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Peter Hepburn's picture

Educational Requirements for Executive Director



As you know, ALA Executive Director (ED) Keith Fiels is retiring in July 2017, and the Executive Board is developing a selection process for the ED search.  This review involves, among other things, an assessment of the organizational information related to ALA recruitment and hiring, a discussion of position requirements, and preferences for education and experience with Board as well as a scan of ALA’s contemporary hiring practices.


Recognizing that Council is the governing body of ALA and recognizing that there is a variety of opinion about the ALA-accredited degree requirement, the Executive Board would like to expand the conversation of whether or not the degree should be required for the Executive Director position.  Attached is a draft resolution, presented without prejudice, to open the conversation.  The draft resolution presents a single resolved clause that amends existing policy, making the degree preferred.  The test of the draft resolution is pasted below as well.


A second document is attached titled “Educational Requirements for Future ALA Executive Directors Required ALA-Masters -Pros and Cons”.  This document is a collection of notes regarding input to date on the question of requiring or preferring the ALA-accredited degree.  It is provided as information for those who prefer to contemplate decisions in such a way.


The Executive Board welcomes the input of Council in the time before we convene at Midwinter to discuss and refine the resolution that we will ultimately present to Council next month.  Council is invited to post comments to this list and through ALA Connect.


Thank you,

Peter Hepburn, on behalf of the ALA Executive Board

Stephanie Chase's picture

It is essential to remember that members did have the opportunity to participate, since the introduction of the discussion occurred in a venue open to all members. At any point in the past several months, members have had the opportunity to chime in, as well as to speak with their divisional, chapter, or at-large Council members. Your personal failure to not use the preferred communication tool of ALA -- ie, not checking in on Connect -- is not the same as ALA not communicating with you, or members not being able to participate. To be engaged means to participate throughout the process, and not just when things don't go your way.

I'd like to remind everyone that the language was changed only to add the word "preferred" -- the hope is still very much to have a successful candidate with an MLS degree. The ALA Executive Board and the Search Committee did not ask for the vote lightly, and 77% of the Councilors agreed with their request to add "preferred." Ten of the eleven divisions of ALA wrote in support of adding "preferred." This is significant support.

As many pointed out in the discussion, we are not asking the successful Executive Director candidate to lead a library -- we are asking for them to lead a complex membership organization that serves more than 50,000 people. We must consider that there may be a candidate out there without an MLS that is the most uniquely suited to help lead this organization through a period of significant change, and we all surely recognize that some of our best advocates in our own local work are people with a deep passion for and understanding of libraries, but who do not have the degree. People may say the possibility of not having a librarian lead ALA is insulting to librarians, but our unwillingness to consider other, possibly better qualified, candidates who are passionate about the work of libraries is a tremendous insult all of our staff who do not have an MLS, and every community advocate who has worked tirelessly for us. 

If we feel the ALA Executive Director position is this important, we should also recognize the need to continue to move forward with the recruitment and selection process, and to ensure the most qualified candidate is chosen.

Melora Norman's picture

  • Technically speaking, the Executive Director search can continue regardless of the petition. Asserting that it cannot is inaccurate.
  • Many members spent significant time advocating for the requirement to be kept before the first 2017 vote; many members thought the matter was settled and did not have either notice or sufficient time to respond to the second 2017 vote. Those members deserve an opportunity to realize what has happened and respond.
  • Many questions about the search remain unanswered. Why was the search considered stalled after so brief a period of time and so few candidates considered? Why was this considered so urgent that it couldn't wait until the next conference? What was lacking in the pool? What specific criteria is the committee looking for that makes them so determined to remove this qualification? 

Providing members with more information about such a sudden reversal of official position on something that many feel strongly about is an important and respectful courtesy. This is why I support and thank the petitioners, and ask that you please sign the petition.


Kenneth Green's picture

I strongly agree that it should be required to hold a MLS/MLIS to obtain this position.  If we drop this requirement, then what's the purpose of the organization?  We would be failing our own association's existence!  If working in a library environment, then you need to know how they operate.

Patricia Schuman's picture

Since when did ALA Connect become “ the preferred communication tool of ALA? “ That statement is simply not true. how many members are logged n to this tool and use it in a regular basis?



Diedre Conkling's picture

Only Pat and I were logged in about an hour ago and then I was alone. It can be a lonely place on ALA Connect.

Melora Norman's picture

Pat's and Dierdre's observations illustrate some important developments.

Until relatively recently, it was possible for an ALA member who was interested in ALA policy decisions to attend a meeting, hear everything that transpired, and know what had been decided.

Electronic Council voting--while perhaps inevitable--is resulting in significant changes that have not yet been addressed.

If ALA is to remain responsive and transparent to members, then a mechanism needs to be established for announcing agendas and upcoming votes, and a specific venue for members to communicate about those votes. Once this is established, all members need to be notified. This sort of process of public notification is built into sunshine laws for government. While ALA is not government, adhering to these standards is the best way to preserve transparency and democracy.

Dorcas Hand's picture

This discussion illustrates much of the best of ALA and Council. I totally agree that we would like an MLS holder as ED- but I return again and again to the fact that this whole conversation and the associated resolutions and votes came about because of an ABSENCE OF CANDIDATES of the requisite quality. Something has to give, and the degree requirement is an easy target.

As a result, rather than offer my opinion today I’d like to pose a different question: is there a different way to tweak the job description or listing to entice MLS qualified candidates of quality to apply?

In the November discussions, I read that some state associations have EDs with MLS, and others have EDs without the degree. Presumably, all those associations are satisfied with their choice. Would anything be gained by asking those who successfully hired MLS candidates how their job description read? Additionally, what might we learn by asking state groups without MLS leaders to discuss the benefits or drawbacks of their decision. I just feel like our conversation is going in circles – we need some new perspectives.

I think we all might need to step outside the box we are in of yes/no MLS to see what other options might exist. Possibly this is really the only conversation – but I know too many creative librarians to believe we can’t find a new lens or stand in a different place to look at the answer or…

So, as this new year begins – let’s get creative!

Dorcas Hand
School Library Advocate
ALA Council Member-at-Large

Dorcas Hand
School Library Advocate
ALA Council Member-at-Large