Canadian Library Association Votes to Dissolve

After months of discussion, voting among members, and the recommendations of its advisory council, the Canadian Library Association (CLA) voted to disband at a Special General Meeting held on January 27. The CLA—a nonprofit national association that has been the voice for Canada’s library community since its formation in 1946—will dissolve following its final annual conference in June 2016.
CLAAfter months of discussion, voting among members, and the recommendations of its advisory council, the Canadian Library Association (CLA) voted to disband at a Special General Meeting held on January 27. The CLA—a nonprofit national association that has been the voice for Canada’s library community since its formation in 1946—will dissolve following its final annual conference in June 2016. In its stead, a working group formed by CLA and 18 Canadian member associations and invited guests has approved a proposal for a Canadian Federation of Library Associations, which would bring together the provincial, territorial, and national library associations across the country under a new national Federation. “What happens in a Federation model like this, when it works well, is that the combined strength of these really diverse organizations results in the whole being greater than the sum of its parts," explained Sandra Singh, current CLA president and chief librarian at the Vancouver Public Library.


CLA is comprised of five constituent divisions: the Canadian Association of College and University Libraries, the Canadian Association of Public Libraries, the Canadian Association of Special Libraries and Information Services, the Canadian Library Trustees Association, and the Canadian School Library Association. It is governed by an elected executive council, which is in turn advised by more than 40 interest groups and advisory and standing committees. In addition to an annual early summer conference and trade show, CLA provides library school scholarships, grants for research and education in LIS fields, professional development programs, and awards for professional excellence, as well as three annual book awards: the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator’s Award, the Book of Year for Children Award, and the Young Adult Book Award. Among other significant achievements, CLA advocated for the creation of the National Library of Canada; acted as a joint publisher of the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules; and launched a national Information Rights Week in 1994 to focus on equitable access to information. However, CLA had been in financial difficulty for years, largely due to declining membership. The most recent treasurer’s report gave the 2015 year-end deficit as $250,869, noting that shortfalls have been covered for the past few years by funds drawn down from CLA investments. Terri Tomchyshyn, a former government librarian and member of the CLA board of directors who served as treasurer in 2007–08, told LJ, “As treasurer, you could see it coming, because we were dipping into our reserves, constantly having to cut.” Over the past five years the organization downsized from a staff of 30 to five or six people, which made it even more difficult, she noted, to run programs and create new revenue streams. The annual conference and trade show were the association’s biggest revenue generators; otherwise, Tomchyshyn said, “They were just stuck in the box.” Sharp attrition in membership was a problem as well. The organization was not engaging young professionals—in part because they were finding what they needed in regional associations. “When you've got a limited budget… many people are preferencing their local, regional associations,” said Singh. “It's regional networking—those are the people you work closest to, so the national can sometimes feel very remote and removed." At the same time, connecting without going through a membership organization at all had become exponentially easier in the digital age. Karen Hildebrandt, assistant director of library services at Concordia University of Edmonton, Alberta, and a former CLA executive council member, noted “What CLA was doing before, being that networking opportunity and bringing people together from across the country, I think changed a lot with the power of technology.”


The first conversations about taking CLA in a different direction were held at the 2014 annual conference in Victoria, BC. "We asked the membership to consider restructuring, and we proposed a couple of different structures," said Singh. In fall 2014 CLA hired a consultant to help examine various organizational structures and options. The executive council then published a concept paper initiating the idea of a Federation, and began a discussion with regional associations at a meeting in January 2015. "That meeting was very important to us,” Singh told LJ, “because if the associations were not interested in the idea of a Federation...we weren't going to go anywhere.” According to a statement from the Working Group, “Rather than continuing to try to tweak an increasingly weakening association structure, the library association representatives agreed to work together to contemplate a new way forward for the Canadian library community,” adding, “Doing nothing is not an option if we want to have a strong national voice for libraries.” Various proposals were brought forward at the June conference in Ottawa. The Federation proposal was discussed at a stakeholder meeting, at which it was determined that CLA should further refine the proposal. According to Singh, the meeting produced valuable feedback. Tomchyshyn, however, remembers it as a stalemate. “We were given the ‘what,’” she said, “but it did not seem that members could get a clear answer to ‘How are you going to make this work?’ or ‘Where is the money going to come from?’” Would membership dues for regional organizations rise? Were all regional boards of directors in agreement about the Federation’s structure? “There was a lot of frustration from members who were trying to get a strong picture of what [the Federation] was going to be,” reported Tomchyshyn. An initial proposal for the Federation was issued on October 8. Two surveys were sent out in October and November, asking individual members, institutions, and library associations for feedback on the idea. The Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) and the Ontario Library Association (OLA) conducted member surveys as well, responses to which were included in the findings. The majority of responses from all sectors were positive, followed by “very positive.” Similarly, most comments were favorable, although a number of questions were raised that included memberships, fee structures, and the roles of small or remote rural libraries. The council had questions of its own as well, particularly whether it should fold CLA into the new Federation or disband it completely. "After much discussion,” said Singh, “CLA executive council decided to propose formally ending CLA and transferring whatever we could to boost the formation of the new Federation.” The surveys were returned at the end of November, and a final 43-page draft of the Federation proposal was released December 18 which was approved at the Special General Meeting held in late January during the Ontario Library Association Conference.


The Finance Task Group presented a three-year revenue projection in the proposal, with sources including membership fees for regional associations, legacy programs, and CLA legacy income. Moving forward, CLA will need to take stock of all activities and responsibilities and decide which organizations they can be transitioned to, or whether they should simply wind up. The organization will also inventory its assets and liabilities, transferring whatever it can to the Federation. As of November 30, 2015 CLA investments totaled $522,815.00, but the organization is still burdened with four years remaining on a ten-year office lease signed in 2010. According to a report from CLA treasurer Michael Ridley from the Special Meeting in January, “Efforts to sublet or break the lease have so far been unsuccessful. Should CLA have to pay out all or even part of the outstanding lease, this will be a significant financial obligation.” The disbanding of CLA is “the first formal step to establish a new unified national library advocacy organization,” according to the press release announcing the decision, which went on to state, “The proposed Canadian Federation of Library Associations unifies the diverse library communities across Canada.” Reactions to CLA’s disbanding and the proposed Federation have ranged from optimism tinged with regret to outright disappointment and accusations of mismanagement. One aspect of the proposed Federation’s structure that has drawn flak is that it will no longer allow individual memberships. Librarians and library workers will need to be members of regional or provincial library associations, which will in turn be members of the Federation. (Many regional associations offer free membership for students in library programs, as well as sliding scale membership fees for people who aren’t working.) According to the proposal, the Federation board will be made up of seven members who are board members of provincial associations; one member who is on the board of a francophone library association; one representative each from CARL and the Canadian Urban Libraries Council, one member-at-large of Indigenous ancestry, and a limited number of additional members who may be appointed for one-year terms as allowed under the Canada Not-for-Profit Corporations Act. Said Singh, “The new federation will succeed because of the strength of the thousands of people—library workers across this country—that are members of associations that will become members." The Federation, she explained, will provide a range of opportunities for individuals to contribute to activities at the national level without paying an extra membership fee. In addition, she emphasized that the proposed organization is still in early stages. "It's possible that after a few years the Federation will revisit its governance and take a look to see what the next stage of its evolution will be."


What this will mean for advocacy on a smaller scale remains to be seen. While some regional associations, such as OLA, are successful and already operate somewhat like national organizations, the voices of many smaller groups with very different interests may not be as strong. "Each member association of this federation will have to decide for itself how to insure that its members have the opportunities that they're entitled to,” noted Singh. “I don't think it will provide the same opportunities for groups like library technicians and assistants, who normally don't have those opportunities to be involved in a bigger association,” said HIldebrandt. “Some of the support could be potentially left out unless the provincial [organizations] reach out.” “Maybe the organization would have died anyway,” Tomchyshyn told LJ. “But ALA is still thriving. SLA is still thriving. The provincial associations seem to be thriving. When we look back, it’s hard to know.” "CLA did many, many things right over the years,” said Singh, herself a member for 20 years. “It's an association that has done remarkable work, and the people that have…led CLA over the past years have done remarkable work. They've influenced national policy, they have initiated and led national programs. There are so many things that they've accomplished.” She added, “Sometimes organizations have a life cycle. Given the financial picture of CLA, we probably could have stretched it out maybe another year or two. But I think we needed something at this point that really provided an effective way forward for our national voice. And having CLA run deficit budgets until there's nothing left of it is not a service to this community."

Johnny Library

A loose federation of libraries can't provide the advocacy and support for Canadian librarians that they need. ALA has a similar governance structure to CLA's, it is also an association of smaller associations, and its membership is declining. CLA was the canary in the coal mine. How are we going to prevent a similar fate for ALA?

Posted : Mar 13, 2016 07:09

Jennifer L

We all hope ALA doesn't go the way of CLA, but many fear weak leadership and internal strife are doing damage to the association. Librarians have enough challenges without having to worry that our professional association is going the way of the dinosaur. A challenge to fellow ALA members: go to open meetings on ALA business at conference. We have the right to be there. Pay attention, and speak out when something doesn't seem right. Ask questions, and expect answers.

Posted : Mar 08, 2016 05:23


I was a member of CLA for 8 years. Now I am a member of ALA, and I'm repeatedly astonished by the number of Canadian librarians working, like me, in the US. There are very few opportunities for librarians in Canada, and though my US colleagues complain about the state of library employment here, with some justification, I can tell them its nowhere near as dismal as the state of the profession in Canada.

Posted : Feb 10, 2016 01:30




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