Newbie in Town: My Experiences with ALA Council at Midwinter 2009

By Jenny Emanuel


As the new ALA Councilor representing NMRT, I plunged headfirst into the world of ALA governance during Midwinter 2009 in Denver. One of my motivations for becoming Councilor was to learn more about how ALA is run and share that information with my NMRT colleagues. Here I will explain what Council is and what this body does for ALA.

Council is the primary governing body for ALA. As the ALA Handbook states, “[Council] delegates to the divisions of the Association authority to plan and carry out programs and activities with policies established by Council.” Council is presided over by the President, President-Elect, and the Executive Director of ALA. There are a total of 186 members. Each member serves three-year fixed terms, with 100 members being elected at large, 53 members by Chapter (every U.S. state and three territories), 11 members by Divisions (such as ACRL and PLA), 10 by Roundtables (the largest Roundtables each elect a Councilor and the remainder share one), and 12 Executive Board members. The Executive Board is elected from within the Council and represents the general membership at a higher level and meets more frequently than our two yearly conferences. I am pleased to congratulate NMRT President-Elect Courtney Young on her recent win to a post on the Council’s Executive Board.

At Midwinter 2009, I spent time figuring out how Council conducts its business. Contrary to what one may expect, youth and inexperience are not a big deal for this group. Many Councilors appreciate hearing a younger, newer librarian’s voice and they are willing to answer your questions. I quickly discovered that I was not the only young, novice librarian there, and several of us formed a caucus to champion our ideas pertaining to leadership among younger librarians. We recognize that ALA is a “graying” organization and we want to encourage ALA to provide more leadership opportunities to newer librarians to ensure ALA’s strong future. Many ALA members know that NMRT members are its future leaders and they want to hear our opinions.

I will classify Council’s action items taken during Midwinter 2009 into five categories. The first two categories were either procedural in nature or memorials and tributes, and were thus uncontroversial and passed without discussion. Procedural actions include updating portions of the Library Bill of Rights and acting on recommendations from various committees, such as the renaming of a committee. Memorials and tributes honored recipients with official recognition from ALA. The other action items were more topical, including the passage of a list of Core Competencies that each library school student should have obtained by the completion of their library school degree. Heavily debated action items included resolutions pertaining to the political situation in Gaza and a report from the Task Force on Electronic Participation. There were two proposed resolutions on Gaza. One resolution condemned the recent war there due to its deleterious effects on libraries and cultural institutions, and the other one regarded the initiation of a “One Book, One Conference” program at the ALA Annual Conference. Both resolutions were controversial because many ALA members do not believe that the Association should be involved in political actions and other members thought that the Gaza resolutions were biased in their choice of wording.

 The biggest debate at Midwinter 2009 concerned the Final Report of the ALA Task Force on Electronic Member Participation, in which a committee came up with a set of 16 recommendations that would allow more online participation in ALA governance. I won’t go into detail about the recommendations, but basically they allow for more committee and Council participation through online means and do not require a physical presence at a conference in order to participate. It is important to note that the recommendations only cover activities and committees at the ALA level, and do not affect the activities of the Roundtables and Divisions. NMRT already does most of the recommendations outlined in the report, and I cited our actions as a model for the rest of the Association. Ultimately, Council passed the first four Recommendations and due to time constraints, referred the rest of them to the Executive Board for further discussion.

All of the documents related to Council should soon be posted online at

Council was at times a frustrating experience because many Councilors were caught up in minor details such as incorrect grammar or the wording of a motion. There are also many Council members who think that ALA functions well as is. They feel that quickly moving towards using more modern technologies does not keep in mind the larger picture of ALA’s future. However, these matters aside, Council is also an amazing experience when you realize that you do get to make a difference in how such a vast organization is run. Being on Council is also a great way to meet some very influential librarians and get an inside idea of what is going on in the Association. I highly recommend that new librarians either attend a Council meeting at a conference or subscribe to the Council listserv to attain a better understanding of how ALA works.