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Online Doc RUSA E-Participation Task Force Status Report

by Celia Ross on Fri, Apr 2, 2010 at 08:51 am

RUSA E-Participation Task Force Status Report

Submitted: July 2, 2009

RUSA E-Participation Task Force Committee members:


RUSA E-Participation Task Force Status Report

Submitted: July 2, 2009

RUSA E-Participation Task Force Committee members:


  • Celia Ross: RUSA E-Participation Task Force Chair, BRASS Vice Chair (Kresge Business Administration Library, University of Michigan) 
  • Elisa Addlesperger: 
  • Shelley Arlen: 
  • Jaclyn Bedoya: RSS/MARS Preconference Committee Co-Chair 2008-09, MARS User Access to Services Co-chair, 2009-11 
  • Bobray Bordelon: John Sessions Memorial Award Committee, 2008-2011; Chair 2009-2010; RUSQ Task Force, 2009-2010 (Firestone Library, Princeton University) 
  • Laura Jordan: MARS-L moderator and "Messages from MARS" editor (Library West, University of Florida) 
  • James 
  • Daniel Mack: Editor, RUSA Update, 2006-2009. Director ex officio, RUSA Board of Directors, 2006-2009, Member, RUSA Communications and Publications Committee, 2006-2009, Member, CODES Executive Committee, 2002-2009, Chair, CODES Communications Committee, 2007-2009 (University Libraries, The Pennsylvania State University) 
  • Janice Schultz: History Section Genealogy Committee Chair (Mid-Continent Public Library, Independence, MO) 
  • Erin Silva: STARS ILL Committee member (University of Nevada, Reno)  
  • Charles Thurston: Former Chair, RUSA Standards & Guidelines Committee (Univ. of Texas at San Antonio Library)

Summary of RUSA E-Participation Committee Charge:

  • Examine the need for all committees to meet at Midwinter, draft a recommendation concerning registering for Midwinter if attending virtually and draft a plan for implementation at both the Section and RUSA levels.
  • Explore ways that E-Participation could improve the overall efficiency of committees. 
  • Suggest tools needed to implement more electronic participation. 
  • Seek Section input.



The RUSA E-Participation Task Force was formed in anticipation of a much-reduced member attendance at the 2010 ALA Midwinter meeting resulting from the current economic downturn and related budgetary cuts.  The Task Force charge, summarized above, includes a focus on this Midwinter Meeting but it should be noted that e-participation can have additional impacts on RUSA.  The Task Force defined e-participation broadly to include any kind of committee communication and collaboration that occurs through electronic means (i.e. not face-to-face).  We focused less on the technological requirements of holding "real time" virtual meetings and instead examined how committees could function effectively without requiring members to travel for face-to-face meetings twice a year and what impact this shift in workflow might have on RUSA and ultimately on ALA. 

The RUSA E-Participation Task Force has never met face-to-face.  All work was accomplished asynchronously via email and use of a pbwiki space.  Given more time, the Task Force likely would have arranged for a synchronous conference call or chat session to review progress and address future steps.  Additionally, the Task Force did not utilize the ALA Connect system which likely would have provided comparable (or better) functionality.  It is interesting to note, though, that this Task Force has thus far operated completely through e-participation of some sort or another.


Midwinter Meeting

The Task Force examined the impact expanding member e-participation would have on the Midwinter Meeting.

Note: It is important to understand that the Task Force was not focusing on eliminating the Midwinter conference outright.  Indeed, in the full charge of the Task Force it is noted that unless there are significant changes made involving all of the other ALA divisions, the RUSA Executive Committee will need to continue to attend Midwinter to remain active in its role in representing RUSA as part of ALA overall. Rather, the Task Force investigated ways in which most of RUSA and its sections' committee members might still be able to actively contribute without the explicit requirement that they agree to attend in person both the ALA Annual conference and the ALA Midwinter meeting.   

One potential outcome that expanded e-participation could have is that members would do committee work via electronic means throughout the year and make the need to meet face-to-face at Midwinter unnecessary.  It will be increasingly difficult to get volunteers to do the work of the organization if they must pay to travel to meetings that are, in effect, unneeded because the work of the committee has already been done.   While fewer people attending Midwinter would result in a loss of revenue for ALA and RUSA, continuing to require attendance at two meetings/conferences per year in order to serve on committees could result in not only a decrease in RUSA committee volunteers overall but also eventually a loss of RUSA membership revenue. 

Another possible outcome of expanding e-participation is that the face-to-face meetings at Midwinter would require additional software and other technology to support members who would be "attending" virtually.  This outcome would present a number of logistical, technological and financial challenges.  The Task Force reviewed and ultimately rejected the idea that committee members could pay a nominal registration fee to be allowed to "attend" Midwinter virtually.  Potential technical difficulties and other snags aside, it didn't seem right to require additional fees from committee members who are already volunteering their time and efforts.

ALA and RUSA will have to make choices.  The Task Force understands that Midwinter is an important revenue source for both ALA and RUSA, but most organizations do not have face to face meetings except for boards.  In essence, RUSA (and other ALA division) members are paying additional costs, significant ones in many cases due to the travel requirements, for the "privilege" of doing committee work.  Regardless, given the state of the global economy and its effect on library and personal budgets, many RUSA members are facing cuts that will prevent them from being able to travel, let alone pay for professional memberships.  Many people will rethink their professional memberships and their ability to commit to committee participation that requires their attendance at two conferences/meetings per year.

Accessibility should be considered, too.  Many members are eager to support their sections and divisions through committee work but are discouraged from volunteering due to a perception that to accept a committee position will require a committment to attend multiple conferences and meetings for up to two or three years.  Expanding e-participation could open up opportunities for these "shadow members" to become active participants in their professional organization and RUSA could capitalize on this new accessibility through a marketing and outreach campaign.

Midwinter was established as a business meeting before other means of communication and collaboration between members and amongst committees were readily available and the reality remains that, while there are some committees where it may be more convenient to get a portion of their work done face to face, most work will occur (and is occurring) virtually anyway.

Note: The schedule of Midwinter needs to be considered.  Here is a (partial) list of events that essentially require people in attendance to be successful as well as representatives who are required to attend both Annual and Midwinter.

Events held specifically at Midwinter

RUSA Book and Media Awards

BRASS Publishers Forum

Institutes (i.e. midwinter preconferences)

Midwinter is able to go to smaller cities so different local audiences.

Face to face meetings for Awards Committees (note all BRASS awards committees have been virtual for several years)

Events exclusively at Annual

RUSA Awards Ceremony

Section Programs

BRASS Academic/Public Libraries Forum 

Events at both Midwinter and Annual

RUSA Board

Section Executive Committees

Literary Tastes Breakfast

Discussion Groups

RUSA Organization evaluation of sections and committees (could all work be done exclusively at Midwinter; could reviews take place virtually)

Representatives required to be at both Midwinter & Annual

RUSA representatives to ALA committees

RUSA Board

Recommendations and next steps:

  1. Review all RUSA-level and RUSA section committees to determine which meetings and events require face to face meetings at Midwinter. 
  2. For those committees that believe they do require real-time and/or face-to-face meetings during Midwinter, investigate what technological solutions might be implemented that could support the portion of the work that requires "meeting".
  3. Identify some trial committees and/or sections that will be willing to test the impact of e-participation on their work.  Note:  BRASS had expressed an interest in leading these e-participation explorations.  Based on an informal survey of BRASS members, it was determined that many will not be able to attend Midwinter 2010 this year so there are already plans to have most committees meet virtually. 
  4. Consider the marketing potential of opening up e-participation options for members.
  5. While investigating the impact of e-participation was not part of the Task Force's charge, we also encourage a further look at reducing the meeting times/requirements at Annual so that members can spend more time going to programs, exhibits, discussion groups and also reduce the cost of Annual to ALA by requiring fewer meeting rooms. 


Improving Effeciency

The Task Force examined the impact expanding member e-participation would have on improving the overall efficiency of RUSA and RUSA section committees.

As noted above, many committees (if not all) are already incorporating e-participation into their workflow throughout the year, if not at a specific "real time" synchronous virtual meeting.  For many committees, e-participation is the de facto standard.  When the charges of committees are clearly defined and each respective committee chair is given flexibility to use the technologies and tools that will work best to support their committee's communication and collaboration needs, e-participation is the key to bringing the committee together.  With effective oversight and communication from the Section leadership, committees that involve a lot of e-participation can ultimately be more efficient because they save everyone time and money.  Working out the best modes of communicating and collaborating can be a challenge, but ALA is already providing tools like Connect that help support enhanced e-participation.  The RUSA Technology Task Force and others, including this Task Force, have investigated various software and other applications that can support real-time virtual meetings, if it's decided that additional resources are needed.  It is also feasible that committees who are not counting on a face-to-face meeting at Midwinter will, in fact, work more efficiently year round through e-participation rather than putting off tasks and then scrambling in the weeks and days before the face-to-face meeting to get everything together.

Recommendations and next steps:

  1. After identifying RUSA and RUSA section committees that are willing to test the impact of e-participation on their work, these committees should track their progress.  A questionnaire or online survey could be developed that would collect successes and failures, what worked and what didn't, and the impact, positive or negative, that e-participation has on committee workflow and deliverables.  
  2. Some committees are already operating all-virtually, all-the-time.  A list of these committees should be reviewed (BRASS Committees already meeting virtually include: All BRASS Awards committees, BRASS Nominating and BRASS Vendor Relations) and included in any surveys as well as turned to for input on best practices, tools used for e-participation and the impact on overall committee efficiency.
  3. Continue to promote and support Connect and ensure that all sections and section chairs are kept informed of training opportunities and other useful information regarding the successful incorporation of Connect into RUSA and RUSA-section workflows.
  4. Establish some general guidelines for committees, but focus on simplicity when it comes to e-participation and resist the urge to equate it with "increased technological or software needs."  Allow committee chairs to determine which tools and methods of communication and collaboration will work best for the tasks they are charged with while maintaining open communication between the entire RUSA community.


Support Needed

The Task Force did not spend much time investigating the support that will be needed (from RUSA and/or ALA) to implement any of the recommendations.  Rather, the Task Force is waiting to see which recommendations are chosen to be acted upon before determining what kind of support might be needed and from where it would come from.


Section Input

Recommendations and next steps:

  1. RUSA should survey each section about e-participation and about plans for reduced attendance at Midwinter.
  2. All RUSA sections should be coordinating with each other regarding any e-participation efforts that are already underway (like LITA's E-Participation Task Force: and the RUSA Technology Task Force:
  3. Consider bringing the e-participation issue to an ALA-level task force.

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