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  • 1.  What can we do about low voter turnout in ALA elections?

    Posted May 25, 2011 12:32 PM

    After the ALA election results came out I was very concerned about the low voter turnout. My concern was met with two extreme reactions.

    The extremely good was that ALA Member Oleg Kagan did a survey to find out why ALA members did not vote. He spent countless hours on an analysis to find the reasons for ALA members not voting in elections. Among the top reasons was that ALA members were not familiar enough with the candidates to feel like they could vote. Another was that members did not know what candidates would do if elected.

    The extremely bad is that many ALA members I have shared this sentiment with are OK with widespread apathy and do not see this as something to be concerned about. That is expressed by the Annoyed Librarian and also in the comments section of her article. The Annoyed Librarian posits that division level voting may have had a better turn out. This was not true for the ALCTS Division that had a 15% turnout.

    If it is status quo to have a ~20% voter turn out why does this not concern ALA leaders? I would think that widespread apathy will only work to the detriment of this organization and not to better it. Apathetic members don't participate and create meaningful change. Will apathetic members stop paying dues?

    I am taking steps to do something about this by talking with ALCTS leaders and starting conversations on some possible solutions including having an ALA wide voting guide online with information about candidates (an idea from Oleg), and having candidates campaign at ALA conferences and in online forums (something ACRL is doing).


    How does the ALA leadership feel about the low voter turnout? What steps will the ALA leadership be taking to increase voter turnout?

  • 2.  RE: What can we do about low voter turnout in ALA elections?

    Posted May 25, 2011 04:38 PM

    I think that members of the broader ALA leadership do have concerns, and I do know for certain that ACRL leadership are concerned with voter apathy. I think there are different levels of concern and that we (leaders) focus, sometimes, on different elements.

    On the ACRL leadership email list it was suggested that the comments regarding lack of candidate information are probably really only applicable to candidates for ALA Councillor, as other candidates provided ample information. My belief is that it isn't a lack of verbiage, but a lack of genuine content, as was also mentioned in Oleg's analysis.

    As my ACRL-related work has been primarily concerned with membership recruitment and retention (particularly for newer/"nexgen" librarians) I think about it in terms of where we're probably ideologically leaving some people cold. There is some inherent contradiction to the idea that we live in an era where "Google vetting" is a normalized part of the person-selection process for nearly any kind of role - and yet respondents to Oleg's survey indicated they do not have time to go wade through a Google vetting process for each candidate and feel some ambivalence about the quality of information provided by the candidates.

    To this end I think it's useful not only to consider the negative impact of voter apathy, but also what are the current mental models regarding candidacy and elected office within the association(s)? I suppose in fairness I should probably also reflect on what my mental model for a "member" is, particularly in light of thoughts such as: "Apathetic members don't participate and create meaningful change. Will apathetic members stop paying dues?" 

    Thanks for posing these questions, Erica. I am interested to see how folks respond.

  • 3.  RE: What can we do about low voter turnout in ALA elections?

    Posted May 26, 2011 09:42 AM

    I read the survey result analysys with great interest. It seems to me that the ALA election works as an occasion that puts a distance between me and ALA rather than narrowing that distance... The election format, the too large number of positions and candidates for election, the too much and too little CV info of too many foriegn names, etc. all work towards this negative impression. I think sometimes less is better than more. I can't find a focus in the ALA election and guess something similar contributes to the apathy to the ALA election as well. Just my 2 cents...



  • 4.  RE: What can we do about low voter turnout in ALA elections?

    Posted May 26, 2011 11:01 AM

    I am president of a genealogical society.  When we have our yearly elections we are lucky to get back a dozen ballots.  It's not just ALA - it's everywhere.  I think it's the general consensus of members in organizations is that their vote won't make a difference. 

    One of the drawbacks I see in the ALA elections is not just that I don't know who the people are on the ballot, but that there are so many candidates and I have to read each bio to make an informed vote.  So I usually ignore the first email about the election and the first reminder.  I grudgingly tackle the ballot when I get the second reminder. 

  • 5.  RE: What can we do about low voter turnout in ALA elections?

    Posted May 26, 2011 02:56 PM

    I voted, but I must say that wading through all those councilor candidate biographies has always felt like a big task to me, even when they were on paper.  I support making council smaller.  Short of that, ALA could put more emphasis on the fact that there are separate ballots for divisions and you don't have to vote for 33 councilors.  You just can't vote for more than that.  Perhaps the emails could point that out.

    Oleg Kagan's survey and analysis are very interesting (thank you Oleg).  I support Oleg's recommendations.  A pdf file I could print and read somewhere other than my computer screen would be helpful.  A spreadsheet (especially one I could print and still make sense of) like Kim Leeder's (thank you Kim) would also help.  I can see myself sorting it by state or library type or division.  It never occurred to me that there might be an easier way of getting through all those biographies!

    An idea for campaigning could be candidate web pages so people don't have to Google everyone.  Candidates could supply ALA with a link to their campaign websites if they have a server to build one on.  ALA could supply server space and a template for candidates without access to their own servers. There is software available that makes it easy to create a web page (like this reply box) with a template. People who know how to build websites should be able to go outside the template and the template could contain the basic information we have now -- only input by the candidates themselves.  Access to clip art and ways to change fonts and colors would be nice. There could also be a place for the candidate to put links to websites of interest to them or showing ther work. Candidates could add anything relevant that would help voters decide.</dream>

    I hope more people will vote.

    Darmae Brown

  • 6.  RE: What can we do about low voter turnout in ALA elections?

    Posted May 26, 2011 05:19 PM

    To get people to participate in voting, I would use incentives such as a chance to win an IPad, or Kindle.  

  • 7.  RE: What can we do about low voter turnout in ALA elections?

    Posted May 26, 2011 07:28 PM

    I would be interested to find out if the people who did not vote are also not members of roundtables or committees. I know that I tend to vote for people I have met from being involved in my division (ALSC).  I find it helpful when ALSC sends emails to division members encouraging us to vote for candidates involved in youth services. Do other divisions or roundatbles do this?

  • 8.  RE: What can we do about low voter turnout in ALA elections?

    Posted May 26, 2011 07:39 PM

    Apart from the many other things I've said regarding the voter turnout in my survey analysis, the thing I haven't put too much emphasis on but that I view as quite important is the lack of conflict among the candidates.

    By conflict I don't mean smearing each other or anything like that. I do mean actually striving to point out the differences between you, Candidate A, and your opponent, Candidate B. This lack of conflict starts at the top in the presidential race -- where in the debate, their statements, or any other place did the candidates even mention each other? Nowhere. As if the other person didn't exist. I find this curious.

    The time leading up to an election is a time for narrative and what we're seeing here are not stories, but description. Description is good, but too much is boring; everyone starts to look like everyone else. Any personal style recedes into the background. Bottom line: Candidates need to get voters emotionally involved if they want people to care - introducing conflict into their promotional strategies is a way to do that.  

  • 9.  RE: What can we do about low voter turnout in ALA elections?

    Posted May 27, 2011 09:20 AM

    I think the dissonance you mention, Oleg, is the tradition of many years that candidates generally don't "run" for the office to which they are nominated, they merely "stand" for election.

    The last ~10 years (read: since I've been observing close-ish) only 1 or 2 candidates truly "ran" for ALA President.
    (one happened to be a "3rd party" (aka: a petition) candidate - he wasn't nominated, he just met teh requirements to petition for a place on the ballot)

    While I've self-nominated to be considered for nomination by the Nominating Committee, I'm also working on organizing a team to support my candidacy (whether I'm nominated or run as a petition candiate). There are things (many of which are being discussed/mentioned all over the ALA-osphere) which need to improve/update in ALA methods and processes, I hope to highlight these and bring them to fruition.

  • 10.  RE: What can we do about low voter turnout in ALA elections?

    Posted May 30, 2011 09:37 AM

    I have heard that ALA members are actually amongst the better organization voters, but yes I wish we were even better.

    I think it is mostly a matter of values.  People who believe that voting is important will make the time.  Another group will get energized by a conflict and vote occasionally.  And another segment is going to assume the herd is headed in the right direction, so why bother. 

    I don't vote for more than about a dozen councilors, but I read every bio.  I always try to vote for at least one candidate I've never heard of who says something interesting.  Other than that, I look at what the person has worked on in the association.  I specifically look for evidence that they care about intellectual freedom enough to do something, not just mouth platitudes. 

    And, if a person wants to be elected, the most effective thing to do is write.  Submit an article or have a quotable blog, but gain name recognition by writing.  (I believe every person who has followed my advice on this has gotten elected.)