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ALA Annual Meeting Notes, 7/14

"Young Turks" Task Force
Meeting Notes

ALA Annual 2009
Tuesday, July 14 9-11am CT

Attendees: Liz Bishoff (co-chair), Karen Downing (co-chair), Xima Avalos, Brett Bonfield, Emily Ford (by phone), Kim Leeder (notetaker), Alex Rivera 

Note: Other attendees are invited to edit, revise, add to these notes. 

1.  Introductions

2.  Review Board meeting
-ALA Exec Board approved the proposal with changes, we will move toward creating a new committee, perhaps to be called the Young Librarians Task Force (TBD)
-12-14 members
-include representation from NMRT, ethnic caucuses, Emerging Leaders, others?

3.  Task Force Charge
Working name: Young Librarians Task Force
Draft charge pulled from proposal:

The Task Force will identify strategies and actions for ALA, its offices, committees, divisions and round tables to be more responsive to the young librarians who will be its members and future leaders with a goal of increasing retention rates.     

The Task Force will develop a recommended plan of action with short, medium and long-term goals for ALA to better meet the needs of young librarians.

To do that the Task Force will:

  • Investigate what affiliates and other professional associations are doing to integrate young professionals into the profession and association
  • Collect/review data on what young librarians need from ALA
  • Review ALA activities underway that may address the needs of young librarians, such as electronic participation
  • Review how ALA divisions have reorganized to streamline processes; assess if this has resulted in improved involvement and retention of young librarians.

Task Force Composition: The Task Force will include the existing eight members of the Young Turks Working Group, along with several representatives who have experience in divisions and round tables.

The Task Force will present an initial report for the October ALA Executive Board meeting, a mid-project report at Midwinter to the Board and have a final report by Annual Conference, 2010.

Plan is to put the draft charge on ALA Connect space for editing and revision. Xima will take responsibility for adding docs to ALA Connect and backing them up.

Some discussion over making the space public. Xima suggested getting blog space to post info & docs.

Question raised of who the task force's primary and secondary market/audience will be. To be addressed once committee is formed.

4.  Appointment of new committee members

[Brainstormed potential members; names omitted for privacy reasons]

5.  Statistics from ALA

Need to talk more with John about what data they have to get more detailed stats by age. Need a better grasp on the larger picture.

6.  Investigate what's been done
 --Existing ALA activities
 --What divisions might have done to enable activities
 --Non-ALA examples

To be addressed by new cmte.

7.  Is there low hanging fruit that might accomplish change?

To be addressed by new cmte.

A few thoughts that came up:

Better promoting current organizational elements in place for young librarian (in addition to looking for ways to change the ass'n to be more welcoming)

8.  Assignments and deadlines

End of Aug: Appointments to cmte
1st wk of Oct: Timeline, appointments, etc. (for 10/23-25 ALA Exec Bd mtg)
Midwinter conf: Written report for Exec Bd

Brett suggested inviting young librarians to submit short video clips answering the Q of why or why not they're a member of ALA. Can be used in board report.

Will need to consider multiple approaches to get info from members & nonmembers, tech-savvy and non-tech

9.  Meeting and communications

Will test ALA Connect chat on 8/3 at 3:15 Eastern to see if we can have regular weekly chat to touch base. To be discussed during chat.

10.  Next Steps

  • Revise charge online
  • Xima to put proposal on ALA Connect with indication that ALA Exec Bd approved, note that stats are not analogous. Will run revision by Karen before posting.
  • ALA Connect chat test 8/3 - bring your calendar to schedule future chats
  • Run group name, charge & suggested cmte members by Camila before 8/3, Liz will give notes to Xima to put on ALA Connect
  • Camila will let us know how appointments will work.
  • Liz/Karen will schedule an official meeting for Midwinter, possibly Fri AM.
  • Xima will start an open blog where we will post and share the committee's efforts. We can share everything on the blog other than names of potential members & be transparent. This will be a good way to gather comments, feedback, and communicate with all who are interested. We can also ask for feedback about video project idea.
Aaron Dobbs's picture

Just wanted to point out that "young" is relative - "young" librarians shouldn't only be based upon  age, it should also be based upon length of experience in both/either libraries and/or ALA.

I have heard comments from older (more aged) new (less experienced in libraries or ALA) librarians who feel excluded when people refer to "Young Librarians" as a group :)

There is already a "New Members" group, NMRT,  and I hope the members of this Task Force will 1. get involved with NMRT & 2. work closely with the NMRT folks (all of whom (except alumni members, as I will be next year) have less than 10 years experience in ALA)

Also, there are a lot of people with loads of ALA experience who want to improve things for newer members -- Please, lean on me or anyone else who can help with navigating the ALA Byzantum:)

If I'd asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
-- Henry Ford


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

Nanette Donohue's picture

If I were a hugging person, I would hug you for that comment, Aaron. But I'm not, so you'll merely receive a hearty virtual handshake!

I think that the use of the word "young" (and age-related barriers) create a lot of ill will among members my age (mid-30s) who no longer consider ourselves young, yet are relatively new to the librarianship. These are skilled people who have much to give, but who bristle at being called young.

I also agree 110% with Aaron's comments about NMRT. NMRT has been helping new members of ALA develop leadership skills for 75+ years now, and I see a lot of the initiatives that ALA has been developing as reinvening the wheel. I think this group is valuable, and I think that good things will come of it, but it's very important to avoid duplication of effort. NMRT does have a large active membership, and it often takes people to get things done--working with NMRT would be advantageous for this group.

Eric Frierson (non-member)'s picture

Thanks for the comments!  In early discussions, we talked about whether or not this group should focus on the needs of the 'new' library staff, or the even smaller subset of 'young' library staff.  In the end, we decided on 'young' for a couple of reasons.  Please allow time for other members of the original group to correct me:

  • Improving the organization's responsiveness to one group will improve its responsiveness to all groups, resulting in a better organization for everyone
  • 'Young' will help us identify needs specific to people who are first-career library staff who have little experience as workers in general, library-related or not

Identifying partners with shared stakeholders is vital; NMRT, Emerging Leaders, and others will be able to provide experience and insight into young library staff.  We will need them more than they will need us, considering our scope.

I wasn't able to stay in Chicago long enough to participate in the meeting that these notes were taken, but I have been fortunate enough to participate in the early discussions with this group.  I think this was some of the reasoning behind the choice to go with 'young' - no doubt there is a need for this same kind of thing for the broader group of 'new' - maybe our work will help groups like NMRT and ALA at large better adjust to those need.

Thanks again for your comments - it forces me to think through some of these things even more.  Feedback on this and any other comments or documents produced by the Task Force are more than welcomed as they give us perspectives we may have missed.


Nanette Donohue's picture

I agree that people who are pursuing librarianship as a first career do have some very specific needs that ALA could do better at addressing. However, there are a lot of us who are not necessarily young and who came to librarianship as a second or third career who find that the initiatives that ALA has been pursuing to help train and encourage the "next generation" of ALA leaders have completely skipped over us. This is very discouraging. The message is that if you're too old for Emerging Leaders (and now, it seems, too old or too experienced for initatives that come out of this group), there's nothing for you.

This isn't a problem for me--I didn't feel the need to apply for Emerging Leaders, even when I was eligible for the program, and I've found my own paths to leadership in ALA--but there are a lot of others out there who are sandwiched between the "old guard" and the younger, first-career librarians who feel like there is nothing for people at our age and level of experience, and that we're losing out on opportunities to develop leadership skills that will benefit ALA. Those of us who are hanging out in the 35-44 demographic will likely be the "next generation" of library leaders, but we're being consistently skipped over by leadership development initiatives in ALA. Though I'm the first to mention this problem here, I'm certainly not the only person who feels this way. 

Heidi Dolamore's picture

after the exec board discussed your report, there was a very interesting presentation on ALA demographics. the demographers mentioned that men are more likely to enter the profession earlier (and tend to retire earlier than women). you may want to consider the gendered implications of focusing on young librarians as compared to new librarians.

Amanda Roberts's picture

I totally agree with you, Nanette, and allow me to repeat your statement:

"Those of us who are hanging out in the 35-44 demographic will likely be the 'next generation' of library leaders, but we're being consistently skipped over by leadership development initiatives in ALA."

I don't think the "skipping over" is intentional, but it is present. It is interesting that ALA programs such as Emerging Leaders have age restrictions at all, given the organization's focus on social issues, equity of access, and equality. (However, I do need to say that I appreciate the spirit and good intentions behind the EL program.)

In truth, I think all of us - from new people to the nearly retired - need leadership development. Wouldn't it be great to just have an organization-wide leadership development initiative, open to anyone who is a member of ALA?

amandajaneroberts.com | amandajaneroberts.wordpress.com

Linda Crook (non-member)'s picture

Amanda says, "...all of us - from new people to the nearly retired - need leadership development. Wouldn't it be great to just have an organization-wide leadership development initiative, open to anyone who is a member of ALA?"

 By concentrating just on the "young," aren't we, in effect, giving up on our older members?  The stereotype is that the old folks are against change and don't know how to work with the young folks.  If we leave them out of these initiatives we're just exacerbating the problem.

I was an EL (2008) on the basis of being "young," despite being experienced in the profession and already involved in ALA. This is my last year as an NMRT member. Is there anything in place to support me after this? I was lucky to hit my sophomore slump/early-mid-career crisis while I was still eligible for NMRT. If I had been just a few years later, what would have been there to keep me in the organization and in librarianship?

I wouldn't be where I am today (employed in librarianship) without NMRT. It has given me a home and prepared me to go off into the big ALA pond. But I'm still interested in developing my leadership skills. How about some leadership programs for mid-career librarians?  Or late-career librarians? Or just for librarians?

Linda Crook

Eric Frierson (non-member)'s picture

Just a note that might help guide more feedback - thanks for all of this!

I completely agree on all points being mentioned so far, and I don't think any of us involved with this group (including all the comment authors, 'officially' appointed members of the new task force) want to leave anyone out.  But I don't think this group will have the mission (or authority) to effect change for all members of ALA - from 'golden oldie' to millenial newbies.  Creating a group to improve the situation for young librarians is not giving up on older members; not having a similar group for older members is giving up on older members.  Perhaps this will spark some other initiatives for other groups in ALA.

On leadership - I don't think we're going to do much about that directly.  Our primary focus is on encouraging retention and advocacy among younger librarians - we are not going to produce 'fast tracks to ALA leadership' like the Emerging Leaders' group does.  We are going to find ways to encourage participation.

Here's an example of the type of improvement we think we can help ALA acheive.  I'll tell my own story to illustrate it...

My first ALA conference schedule was filled with programs; after all, thumbing through the thick conference booklet, *programs* are highlighted with bold titles, lists of speakers and abstracts.  Discussion groups, committee meetings, and interest groups are there - just in the back and tiny print with no descriptions at all.  I was vastly disappointed with my first ALA - sure there were a couple of good/entertaining panels and presentations, but exhibits were overwhelming and most programs were underwhelming.  I felt isolated.  There was no networking - I sat passively and silently in these programs while people talked at me.

Now, my conference schedule is filled with committee meetings, discussion groups, round tables and social events.  Only one or two programs.  I'm much more satisfied with conferences now - not necessarily because I'm a 'leader', but because I'm an active participant.  I got to participatory events at ALA, not passive ones.  These give me the chance to meet new people, share my own ideas and hear from others.

I 'figured out' ALA after 2 or 3 conferences.  Now, people don't have the time, money, or patience to do this.  One of the goals is to fast-track people to participation, but not necessarily leadership.  This isn't a leadership development task force.

All of you have voiced some very real concerns that ALA needs to address.  What are some proactive ideas to help fix them, and where are the best venues to share these ideas?  For example, ALA makes 'toolkits' for libraries to use to achieve various goals - the 'Scholarly Communications' toolkit comes to mind.  Can we create 'A Mid-Career Librarian's Toolkit for ALA Success'?  Maybe one outcome of this group's efforts can be a 'Young Librarian's ALA Toolkit' with committee volunteer forms, advice for selecting things to attend at conference, tips on networking, etc.

Hmmm.   I love this commentary!  It gets my mind going, even at close to 4pm on a workday!




Brett Bonfield's picture

The comments are great, and were a nice surprise when I got back to work just now. I think Eric did a great job of hitting the key points, but I want to amplify what he's written.

This isn't a leadership development initiative, which is something we probably need to make a bit clearer. A key element of Camila Alire's presidential platform is front-line advocacy: encouraging everyone whose work involves libraries to advocate for libraries and their mission. She asked a small group of us who are younger and/or newer to figure out how we could help her advance that goal among our peers. We came up with our best idea, which involved forming a Presidential Task Force, and we were grateful for her fantastic support and guidance in making it happen.

We aren't all pre-gen X. It's not my place to speak for anyone else, but I'll be 40 in December and this is my third career. We spent a lot of time struggling with the young vs. younger and/or new vs. newer question. It's certainly possible that we chose the wrong word, but we formed a consensus around the reasoning Eric wrote about above. Again, I can't speak for anyone else on this issue, but every suggestion this group has discussed (or seems likely to discuss) would be useful to me now and would have been useful to me two years ago when I was still in library school.

We're actively working to avoid duplicating effort. There are and have been a lot of initiatives by NMRT, EL, the divisions, round tables, etc. focused on recruiting, retaining, educating, and empowering ALA members (and comparable organizations are undertaking similar efforts). Our plan is to study what's happening (as colleagues, not as some disinterested third party or as consultants or something) and to highlight a few ideas that seem likely to help ALA realize Camila Alire's vision.

Kim Leeder Reed's picture

Just wanted those of you concerned about leadership for mid-career librarians that the University Libraries Section (ACRL) is putting together an Ad Hoc committee on this topic. Our chair this year, Leslie Madden, is also in that category and your comments echo the same things I've been hearing from her of late.

If you're interested in being part of the committee, please get in touch. I'll be doing the appointments this fall/winter.


Dawn Lowe-Wincentsen's picture

I agree with all of those who have commented before me. This shouldn't be about the age of the change leader, but about the changes that need to occur.

I agree that there are many things that the association or the profession as a whole could do better to help people that are new to the profession. However, I feel that these initiatives should be cross-generational. According to data John Chrastka passed out at the ALA Membership Committee meeting, our profession is growing among all generations. This is the type of information we need to consider.


Richard Kong's picture

The Emerging Leaders program really does not have a strict age requirement. According to the application information wikipage, one of the requirements is to "be under 35 years of age or be a library worker of any age with fewer than 5 years experience working in a library." I don't recall if this was the case since its beginning in 2007.

Xima Avalos's picture

Hi All,

I'd like to echo Eric's thanks for everyone's participation. We've got a lot of work ahead of us and the more input the better.

I hear two main concerns in the comments:

1) Our focus on "Young Librarians" is potentially too exclusive. 

2) The group may be replicating  current work.


In response:

1) As Brett has said, the group itself is made up of people of varying ages and at different points in our careers. As Kim Leeder has said, "IMHO, being a young turk is a state of mind, not of age!", so I think we, as a group, have a fairly fluid definition of "young." 

That being said, the library profession is huge, and varied, and there will never be an ALA Committee or Association that will work for everyone. In my opinion, we , as this committee, are doing work that primarily focused on one subset of librarianship, but the suggestions we make will be made with the improvement of all of ALA in mind. 

2) We don't want to duplicate work, either! As we discussed at our meeting in Chicago, the work of the group is not only to make new suggestions for ALA, but to highlight the work that is already being done, all throughout ALA, to retain young (and by association) librarians.