Chapter 4: Communities of Practice

4.1 Communities of Practice Assembly

4.1.1 Functions
4.1.2 Organization

4.2 Funding

4.2.1 Section basic services allocation
4.2.2 Interest Group funding allocation
4.2.3 Reimbursement
4.2.4 Contracts
4.2.5 Socials, Professional Development Events, and Workshops
4.2.6 Funds for brochures

4.3 Section committee appointments

4.4 Governance

4.4.1 Section chair
4.4.2 Section vice-chair/chair-elect
4.4.3 Section past-chair
4.4.4 Interest group conveners
4.4.5 Division-level discussion group leaders

4.5 Newsletters

4.6 Liaisons to other groups

4.7 Requirements to form a unit

4.8 Continuance of a unit

4.8.1: Section continuance and review
4.8.2: Interest groups continuance
4.8.3 Division-level Discussion Group Continuance

4.9 Section Special Events 

4.9.2 Budget: funding & costs
4.9.3 Contracts
4.9.4 Vendor payments
4.9.5 Publicity

4.10 Division-level Discussion Groups

4.10.1 Email Discusion Lists 
4.10.2 Meeting format guidelines
4.10.3 Suggested timeline to prepare for meetings
4.10.4 Scheduling meetings
4.10.5 Discussion group leader expectations
4.10.6 ACRL staff support

Chapter 4 Communities of Practice

The ACRL Bylaws define communities of practice to include sections, interest groups, and division-level discussion groups. ACRL also offers an at-a-glance breakdown of the differences in the Communities of Practice Assembly (CoPA) units: CoPA Group Breakdown.

   4.1 Communities of Practice Assembly

The Communities of Practice Assembly shall consist of the chairs and vice-chairs of each section and conveners and incoming conveners of each interest group. The function of this assembly is to facilitate the exchange of ideas among the various Communities of Practice. The Communities of Practice are defined by Article XV in the ACRL Bylaws. (Source: ACRL Board, January 2008)

   4.1.1 Functions

  • The Assembly should not be a legislative body but rather a vehicle for communication; unit business should not be filtered through the Assembly before consideration by the Board.
  • The Assembly should be a forum for the sharing of information about programming and projects among the Assembly representatives. The Assembly is not a "clearance center" for programs, merely an information exchange and an opportunity for interaction among section leaders. Section chairs and interest group conveners submit a Plan for Excellence Implementation Report on the conference programming, projects, publications, preconferences, and other activities of the unit to the ACRL office by late July each year. These reports are compiled by the ACRL office and shared with membership units.
  • The Assembly should take an active role in promoting units in the life of ACRL.
  • The Assembly should discuss issues of common interest that are before the ACRL Board or should be brought before the Board.

   4.1.2 Organization

  • The Communities of Practice Assembly shall consist of the chairs and vice-chairs of each section and conveners and incoming conveners of each interest group.
  • The position of chair rotates among the Communities of Practice leaders in full alphabetical order (not alphabetical order by acronym), beginning with the Academic Library Services to International Students Interest Group. For 2017-18, the chair is from the Women and Gender Studies Section. 
  • The secretary position rotates among the Communities of Practice leaders in full reverse alphabetical order, beginning with Women and Gender Studies Section. For 2017-18, the secretary is from the Technical Services Interest Group.
  • A representative from the Assembly will be appointed to the Leadership Recruitment & Nominations Committee by the ACRL president-elect for a two-year term.
  • The Assembly meets virtually.
  • Minutes should be kept and copies provided to the ACRL office.
  • The agenda should have the following items:
  1. reports and news from ACRL office and ACRL Board
  2. reports from sections and interest groups on activities and projects
  3. discussion of items of interest to the Assembly that are before the ACRL Board or should be brought before the Board.

(Source: Activity Sections Council, June 1981, revised 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1996, and Sections Council June 1998)

   4.2 Funding

The fiscal year begins September 1. ACRL staff submits the budget to ALA the spring prior to the beginning of that fiscal year, and the ACRL Board approves the budget at Annual Conference. As part of the ACRL member dues, each ACRL member can pick an unlimited number of Sections and Interest Groups.

Members can participate in as many division-level discussion groups as they choose. Division-level discussion groups do not receive funding allocations. (Source: ACRL Board, June 1978; ACRL Executive Committee, April 1985; ACRL Executive Committee, March 2010.)

   4.2.1 Section basic services allocation

Each section receives a base allocation of $1,000.00 with an additional $0.75 per section member over 400 (as of August 31). Budget memos confirming the basic service allocation are delivered in October. (Source: ACRL Board, June 2017)

Sections may spend Basic Services funds on any items or activities that support the advancement of ACRL’s core purpose, to lead academic and research librarians and libraries in advancing learning and scholarship, and the following policies apply:

  1. Speaker honoraria may be provided on a scale that is appropriate to the scope and type of work performed and that is permissible within the budget of the ACRL unit, the ALA/ACRL budget, and in consultation with the ACRL staff liaison. Examples of work include but are not limited to speaking (virtually or in-person), leading a workshop, or presenting at a conference. This is not an exhaustive list; it is merely meant to illustrate different engagement types. (Source: ACRL Board, Annual Conference 2023)
  2. Basic services funds may not be used to purchase goods or services prohibited by ALA and ACRL policy.
  3. Sections may use Basic Services funds to support their program(s) at the Annual Conference. (Source: ACRL Board, June 2004, October 2004, Executive Committee, May 2011)

   4.2.2 Interest Group funding allocation

Interest Groups are allocated $150 per year which can be used to support the work of the Interest Group, as allowed by ACRL policies and procedures.

   4.2.3 Reimbursement

Reimbursement of expenses is handled in accordance with ALA and ACRL policies and procedures. Submit the reimbursement request form, original receipts such as airline ticket passenger receipts, hotel bills, etc., to ACRL before August 15 of the current fiscal year.

   4.2.4 Contracts

ALA is the legal and financial entity with respect to financial and contractual obligations incurred by ACRL as a division of ALA. The ACRL executive director is accountable to ALA for compliance with financial and other policies and guidelines. All contracts must be approved by the ACRL executive director and signed by an ALA associate executive director.

   4.2.5 Socials, Professional Development Events, and Workshops

To support the networking aspects of section membership, ACRL sections have the option to plan socials around ACRL and ALA Conferences. Options for socials include: 

•    Dinner With Colleagues: During ACRL Conferences, sections may opt to participate in a Dinner With Colleagues social, which is hosted by the ACRL Local Arrangements Committee. There are several restaurants with a range of prices and types of cuisines to choose from. Everyone will be responsible for the cost of their own meal. Seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Sign up at the local arrangements desk in the ACRL Conference registration area and be sure to note the time of your reservation and meeting location. Dinners are typically hosted on Thursday night. Detailed information on reservations will be communicated by staff during the conference year, in the months leading up to the conference.

•    Birds-of-a-Feather (BOF): Sections can host a Birds-of-a-Feather (BOF) event at ALA and ACRL Conferences. These events are no-host and Dutch treat. It could take the form of an unofficial happy hour at the venue of your choice. Sections can invite members to meet at the designated venue (e.g., restaurant, coffee shop). Sections may not use ACRL’s official name in connection with promoting the event, due to liability concerns, but can let members know that there’s an optional meetup happening and provide information on the time, date, and location. The advantage of this type of event is that it allows members to attend as time permits and to order from the food and beverage menu as they wish. 
Sections may not use Section Basic Service funds to pay for socials. Sections may not solicit donations to be used for socials. Socials include, and are not limited to, group meals, externally hosted catered events and parties. All Section socials will be Dutch-treat and will not require any contracts to be signed by ACRL. There will be no member reimbursements given for Section socials.

Professional Development Events/Workshops at ALA Conferences
Sections will be provided support for professional development events/workshops hosted through ALA Annual Conferences. At ALA Conferences, sections may request a meeting space for their business meetings, workshops and/or presentations. While sections may not rent external venue space/pay for external catering, they may use the space already provided by ALA to request meeting space at the conference location. Sections hosting workshops in-person must be hosted at ALA Conferences and booked through the meeting request process. After requesting the meeting space, sections will be allowed to choose if they would like catering from the ALA Catering menu. Section Basic Service/donated funds may be used to pay for the catering booked through ALA. Basic service and donated funds may not be used to purchase alcohol and alcohol will not be allowed at any conference events. In order to offset expenses associated with a workshop, sections may solicit corporate donations. Before approaching corporate donors, the section must submit the fund-raising plan Fundraising Form. The ACRL Executive Director will review the plan and the section will receive written notification whether or not to proceed.

Virtual Professional Development Events/Workshops 
Sections are not required to meet in-person. Sections may host a virtual workshop at any time and use Section Basic Services funds to support the workshop (e.g., speaker honoraria, closed captioning).

(Source: ACRL Board June 1999; ACRL Executive Committee, May 2006; ACRL Board June 2023; ACRL Board October 2023.)

   4.2.6 Funds for brochures

Sections may use basic services funding to support the production and printing of section brochures. Brochures must adhere to the ACRL section brochure template.  Sections can send content edits to ACRL staff. 

   4.3 Section committee appointments

Sections may establish standing and ad hoc committees in accordance with their governance procedures.

Appointments to section committees are administered by the section chair and vice-chair/chair-elect. Appointments to committees generally are for two-year terms. Members may be reappointed for a maximum of two consecutive terms not to exceed five years. The maximum of five years also applies to any time spent in chairing a section committee. Reappointment of committee members and chairs is permissible but not mandatory. Committee chairs are normally appointed for one-year terms. The term of office begins immediately following the Annual Conference and concludes at the close of the Annual Conference one or two years later. Appointments to ad hoc committees generally are for the life of the committee.

For complete details on the ACRL policies on section committee appointments, please refer to Chapter 7 of the ACRL Guide to Policies and Procedures.

   4.4 Governance

For detailed information regarding dates and deadlines, please refer to the Resources for Member Leaders.

   4.4.1 Section chair

The term of a section chair begins after the Annual Conference (following his/her term as vicechair/chair-elect) and ends the conclusion of the next Annual Conference. Specific responsibilities include:

  • Serves as an officer of the section and assists in advancing the goals and objectives of the section in accordance with the ACRL Plan for Excellence.
  • Oversees the development, implementation, and reporting of the section's contribution to, and support of, the ACRL Plan for Excellence.
  • Chairs all meetings of the section Executive Committee at Annual and Midwinter Conferences.
  • Attends meetings of the section committees when possible.
  • Establishes or dissolves both special and standing committees with the approval of the executive committee.
  • Oversees section program at Annual Conference.
  • Meets deadlines for requests for payment and reimbursement.
  • Schedules all of the section's committee meetings (except programs) for the ALA Midwinter Meetings and Annual Conferences.
  • Responds to inquiries from members and nonmembers regarding section interests and activities.
  • Co-represents with vice-chair/chair-elect the section on ACRL Communities of Practice Assembly.
  • Fills committee vacancies during term in office.
  • Arranges to have minutes or reports created for each meeting and provides copies to ACRL staff.
  • Conducts all meetings in accordance with ALA's "Open Meeting" policy. (Source: ALA Policy 7.4.3)
  • Attends and participates in ACRL Leadership Council sessions (usually held Friday afternoons at the ALA Midwinter and Annual Conferences).

   4.4.2 Section vice-chair/chair-elect

The term of a section vice-chair begins at the conclusion of the ALA Annual Conference following their election to office until the conclusion of the next ALA Annual Conference. In general, section vice-chairs make appointments prior to their year as chair so that they can develop their own leadership team for their term of office as chair. Specific responsibilities include:

  • Serves as an officer of the section and assists in advancing the goals and objectives of the section in accordance with ACRL Plan for Excellence.
  • As a member of the Executive Committee, attends meetings of the committee at Annual and Midwinter Conferences, including those at the Annual Conference immediately preceding the taking of office.
  • Appoints a Nominating Committee and chair, which is responsible for producing a slate of candidates for section office. The section vice-chair may not be a member of the nominating committee. (Source: ALA Bylaws, Article III, Section 1.a)
  • If a program is planned, a Conference Program Planning Committee and chair should be appointed that is responsible for planning the section's programs at the Annual Conference during year as chair. May serve as a member of the committee according to section governance procedures.
  • Makes appointments to all other section committees for terms beginning when term as chair begins.
  • Responds to inquiries from members and nonmembers regarding section interests and activities.
  • Co-represents (with section chair) the section on the ACRL Communities of Practice Assembly.
  • Appoints leaders of newly formed discussion groups.
  • Attends and participates in ACRL Leadership Council sessions (usually held Friday afternoons at the ALA Midwinter and Annual Conferences).

   4.4.3 Section past-chair

  • Serves as an officer of the section and assists in advancing the goals and objectives of the section and ACRL.
  • Serves as a member of the Executive Committee; attends meetings of the Committee at Annual and Midwinter Conferences.
  • Past-chairs may be appointed to represent the section at the ACRL Communities of Practice Assembly.
  • Other tasks according to the section bylaws or as assigned by the section Executive Committee.

   4.4.4 Interest group conveners

Interest Groups are governed by a steering committee consisting of a convener, incoming convener and past convener. The steering committee is the only group that would appear in the ALA Handbook of Organization since they are the only members who need to sign formal appointment acceptance forms. Each Interest Group will determine the mechanism for selecting its incoming conveners.

   4.4.5 Division-level discussion group leaders

Discussion groups may request space at conferences. ACRL only maintains official records concerned with their chairpersons. This policy was established so that they do not grow to the proportion of a section with many committees and a board. (Source: ACRL Board, June 1978; ACRL Executive Committee, April 1985; ACRL Executive Committee, March 2010.)

   4.5 Newsletters

Each section may produce two electronic newsletters a year to be distributed electronically to members of each section by the ACRL Production Editor. 

Appointment of editors
The appointment of editors and terms of office shall be made in accordance with each section's bylaws and procedures.

Production and distribution
Section newsletter editors are responsible for preparing copy of their newsletters in appropriate format.

An ownership statement shall be included in each newsletter as follows:

[Section Newsletter] (ISSN 0000-0000) is a semiannual publication of [Section] or the Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association, 50 East Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60611; 800-545-2433. This publication is sent free of charge to members of [Section]. © American Library Association, [year]

[Note: may also include editor(s), contact information, and URL of section website.]

Classified and product advertising shall not be accepted for section newsletters. Potential advertisers should be referred to College & Research Libraries, C&RL News, Choice, and RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage.

(Source: ACRL Board, January 1985, revised January 1987, January 1993, April 1996, June 2009)

   4.6 Liaisons to other groups

ACRL units may appoint liaisons to other groups of related interest. It is understood that such appointment is for informational purposes and does not constitute official representation of ALA, ACRL, or the unit, and that no financial support is implied in such an appointment.

Units should contact the ACRL office if they are interested in developing a relationship with an organization and inform the ACRL executive director of all liaisons established. A report is submitted to the ACRL Board annually that summarizes the section's liaison activities.

   4.7 Requirements to form a unit

   4.7.1 Section formation

Interest Groups that have successfully renewed after reaching their initial sunset date and maintain a membership of 400+ members for three consecutive years after their initial renewal (years four through six) are eligible to submit a Petition for Establishing a Section (ALA e-petition) signed by a simple majority of the members of the Interest Group.   The Interest Group also submits a Board Action Form to Establish a Section by May 1 of the seventh year for Board consideration at the ALA Annual Conference.  The Board Action Form requires the following information:  

  • a charge for the section
  • a statement of how the Section will support ACRL’s Plan for Excellence
  • a process for developing a slate for elected leadership positions
  • identification of an initial standing committee structure
  • proposed initiatives and projects.

(Source: ACRL Board, June 2013)

More details regarding CoPA unit structure are available here.

   4.7.2 Interest group formation

To form an interest group, members must complete an Interest Group Petition signed by seventy-five ACRL members that includes the name of the proposed group, identification of the initial convener(s), proposed scope, and an explanation of how this is either a unique group or to identify groups it overlaps with and to articulate how this interest group is different. When the online petition is complete, members must submit a Board of Directors Action Form to Establish an Interest Group. The petition and action form are reviewed by the ACRL Board, which has the authority to create new interest groups. Interest groups become official dues products at the start of the following fiscal year after they have been approved by the ACRL Board.

(Source: ACRL Board, June 2012)

Sections wishing to transition to an interest group will be exempt from the requirement to petition for Interest Group continuance every three years if they have been in existence for at least 10 years as of August 2012.

(Source: ACRL Board, February 2016)

Sections that have transitioned to an interest group include:

  • African American Studies Section (AFAS) transitioned to the African-American Studies Librarians Interest Group (AASLIG).
  • Asian, African, and Middle Eastern Section (AAMES) transitioned to the Asian, African, and Middle Eastern Section into the Asian, African, and Middle Eastern Studies Interest Group (AAMESIG).

More details regarding CoPA unit structure are available here 

   4.7.3 Division-level discussion group formation

Submit a Discussion Group Petition with 25 signatures of interested ACRL members for ACRL Board approval.   Discussion Groups can be proposed at any time and officially begin as soon as approved by the ACRL Board. When the online petition is complete, members must submit a Board of Directors Action Form to Establish a Division-level Discussion Group.

(Source: ACRL Board, June 2011)

More details regarding CoPA unit structure are available here.

4.7.4 Section Mergers

The Executive Committees of the sections wishing to merge submit a joint Board of Directors Action Form to Establish a Section which includes the proposed name, proposed charge, proposed leadership procedures, proposed committee structure, and proposed initiatives and projects for the new section. 
(Source: ACRL Board, June 2013)

   4.8 Continuance of a unit

   4.8.1 Section continuance and review

When section membership drops below 400 members for three consecutive years, the section will work with ACRL staff and their Board liaison to explore and consider transition options beginning in May of the third year.  The section will submit a transition plan no later than April of the fourth year, for consideration at the Spring Executive Committee Meeting, and the transition will be completed by August 31 of the fourth year.   

(Source: ACRL Board, June 2013)

Sections wishing to transition to an interest group will be exempt from the requirement to petition for Interest Group continuance every three years if they have been in existence for at least 10 years as of August 2012.

(Source: ACRL Board, February 2016)

   4.8.2 Interest Group Continuance

Interest Groups reach a sunset date every three years. An Interest Group may request to be dissolved, may request to be renewed with the same charge, or may propose a replacement group with a different name and charge. Requests for all actions must be submitted to the ACRL Board in time to be approved at the Annual Conference.  If the Interest Group takes none of these actions, the Interest Group will automatically dissolve after the Annual Conference following the Interest Group’s third year anniversary.  An Interest Group can petition the Board to disband at any time before the three-year sunset date. (Source: Board, March 2011)

  • Interest Group continuance and dissolution request forms are available on the forms page of the ACRL website.
  • An Interest Group must have a minimum of seventy-five members in order to request continuance.

   4.8.3 Division-level Discussion Group Continuance

A Discussion Group will may continue as long as the group has an identified convener and hosts at least one discussion a year.  The ACRL staff liaison will check annually to confirm the name/email of the convener for the next year.  If the Discussion Group 1) does not have an incoming convener, 2) has not met synchronously during the previous year, or 3) determines that a group is no longer needed, the convener should submit a Discussion Group Request to Disband Form.  If the convener is unavailable, ACRL staff should notify the Board which can initiate the request to disband the Discussion Group.  

(Source: ACRL Board, June 2011)

   4.9 Section Special Events

   4.9.2 Budget: Funding & Costs

If a section seeks donor support for a social/professional development event, they must submit a fundraising plan. Under ALA and ACRL guidelines, sections may NOT approach a potential donor without first having it approved by the ACRL executive director. Units may not proceed with a fundraising plan, until written approval has been received. See 6.16 External Funding for more information on how to approach vendors.

   4.9.3 Contracts

Typically, contracts will not be needed, but if an exception is approved by the ACRL Executive Director, sections must adhere to this Contracts policy. Section members are not authorized to sign contracts or letters of agreement for events, socials or other activities. All contracts and letters of agreement must be sent to the attention of ACRL section staff for review and approval by the ACRL Executive Director and ACRL Program Officer. ACRL will return the signed contract directly to the vendor and will notify the section when this has been done.

   4.9.4 Vendor Payments

Typically, vendor payments will not be needed, but if an exception is approved by the ACRL Executive Director, sections must adhere to this Vendor Payments policy. ACRL will issue deposits directly to the vendor(s). The section will be notified when payment has been issued.

   4.9.5 Publicity

The section member in charge of the event is also responsible for publicity. After posting the workshop on the section website and ALA Connect Community, it is a good idea to promote the event on the section communication channels and direct people to the online form. Multiple reminder postings will be necessary.

Plan to promote the event in the section newsletter that precedes the conference (include approximate deadlines).

(Source: ACRL Board June 1999; ACRL Executive Committee, May 2006; ACRL Board October 24, 2023)


   4.10 Division-level Discussion Groups

ACRL discussion groups are intended to be an informal and flexible way for members with like-minded interests to discuss current issues facing the profession.

   4.10.1 Email Discussion Lists

ACRL Discussion Groups are supplied with an ALA Connect community to be used as a discussion list. Each list has its own custom email address. Once a member joins a Discussion Group’s ALA Connect community, they may post directly to the space or via email per the custom address. To join an ACRL discussion list, please visit ALA Connect.  

   4.10.2 Meeting format guidelines

  • A speaker can start the discussion at the beginning of the meeting.  Speaker should talk for no more than 20 minutes.  Group discussion should follow.
  • Larger discussion groups may do round robins, with the small groups each presenting their thoughts at the end
  • Setting meeting objectives and asking participants to prepare answers to a few questions before conference helps to make an effective discussion group meeting.
  • Discussion groups may not conduct programs at the ALA Midwinter Meeting or ALA Annual Conference.  A meeting would be considered a program when one or more outside speakers are invited to present to the group for the duration of the meeting.  A discussion group that conducted a program during the ALA Annual Conference would compete with ACRL-approved programs, which have been planned for over two years.

   4.10.3 Suggested timeline to prepare for meetings

Three Months Before Conference

  • Decide on discussion topic for upcoming meeting
  • Will a guest presenter participate or will attendees talk amongst each other for the duration of the meeting?
  • Send 1-2 sentence blurb to ACRL staff to be published in C&RL News
  • Develop 1 or 2 objectives for the meeting
  • Prepare an agenda which includes 2-3 questions which will help guide the discussion, meeting objectives and time limits for each agenda item
  • Include 2-3 questions which will help guide the discussion
  • Include objectives
  • Insert time limit next to each agenda item
One Month Before Conference
  • Email the agenda to discussion group listserv and ask members to prepare answers to each question
  • Post an advertisement for the discussion group meeting on ACRL listservs
  • Brainstorm ideas to keep people focused during the meeting in case the group gets off-topic. Brainstorm ideas to get all attendees to speak.
  • Ask an attendee to take minutes.
  • Ask an attendee to be a timekeeper. Perhaps make timecards so the discussion group leader knows when time is running out without being interrupted verbally

At the Discussion Group Meeting

  • Arrive at room 30 minutes early to ensure proper set-up
  • Inform attendees of the meeting format
  • Run meeting.
  • Lead group in selecting a new leader for the next year (current leader may extend term another year if necessary)

After Conference

  • Send minutes from the meeting to ACRL within the next month.

   4.10.4 Scheduling Discussion Group meetings

Discussion groups may meet either in-person during ALA Annual Conferences, or virtually using ACRL’s virtual meeting software, or both.

Additional information is available at 8.2 Meeting Scheduling.  

   4.10.5 Discussion group leader Responsibilities

Discussion Group Leaders:

  • Must be a member of ACRL
  • Schedule meeting space
  • Decide on meeting topic
  • Advertise the meeting before conference
  • Keep the group on topic and on time during the meetings
  • Send the meeting summary to ACRL
  • Moderate the email list or appoint a moderator
  • Moderate the ALA Connect community or appoint a moderator

   4.10.6 ACRL staff support

ACRL staff support division-level discussion groups by:

  • Working with ALA Conference Services to ensure meetings are listed in the onsite program book and online scheduler.
  • Answering procedural questions  

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