At LibLearnX in January ALA finally finished the years-long process of updating and revising our bylaws. The final plan looks extremely different from early proposals in some important and positive ways. The initial plan would have eliminated ALA council entirely, replacing it with several 'leadership assemblies' and giving full authority to the executive board. This would have put authority to steer the association exclusively into the hands of a relative few. Particularly since the executive board tends to be dominated by upper management and by academic and public librarians, it would mean that many, many important perspectives would be left out of the decision-making process. Instead, we will continue with a smaller council which will retain policymaking authority and which is explicitly responsible for oversight over the executive board. SRRT members were instrumental in pushing for these changes in membership sessions, at ALA council, in the Round Table Coordinating Assembly and elsewhere.
In the final plan, the main change to the composition of council is a reduction in the number of at-large councilors from 100 down to 36, with 50 chapter councilors and around 30 councilors elected by other bodies of ALA. This is actually an increase from 18 at-large councilors proposed and voted through at the bylaws convention: a compromise from SRRT's original proposal of 50. SRRT continues to be seriously concerned about a council that's dominated by a single caucus, the chapter councilors. Voting members of ALA chapters are not required to be members of ALA, giving a tremendous amount of power to councilors who represent and are accountable to nonmembers as much as they are to members. Some chapter councilors are appointed rather than elected, and it's not unusual for them (as well as representatives of other units) to run unopposed.
Council also failed to adopt a requirement that ALA continue to support virtual participation in governance. There are a huge number of barriers to attending six consecutive conferences in person that screen out people with limited or no institutional travel support, who have childcare or other family responsibilities that make frequent travel more complicated, or who have disabilities or other medical issues that make travel more difficult or inadvisable. Supporting fully virtual attendance at all governance meetings would bring down all of those barriers and bring in voices we'd never have heard otherwise. This is a frustrating loss, but unlike the council composition, it can be taken up at any future council meeting. It's a change that has a great deal of support and there is increasing recognition that we can't 'take away' virtual participation now that everyone has seen its advantages.
These bylaws are not everything that many of us have been pushing for, but the plan has improved a great deal and SRRT has been instrumental in achieving that improvement. Many of us have concerns. Many of us are nonetheless hopeful that we've won just enough ground that we can keep steering this association in a more positive direction.
Should these bylaws go into effect, it will be more important than ever for SRRT members to be active and engaged in ALA. We need you to contact the leaderships of your chapters, divisions and round tables and tell them you expect them to support the adoption of permanent rules allowing fully-virtual participation in governance. We need you to be aware of the nomination process for your divisions, round tables and especially chapters. And we need you to consider running for something, to help us shape this association from the ground up. The fight to reshape ALA isn't over: it's just beginning.
[SRRT is a body within the American Library Association but does not and should not be taken to speak for the Association as a whole. In this statement, SRRT Action Council speaks only on its own behalf.]