegrant). This project allows for direct contact with international librarians, and creates direct benefit. There are always, of course, many more worthy applicants than there are seats available.

The IRC has also created more of its own continuing education events in recent years. At the 2012 Annual Conference in Anaheim, we presented a program titled “RDA Worldwide” that was very well-attended, even though a fire alarm temporarily emptied the Convention Center! This program was cosponsored by CaMMS RDA Conference Forums and Programs Task Force, and CaMMS CC:DA. At Midwinter in Philadelphia, we presented “Fair Use and DRM in Libraries: Beyond the United States: An ALCTS Forum” (http://connect.ala.org/node/215755). For Annual Conference in Las Vegas, we have a two-part program, “International Developments in Library Linked Data: Think Globally, Act Globally” (http://ala14.ala.org/node/14393 and http://ala14.ala.org/node/14381). For this, we are very happy to have the co-sponsorship of the ALCTS/LITA Linked Library Data Interest Group. Theo Gerontakos and Sarah Quimby, IG co-chairs, have been of invaluable help.

The IRC continues to coordinate the ALCTS nominations process for International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA; www.ifla.org). Section standing committees, as it has for many years. However, most of the work – the recruitment of interested and qualified nominees – is done by the ALCTS sections involved.

In terms of the IRC’s basic challenges, the great advantage to all of these activities is that they eschew reliance on proselytizing or “consciousness-raising” about the importance of viewing librarianship in an international frame. Instead, we go for direct action – providing grants, creating programming, sending nominations to IFLA.

What in your background prepared you for chairing the International Relations Committee?

I was a member of the IFLA Classification and Indexing Section Standing Committee for eight years – for me, an unmatched experience. In addition, with Filiberto Felipe Martínez Arellano, I co-edited Salsa de tópicos/Subjects in SALSA : Spanish and Latin American Subject Access, published by ALCTS in 2007. This volume remains, to date, the only fully bilingual ALCTS publication. Aside from these and related activities, I have no background in international librarianship or international relations. My undergraduate and “other master’s” degrees are in theater! – as compared with political science, say. I was asked to join the IRC based, I believe, on my own repeatedly expressed interest in looking beyond our borders and a willingness to volunteer.