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Celia Ross's picture

RUSA E-Participation Task Force Status Report

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) caross@umich.edu 
  • Elisa Addlesperger: eaddlesp@depaul.edu 
  • Shelley Arlen: shelarl@uflib.ufl.edu 
  • Jaclyn Bedoya: RSS/MARS Preconference Committee Co-Chair 2008-09, MARS User Access to Services Co-chair, 2009-11 jaclynbedoya@gmail.com 
  • Bobray Bordelon: John Sessions Memorial Award Committee, 2008-2011; Chair 2009-2010; RUSQ Task Force, 2009-2010 (Firestone Library, Princeton University) bordelon@princeton.edu 
  • Laura Jordan: MARS-L moderator and "Messages from MARS" editor (Library West, University of Florida) ljordan6@gmail.com 
  • James Langanjlangan@pitt.edu 
  • 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) dmack@psu.edu 
  • Janice Schultz: History Section Genealogy Committee Chair (Mid-Continent Public Library, Independence, MO) jschultz@mcpl.lib.mo.us 
  • Erin Silva: STARS ILL Committee member (University of Nevada, Reno) essilva@unr.edu  
  • Charles Thurston: Former Chair, RUSA Standards & Guidelines Committee (Univ. of Texas at San Antonio Library) Charles.Thurston@utsa.edu

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: http://wikis.ala.org/lita/index.php/EParticipation_Task_Force_Recommendations and the RUSA Technology Task Force:  http://blogs.tametheweb.com/RUSA/2008/10/08/topic-1-podcastvideocast-conference-programs/)
  3. Consider bringing the e-participation issue to an ALA-level task force.
Kate Corby's picture

I call your attention to this from Karen Schneider:

"I think it’s simply a matter of time before cash-strapped libraries simply drop the hammer on meeting twice a year. What ALA will not do for itself — restructure its revenue model around modern business practices — the profession will do for ALA."  http://freerangelibrarian.com/2009/06/13/marc-truitts-surprising-ital-editorial/

 and commend you for explicitly stating that meeting virtually some (or all) of the time is apt to attract more people than it turns away, and will save ALA money on meeting rooms and lost memberships.

 I urge you to go down this road boldly.  To ALA decisionmakers -- and as a member of Council I'm in that group -- the idea that  Midwinter is an unnecessary expense is patently ridiculous, as proven by the fact that Midwinter attendance figures continue to rise.  So this is not an issue that is going to go away without some group, and RUSA seems poised to be that group, demonstrating another way. The fact that you have put so much effort into showing that this need not have a negative impact on ALA, makes your position all the stronger.

Way to go.  

Kate Corby
ALA Councilor at Large
Michigan State University Libraries

Brian Gray's picture

I also wonder about meeting twice a year. I cannot think of any other professional associations that meets for a big conference twice a year. I would rather much prefer that we meet once a year, and that the divisions host more regional activities to bring revenue into their budgets.

I am confused by one statement you make Kate. You say "proven by the fact that Midwinter attendance figures continue to rise". I guess I do not see how that is proof Midwinter is not needed. I guess i do not see how increasing attendance numbers suggest we must make a change. Can you clarify?

Kate Corby's picture


I think you simply reinforce my point.  Many people say they think we should meet only once, but as long as they keep coming to Midwinter in record numbers it is not possible to act centrally on those opinions.  Voting with your feet is a much louder voice.  So I was saying, that Council etal is not going to act on this as long as folks keep coming, it is up to smaller units -- like RUSA -- to initiate action.


Michael Golrick's picture

I think that all parts of the Association need to be working more on electronic participation. However, as somone who has had experience in "big" ALA, let me note that there is a financial implication to dropping Midwinter.

The Association NETS about $500,000 from Midwinter alone. How much varies from city to city based on both costs in the city and attendance. (I would note that some of the high attendance cities are also high cost cities.)

That money is part of what makes other work in the Association possible.

So, while I favor doing more electronically, we also need to think about all of the implications. Do we want to pay more dues to eliminate Midwinter, or are we going to stop doing something else. That will be the hard question.

I will also note, that much of the "net" revenue is the direct result of the exhibitors. The exhibits are becoming a larger and larger part, and the exhibit hall and sale of space is what has driven Midwinter from the small meeting which used to fit completely in the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago, to the meeting we know today. I even know people who go to Midwinter just for the exhibits (and that is in addition to the exhibitors themselves.)


Aaron Dobbs's picture

"That's the Way the Money Works" is no good reason to keep doing the same thing...

The current economics-applied financial pinch is an opportunity for moderate to large, well considered, fiscally prudent, and radical ideas... f2f conferencing is not sustainable -- in the "Green" sense, as well as the "Green paper with numbers on it" sense.

To use the numbers supplied by Michael, how much, and which, costs would have to rise for Annual to recoup the "net half-million dollars" generated by Midwinter?

  • If the cost of Annual were increased by ~60% of the cost of midwinter, would Annual still be the crazy-packed, vibrant experience it is?
  • Where will the increased cost of Annual / decreased oportunity to attend price point break even?
  • Using already planned for venues, once  a year, would trim serious overhead costs
  • If more of the "work of the Association" - which included a need for a f2f meeting between Annual Conferences - is done in a more continuous, asynchronoyus, online manner; then why would we want to continue to be forced to provide a f2f venue, which is deemed unsustainable by many (not just me, really) :)

RUSA and the Divisions are where the leadership on the repurposing of Midwinter needs to come from. "Big ALA," like a thirsty horse, isn't going to back away from the waterhole until: a. there is no more water in it, or b. another, fresher, source of water is introduced.

Thank you, RUSA EPTF, for clearly spelling out some of the existing challenges and some of the options available.



"Always remember everyone is working to make the organization better in their own way."
-Eli Mina, ALA Parliamentarian

Carol Tobin's picture

two comments.

1) I think the literary tastes breakfast is ony held at Annual. Planning may take place at midwinter but the event is only at annual

2) I think the idea of encouraging e- participation is a great idea, esp at Midwinter .It has been suggested for years. I am glad to finally see some action on this.

Carol Tobin

RUSA Past President

UNC-Chapel Hill

Emily Ford's picture

I am really impressed by this report. Thank you, RUSA, for supporting and acting on such investigation. It is pivotal for ALA and RUSA to remain meaningful to membership.

Donald Jeo -AD (non-member)'s picture

n the course of perusing my social feeds on a day off (today), I ran across a link to an NPR story titled: “What’s New At The Library? Financial Advice“. Having somehow missed any info on this program, most likely due to my use of the “Mark all read” feature in Bloglines after Midwinter, I asked the Council list and got loads of information. In case you, like me, managed to miss mention of this program; here are some details and some links to more information. ALA has partnered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA) Investor Education Foundation to produce “Smart Investing @ your library®“. The FINRA Investor Education Foundation (IEF) provides grants to “public libraries and library networks across the country, giving millions of library patrons and their families greater access to unbiased investing information and resources”.

The mcdst has been designed for knowledgeable security professionals in the field of security which is one of the fastest growing fields in IT.

Diana Shonrock's picture

As the current co-chair of RUSA Professional Development Committee and Past President of RUSA, I know how important all of these ideas are as we move forward with limited resources.  In regard to FINRA, I am sorry there sre those who don't know about this program, but the fact is that the ALA link to this program is through RUSA and during my presidency we appointed a task force to select the first round of grant recipients to develop financial and investment programs through libraries.  One example can be found at "Smart Investing at your Library": http://www.amespubliclibrary.org/researchcollections/smartinvesting.asp In addition, RUSA Professional Development is working to create online Webinars for our members and others at a very minimal price---watch for more to be announced. 

Perhaps if we wish to work toward one annual meeting, we should look for the added revenue in our Division conferences or in conferences like the "Reference Renaissance II" this August in Denver---I recommend giving this a try.

Diana Shonrock

 Think Green - don't print this email unless necessary

Diana D. Shonrock Professor Emeritus, Iowa State University