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Council Membership and Overcoming Institutional Inertia 

Feb 22, 2013 01:44 PM

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The ALA Council list has been burning up with commentary and suggestions and ideas about Council effectiveness and structure for the last few weeks. 

See: to browse the discussions


Here is a summation - in bullet points - of the main discussion points:

  • Council is too big to be effective
    • Gradually shrink Council to ~33 At Large seats (or at least not more than any other group such as chapters or divisions).
    • Do away with at-large seats
    • Do away with chapter councilors
    • Do away with division councilors
    • ALA Council has 50% more at-large councilors than chapter/division councilors combined. This essentially creates an unbreakable voting bloc in the Council. That is neither fair nor democratic, is poor practice and lacks accountability. No other association of ALA's size comes even close to having 100 at-large reps. And none has 50% more at-large reps than all other chapter/region/division reps combined. In this regard, ALA Council is far out of alignment with best practices of other associations.
  • Council is just right
    • Was expanded to "current" number in 1995 to increase diversity of voices/opinions
    • We are as big as Congress, no problem
    • "I like my seat, it was easy to get, and I don't want to lose it or have to work too hard to keep it. It looks good on my resume. I like having power, and I don't even want to think about sharing it more equitably. When someone questions this arrangement that empowers me so, I counterattack and take offense because that is easier than accepting that the situation is unfair in my favor."
    • The previous comment is incredibly insulting, It was not easy to get elected to council, in fact I didn't think I would be. But I worked really hard on my bio, and spent a lot of time encouraging people to vote. I have also worked very hard in other areas of the profession, to the point where I probably spend another whole work week above and beyond my "day job" working to support libraries. I think other people have had the same experience. People are allowed to have different points of view without being aggressively insulted, and this type of language is exactly the problem that has been mentioned to me most by non councilors. -LC <edited for grammar and spelling>
    • ^ Nothing personal, LC. Apologies for any offense taken. Comment two bullets up was compiled and paraphrased from several actual responses from among 200+ received during the discussion. It doesn't necessarily apply to everyone. But it does apply to the people who offered those comments, which are relevant to this category.
    • I don't recall anyone using those exact words, or that tone. I've been disapointed in the tone this discussion has taken from the beginning. It's not what I was expecting from my first year on Council, and it's been fairly deflating. -LC    [LC, believe me, no one was more deflated than I to find that these kinds of opinions are actually held by sitting Councilors. All the more reason for having a frank and courageous conversation about this issue. I encourage you to really talk to councilors and listen to some of the things being said for confirmation. Thanks.--SR]
  • Council is missing representation from distinct, identifiable groups
    • Chapters vs. Affiliates
    • Round Tables vs. Divisions
    • At-large vs. Smaller, better defined subsets of ALA
    • others?
  • Counicl needs to be "right-sized"
    • Several suggestions for alternate configurations
    • Phase in simple, modest reforms that can take effect over time without anyone losing their duly elected seat. Every councilor who has a seat now, will keep it through the rest of their term. That's only fair. Then at a future election, the number of open seats would simply be adjusted. Nothing drastic. Councilors who want to run again, would have a fair shot at those seats. Over the course of two, maybe three election cycles, we complete the phasing in, so that the total number of at-large Councilors is balanced and consistent with the number of chapter and division reps. It's simple, and it's the right thing to do.
  • Future Perferct Task Force Report
  • Other points
    • Contrary to what some councilors are suggesting, this isn’t about a power grab. It's about resolving one very specific, clearly observable, long-standing issue with Council, which is unequal representation. No other association of ALA's size even comes close to having this many at-large councilors -- and none but ALA has 50% more at-large councilors than all the chapter/division reps combined. No one group should outnumber all others combined. That is neither fair nor democratic. That is a big problem, because it reflects poorly on all of us.


If we can summarize the high points, first, we might be able to pull something informative together for discussion and then build on it through collaboration with COO and other relevant ALA units for use in a future resolution...

Feel free to add other ideas to this online document (please do not just delete previous content, use the strikethrough formatting to indicate what to remove)



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Mar 09, 2013 05:24 PM


Council is missing representation from distinct, identifiable groups


  • ·         Chapters vs. Affiliates


It’s really incorrect to use the term “chapters” to describe the geographic representation to Council.  “Chapter” implies an organization subordinate to the parent, whose membership and finances are controlled by the parent.  In addition, many school librarians have their own statewide organizations, and insofar as they may vote for an AASL Councilor, have no geographic representation in ALA. 


More important, state library associations elect Councilors who do not necessarily represent the ALA membership in their states. 


 “Affiliates” are another animal from state associations.  They are organizations representing a particular type of librarianship or ones who serve particular ethnic groups.  Examples include the Catholic Library Association, Theater Library Association, and REFORMA.   ALA has no control over their activities and finances.  [SK]


  • ·         Round Tables vs. Divisions


Round Tables and Divisions are represented by Councilors.  Divisions are generally made up of librarians serving a specific clientele (ACRL - academic and research libraries; PLA – public libraries; AASL – school libraries) or concentrate on a library service (ALCTS – selection, acquiring, cataloging, and processing library materials and resources; RUSA – reference librarians; YALSA – service to young adults). 


Round Tables are membership units whose members are concerned with overarching issues addressed by divisions.  Examples include SRRT (Social Responsibilities Round Table); GODORT (Government Documents Round Table); IFRT (Intellectual Freedom Round Table); IRRT (International Relations Round Table); NMRT (New Members Round Table); and RMRT (Retired Librarians Round Table).  It is entirely possible that some round tables may have more members than divisions. 


BTW, according to the ALA Membership Office, approximately 37 percent of members do not belong to a division.  [SK}


  • ·         At-large vs. Smaller, better defined subsets of ALA


If we are talking about equitable representation, we should bear in mind that divisions and round tables each elect one Councilor.  Should we consider proportional representation, i.e., divisions and round tables would elect several Councilors, depending on the size of the unit?  [SK]





Mar 09, 2013 12:28 PM

It seems to me that instead of the back and forth that we are having on the list serv perhaps what we need is to appoint a task force to look at our current governing structure and other organizations structures to evaluate if they are, in fact, more successful than ALA, and then have them make a recommendation that Council can vote on and pass to the membership if necessary.  I like to think that all of us really want what is best for ALA, and I do not see this issue getting resolved on the list serv or here on Connect, where tone and intent can often be misinterpreted and feathers can be easily ruffled.

Do I think Council is broken? No. Do I think Council is too big? No. Do I think there is room to reevaluate how we do things and look for better ways to do them? Always. And if reevaluating things leads to change, so be it. I am still a little green on Council proceedings and I do not know for sure what the next step is in this, but I hope when we're all together in Chicago we'll be able to move forward with something or at least be able to lay things to rest amicably.

Carla Land


Feb 22, 2013 02:30 PM

First off, I am happy to see a member of the ALA Council suing Council's ALA Connect space.  It, unlike the listserv, allows for threaded discussions and other capabilities, as Aaron has demonstrated, that the limited functionality of the discussion list cannot support.


The Committtee on organization charge states:

To advise and assist regarding structural and organizational concerns in ALA. To recommend to council the establishment or discontinuance of divisions, round tables, membership initiative groups, ALA committees, assemblies and joint committees, as the needs of the association may require. To define the functions of these units, subject to the approval of council. To recommend to council the establishment, including the name and size, of other standing committees to consider matters of the association that require continuity of attention by the members. To recommend to executive board the appropriate unit to appoint official representatives to outside organizations. To receive notification of the formation of interdivisional committees.  (Source:

One might discern a role for COO in relation to Council size and composition in the first sentence of that charge, but in in any of the rest of it. 

Council's role is defined in Article VI of the ALA constitution; see

Council's composition is defined in Article IV of the bylaws; see

The Constitution and Bylaws Committee would be a more appropriate place than COO for consideration of a revised structure of the Council; its charge states:

To consider amendments to the constitution and bylaws; to review and draft rules for the conduct of council and membership meetings; to review and draft rules for the preparation of resolutions, memorials, and tributes; and to make recommendations to the association in accordance with the provisions of articles xi and xii of the constitution. (Source:

I think that any initiative to review and/or revise Council size or composition is probably best initiated by Council itself.  If change is recommended, it appears that C&B would have a role once the change is formulated.

In the past when major structural change in ALA has been considered, a special task force has been appointed.  The Structure Revision Task Force circa 1995-97 (based on information in my resume--a source I turned to when I wasn't able to find anything on the ALA Web site except a dead link to an index to American Libraries for an unspecified time period and because I served on that TF) developed the recommendations that resulted in the addition of round table representation on Council and reduced terms from four years to three years.  As I recall the task force was a hybrid of individuals appointed by the president and several members elected by Council from among its membership.

Others with better historical and institutional knowledge than mine can undoubtedly identify other reviews of ALA structure, how Council was or was not included in the scope of those reviews, how the group responsible for conducting the reviews were formed, and what changes resulted from those reviews.

I have heard but have not tried to verify that at one time past ALA presidents served on Council for life.  I would be surprised if, as members of Council look at other organizations' structures, they find any that have that sort of provision in their bylaws or practices.  Nor do I recommend it for ALA.

Jim Rettig,

2013-14 Chair of COO



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