Guide to Policies & Procedures: Introduction

Back to Guide to Policies & Procedures

A Complete Guide to Working with RUSA

This online guide consists of ten chapters. Forms referred to in the Guide can be accessed on their own pages. You may choose to view chapters in the present HTML format within the RUSA Web site’s framework or choose the “Print” button located at the end of the left menu bar to create a printer-friendly version.


Congratulations on being elected or appointed to a leadership position in RUSA! This Guide is intended to serve as your general introduction to the organization as well as highlight procedures and policies important to RUSA. We hope that this information will help you function effectively in RUSA. In addition to reviewing the information in the guide, you may want to consult the ALA Handbook of Organization. Please contact the RUSA office if you have any questions. We’re here to serve you!

Mailing address

Reference and User Services Association, American Library Association, 50 East Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60611-2795


The Reference and User Services Association is responsible for stimulating and supporting excellence in the delivery of general library services and materials to adults, and the provision of reference and information services, collection development, readers’ advisory, and resource sharing for all ages, in every type of library.


RUSA is the foremost organization of reference and information professionals who make the connections between people and the information sources, services, and collection materials they need.


  • We believe in universal access to information.
  • We believe that reading is fundamental to quality of life and value all activities that promote it.
  • We value collections and information sources of the highest possible quality.
  • We value the provision of innovative services and programs that meet the changing information needs of diverse populations.
  • We value continuous evaluation and improvement in the management and delivery of materials and services to users.
  • We value the professional growth and development of librarians and library staff.
  • We value the role of librarians and library staff as educators in creating lifelong learners and critical thinkers.
  • We value the unique contributions that librarians and library staff bring to the process of connecting users with the information they need.


  • Provide leadership and opportunities in professional development for reference, user technology, readers’ advisory, access, and computer-based research librarians and staff.
  • Work towards equity of access.
  • Seek ways to improve participation in RUSA by reference, user technology, readers’ advisory, access, and computer-based research fields librarians and library staff.
  • Ensure the effectiveness of RUSA in meeting its and ALA’s mission.
  • Increase the visibility of RUSA in the profession and promote the professional skills and services RUSA members offer to society at large.

See RUSA’s complete strategic plan for more details. (PDF format)


The division facilitates the development and conduct of direct service to library users, the development of programs and guidelines for service to meet the needs of these users, and assists libraries in reaching potential users. RUSA publishes Reference & User Services Quarterly ( RUSQ), a quarterly journal, and RUSA Update, an online quarterly newsletter. RUSA has six sections: Business Reference and Services Section, Collection Development and Evaluation Section, History Section, Machine-Assisted Reference Section, Reference Services Section, and Sharing and Transforming Access to Resources Section (each with various committees and discussion groups). RUSA also has nineteen committees at the division level and representatives to other ALA units and outside organizations.


In September 1996, the division changed its name to the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA). Previously named the Reference and Adult Services Division, RASD was formed in 1972 when two long-established divisions merged-the Reference Services Division (RSD) and the Adult Services Division (ASD). RSD was formed in 1957 when two units and an ALA committee merged-The Reference Librarians Section of ACRL, the Reference Section of the Public Library Division and the ALA Bibliography Committee. ASD was formed in the same year when the Adult Education Section of the Public Library Division expanded to include interests of librarians in all types of libraries that serve adults.

How RUSA Works

The Strategic Plan Process

RUSA is guided by a Strategic Plan (SP). All expenditures of funds and all initiatives and programs flow out of and are supported by the SP. Each year the Executive Committee in consultation with the RUSA Board develops the action items to be implemented during the year. The SP is evaluated each year by the Executive Committee at their Fall Leadership Meeting, by the RUSA Board at Midwinter, and is monitored by the Organization and Planning Committee on a continuous basis. The SP is posted online. Comments, suggestions, and questions are welcome.

Foundational Approach

RUSA’s strategic plan focuses on objectives and strategies that are achievable into the short-range future (next 3 years). The plan is reviewed and revised annually to insure it is focused and relevant and to measure progress. The review process allows RUSA leaders the opportunity to adjust the plan according to changes in priorities and the environment. Underlying the plan is a foundation of practice that guides decision making by providing structure and an agreed upon process. Like the strategic plan, these core practices guide decision-making. Unlike the strategic plan, they are not revised with any frequency. Rather, they are givens in the process. It is understood that:

  • New ideas are welcomed. Innovation is key to RUSA’s viability. New projects that move the association closer to its strategic vision will result in a stronger, dynamic and ultimately more successful organization. New initiatives will be considered within the framework of the overall organization and the external environment, the strategic plan and association resources. There is a process for developing and bringing initiatives forward. The process will be followed in order for ideas to be considered and evaluated.
  • Through the strategic planning and decision-making process, RUSA leaders and members move the association forward in key areas such as governance, education, awards, publications, networking, guidelines, and more.
  • As part of that process, it is understood that RUSA members cannot legally enter into contracts or commit RUSA financially in any way. Prior to contacting a potential sponsor, members should inform the Executive Director.
  • Likewise, any planned expenditure of Association funds must be discussed with the Executive Director in advance and, unless time sensitive, must receive both Board and Budget and Finance committee approval. Time sensitive funding can be approved by the Executive Director

Making Decisions

While RUSA traditionally leaves section affairs to the individual section, there are a series of actions that only the RUSA Board can approve. They include any expenditure of money, new RUSA initiatives, creation of new RUSA committees, task forces, or other RUSA-level work groups, all items related to external relations, and any other matters with policy, financial or other major implications for RUSA. There are also several items that may start in a section but must be approved by a RUSA Committee and then by the RUSA Board before becoming official. These include conference and pre-conference programming, new awards that grant vendor supported funds, guidelines, policies, and standards.


RUSA is a very active and dynamic division. To ensure that everyone stays in the loop please be sure to copy the following on any major decision, action, or plan: Section Chairs: Please copy the current, vice, and past presidents of RUSA, and the Executive Director. RUSA Committee Chairs: Please copy the RUSA Board. The chairs of individual section committees are encouraged to copy the chairs of corresponding committees in other sections. Sharing ideas and working collaboratively is a prized value of RUSA. RUSA has one general information electronic list, RUSA-L. Please ensure that you are subscribed to this list and ensure that all your committee members or section members know that they should subscribe as well. This list includes, among other things, general updates about RUSA, information on RUSA programming at conferences, and information about volunteering to serve on a RUSA committee. The RUSA Board has its own list and if you are a member of the Board you will be automatically subscribed to the list. It is critical to read these emails and keep up with the conversation (see below for more details in the RUSA Board Meeting section). The RUSA Chair list is an email list of all RUSA committee chairs. As a RUSA committee chair you will automatically be subscribed to this list.

The RUSA Board

RUSA Board Meetings

The RUSA Board uses a strategic planning agenda. This means that board time is spent on the strategic direction of RUSA and not on committee reports or updates. The agenda is set by the RUSA President and sent to the RUSA Board well in advance of each conference. At each Board meeting we will discuss a big issue of RUSA. Everyone who is interested in attending this discussion is welcome to participate. All members of RUSA are invited to suggest big issue ideas in advance of the conference meeting for consideration. Please send your ideas to the RUSA office at least one month prior to the start of conference. When not in session, the RUSA Board conducts activities via a range of online tools. All RUSA Board members must learn to use these tools. When making decisions while not in session the following process is observed:

  • The RUSA Executive Director sends out an email notice to the RUSA Board using the RUSA-Board email list.
  • The email will include the action item to be considered, a time range for discussion, a cut off date for discussion, and the start and end date for voting.
  • Board members are expected to closely monitor the RUSA-Board list and contribute as necessary to any discussion on an action item, suggest changes to the action item, or raise concerns if needed. At this point in time the action item can be modified as needed based on the input of the Board.
  • Once the discussion period is over, no more discussion or suggestions will be taken and the Board must proceed to vote on the action item as presented or as revised during the discussion period.

As is true when the Board is in session, once the vote is called, the action item cannot be modified. Your only recourse at that time would be to vote against the action item. It is therefore critical to engage in the conversation during the discussion period so that you can have a voice and contribute to the conversation at a point where your ideas can affect the action item. Please respect the time of your fellow board members by not raising issues after the discussion cut off date. Either in session or virtually, the Board is expected to focus its work and discussions on the big issues of RUSA and not on wordsmithing. Most documents that come before the board have already been through a review process that includes section, and when appropriate, RUSA committee, input. The time to make suggestions and changes to the wording of a document is while it is in this committee/section review process and not when it reaches the board level. Each section has representatives to RUSA committees that must approve documents. Please ensure, if you are a section chair, that your section representatives are actively communicating and sharing information with your section so that you can suggest changes during the appropriate stage of review. It is important that all section chairs, RUSA committee chairs, RUSA Liaisons to ALA committees, and all members plan ahead. You can ask to be placed on the RUSA agenda for action items or discussions leading to action items but since the RUSA Board follows a strategic agenda, items will not be added to the agenda from the floor nor will they be added on any given day after the deadline for agenda items has passed (see below for deadlines). All committee chairs and section chairs are expected to work ahead of each conference and keep the RUSA Executive Committee informed of issues so that agendas can be planned to meet everyone’s needs. All members of the RUSA Board are expected to attend each board meeting and stay until the meeting concludes. Please make your travel arrangements accordingly.