Governance Transformation Picks Up Steam | ALA Annual 2022

At the American Library Association’s Annual conference in Washington, DC, the organization’s governing Council took the next big step in its slow progress toward transforming its own structure, in theory to something which is nimbler and more cost effective yet preserves many opportunities for participation and representation of all aspects of the field.

ALA logoAt the American Library Association’s (ALA) Annual conference in Washington, DC, the organization’s governing Council took the next big step in its slow progress toward transforming its own structure, in theory to something which is nimbler and more cost effective yet preserves many opportunities for participation and representation of all aspects of the field.

The process began years ago as the work of the Steering Committee for Organizational Effectiveness was taken over by the Forward Together working group, and most recently the Transforming ALA Governance (TAG) task force, whose recommendations were finally voted on after a vote was postponed at LibLearnX and again at an added Council meeting between the conferences.

Crucially, an amendment to the TAG recommendations passed by a narrow vote of 76 to 64, with four abstentions. This amendment means that Council will retain its authority as a policy-making body, rather than handing that power off to a reconstituted Executive Board and taking on an advisory role.

With the addition of a representative of the Rainbow Roundtable to the proposed new Executive Board structure (passed 110 yes to 9 no, with 9 abstentions), the rest of the TAG recommendations were passed by a vote of 102 yes to 22 no with 7 abstentions. That passage doesn’t make them final, however—rather, the work moves to the Constitution and Bylaws Committee to draft new rules as guided by Council’s recommendations. Because one of those recommendations is to combine the separate and duplicative Constitution and Bylaws into a single document, Council took the first of two votes to rescind the constitution, which passed with 144 yes votes to 3 no, with one abstention. A second such vote must pass in two months or later, followed by a vote of the membership. By a vote of 148 yes to 2 no with no abstentions, Council directed the committee to produce a draft of the consolidated document by October, to enable a full-day Constitutional Convention and vote at LibLearnX in New Orleans in January 2023.

Continuing its work to streamline governance, Council also voted to disband Council Forum, an informal gathering prior to Council meetings, by another narrow margin, 71 yes to 69 no with 7 abstentions. These close votes are highly unusual for Council, which generally sees majorities of over 80 if not 90 percent.

Financially, the organization also reported good process, with no furloughs planned for this year and a staff salary increase, albeit one of only 2 percent in a time of inflation. Outgoing ALA treasurer Maggie Farrell reported considerable improvement in ALA’s finances since 2020, though she cautioned that there is still more work to be done.

Not surprisingly in this climate of unprecedented book, display, and program challenges, many of the reports to council involved intellectual freedom. In addition to the ongoing support of challenged libraries and library workers from the Office for Intellectual Freedom and the Merritt Fund, new initiatives range from a new community of practice launched to connect library workers and vendors; to a forthcoming toolkit in the works from the Challenges to Critical Race Theory and Diversity Training subgroup, expected later this summer; to a series of feedback sessions on alternatives to neutrality (radical empathy, trauma informed responses, and cultural humility), which will culminate in a final report to the executive board in July. ALA has launched a consumer-facing site, United Against Book Bans, to get patrons involved to defend the right to read. A free online symposium from the Freedom to Read Foundation on July 12–13 will address the intersection of intellectual freedom and social justice.

A proposed revision of the core competencies for librarians was referred back to the committee to more explicitly include school librarians who do not have degrees from ALA accredited schools. The Core Values task force recommends that the values be revised, but wants to recruit more representative members and take another year to work on them, a proposal which was approved unanimously. A resolution in support of immigrant rights also passed nearly unanimously—with 140 yes votes to 2 no's and two abstentions—after the addition of amendments to explicitly mention youth and to tweak the wording to make it more workable for advocacy staff. A resolution decrying the destruction of libraries and other cultural institutions in Ukraine also passed handily.

However, a resolution defending the right to boycott was defeated, as was probably the most emotionally debated measure of the conference—a resolution calling on ALA to stop holding conferences in places that do not support bodily autonomy by virtue of having banned abortion. The movers and supporters emphasized the risk to the safety of pregnant attendees, or those who could become pregnant, who might be denied needed care while at the conference, and connected it to the threats to safety posed by incidents like bathroom bills and the Pulse shooting. However, emotional appeals from multiple librarians in trigger ban states pointed out that they are already bearing the brunt of many politically charged attacks, including those on books by and about LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC people, and will also be trying to help provide accurate and useful information on abortion despite the new obstacles. They implored the rest of the field to support them and not abandon them. Ultimately the resolution was defeated, 97 no votes to 31 yes, with 8 abstentions.

Overall, ALA Council was notable at Annual 2022 for grappling with the same issues being faced throughout the conference—and throughout the country.

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Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz ( is Editor-in-Chief of Library Journal.

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