John Berry had an editorial in a December issue of Library Journal about promoting more democratic governance of the ALA. Berry criticizes the ALA for being unresponsive to members and for not making more of an effort to get members involved in the voting of the organization. "I've been a member of many divisions for decades," he says, "and have rarely been asked to get involved or do anything other than pay to attend conferences and other events and vote for preselected slates for offices."
It's worth a read. I don't normally read LJ, though, and I found this through SHUSH. See SHUSH's response here and more from Berry here.
SHUSH finds it hard to take Berry's criticisms seriously considering his progressivistical politics and his close association with Cranky Marxist Dude. I can understand those reservations. I'm not going to express an opinion on the messenger, and I'm pretty sure I'd disagree with him on desirable ends for the ALA and the profession in general, but I have to admit I agree with the message and the means. The ALA and its divisions are generally unresponsive to member concerns, and are run, as Berry notes, "by well-heeled administrators, elites whose participation is subsidized by their institutions."
To a small extent, I myself am one of those well-heeled administrators whose participation in ALA is completely subsidized by my institution, which, as Berry notes, sends only a select portion of the staff to the conferences. I go to the conferences because it's expected of me. I do a bit of work because I need to do something to justify my presence there. I've been dragged into positions of leadership despite myself, and do absolutely nothing that makes any difference to anyone. I might as well be on the ALA Council. If I had any passion for the work, I could be just as irritating as all those progressivistical librarians who work so hard to bring on the revolution one library card at a time. Pity the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.
From the outside the ALA and its divisions can sometimes seem like a monolithic, deadening bureaucracy with no interest in its members. There's a reason for that. But even given this image of ALA, a lot of people still go to the conferences. And it's obvious that even most members who do make it to the conferences don't care what goes on at the level of ALA governance, which is why the membership meetings are so small.
The question is, even if participation were made easier, which I agree is a good thing, would that make people any more concerned with the fate of the organization? I've read some of the comments on the ALA Council listserv about the editorial, and I've read statements from some of the Councilors elsewhere. Some of them seem to think that the Council is the only thing that matters about ALA. In the words of one Council member, "Remember, Council is ALA." Some of these people are just obsessed with their self-perceived importance and with the importance of the organization in general. I suppose they must think it's strange that nobody listens to them or shows up at their meetings.
I think I can honestly say that if the ALA disappeared tomorrow, my job would barely be affected. I think the better work of the divisions, where I get what little benefit there is to be had from ALA, would go on somehow. Oh, and I'd miss having a chance to go drinking and dining with my friends twice a year on the library's dime. And it's just possible that a lot of other librarians feel the same way, that ALA governance and the ALA Council just aren't very interesting or important. The members of the Council might take themselves very seriously, but for me they exist to provide blog fodder. Easing member participation might make no changes whatsoever, because people just might not care. I certainly don't.