I got back from #ALA11 tonight. I had a good five days — a great preconference, two successful talks, and wonderful conversations with friends, colleagues, and vendors. And a whole lot of amazing food. But I’m left with a bad taste in my mouth, largely because I cannot make sense out of the ALA.
No one has ever been able to convince me that I should contribute my time and energy to the work of the ALA. Several very good friends are giving their all to build on the ALA’s successes and do good things for the profession, but they can’t seem to sell me on joining up and jumping in.
I try to figure out how committee work could be satisfying. People I respect tell me it’s worth it, that I should use my voice to make the organization better. I’m an idealist, so I listen. And I got an email that said that the volunteer form was on the website. Awesome. I clicked through. And was paralyzed by the nine zillion arcane options, none of which tells what the committee is, does, or who’s on it. And it has a four-page help document that doesn’t really help much. And I guess you can only volunteer once a year? So I promptly gave up. I don’t have time to waste on figuring out a path in and through, not when I have other places that could use my skills and not treat me like a valueless number.
But I’m a good speaker, so if committee work isn’t going to be my thing, I can try to present. Colleen and Mary and I propose a preconference for ACRL, and it’s rejected, but we try again. Leadership in LLAMA says, “Oh, that’s right in our wheelhouse. We want you to do that.” So we gave them an application for ALA. They accepted it. And it turned up on the ALA conference registration form before anyone notified us that it had been accepted. So we initiate communication. They say, “Oh, yes, right, you’re accepted, but we need to talk to you first.” Mary went to Midwinter to have a meeting. They told her we were only provisionally approved for the precon, because we failed to get a committee to sponsor us. Even though they solicited the precon from us, and people were already paying for it. So, at their request, we went to LLAMA-SASS, and they not-at-all-graciously agreed to sponsor the preconference “in name only.” And then we were told we had to find vendor support if we wanted any supplies like markers or paper, and if we wanted anything more than coffee on the coffee breaks. We tried, but decided in the end that it wasn’t worth the effort. As it turned out, the preconference sold out. We showed up early to prepare for the day, and discovered that there mysteriously were muffins and coffee and cookies and soda, despite what we were told, but that our supplies — which we double-checked and confirmed — were not available, nor was anyone in attendance from LLAMA (as promised and expected) to greet and check in our participants or to introduce the day, speak about LLAMA, or introduce us as speakers.
Regardless of the complications, we did our thing (nicely summarized by Colleen in this post; a post with my own slides and commentary to follow), and at the end, out of 20+ positive evaluations from the 50 participants, there was one negative one. The one negative response was based on my approach of blunt honesty and use of the phrases “basically, don’t be an asshole” and “know which things you suck at” and thus my “unprofessional” behavior. It also seems to have been written by someone on the LLAMA planning committee. As a result, it appears that I have been blacklisted for presenting for LLAMA, despite my generally solid reputation, my accomplishments, and the positive evaluations from most of the attendees.
That’s the state of leadership in the management arm of ALA.
Someone tell me: Given the explicit attitudes of the powers that be within the organization in question, the heavy responsibilities of work for my home institution, and the many other organizations that I could contribute to, why should I give my time and energy to the American Library Association?