ALIA Votes 2013

3 March 2013

ALIA board elections are upon us for 2013. This year I decided to write to all nominees and ask three questions, noting that their answers would be published here. This was prompted by Alyson Dalby's invitation on Twitter:

I'm running for ALIA's Board of Directors! Don't be shy - send me questions etc. very eager to hear your views! — Alyson Dalby (@alysondalby) January 24, 2013

I replied to Alyson, but figured I really should ask the other nominees the same question, so I sent all nominees for board Director and Vice President positions the following email on 5 February using the addresses listed on the ALIA site:

Congratulations on standing for an ALIA Board position this year. The decision to stand for such a position is one I am sure you have not taken lightly, and shows great commitment to ALIA and the Library and Information profession. I'm particularly pleased that the Director vote will be contested this year - this is a sign of a healthy organisation.
In order to better inform my decision when it comes time to vote, I am asking all candidates three questions:

  1. What is your position on Open Access for ALIA Professional journals?
  2. What is your plan to make ALIA something Librarians want to join, not just something they feel they should?
  3. How do you think ALIA can have a bigger voice in (inter)national conversations about information and technology?

I'd very much appreciate reading your answers to these three questions. I should also note I intend to publish the questions and your answers on my blog.

I received responses from only three nominees, as noted below. I find this pretty disappointing, but you can draw your own conclusions. If I receive any more I will update this post accordingly.

Dr Jillian Abell (Director)

UPDATE 5 MARCH - response received by email:

1) What is your position on Open Access for ALIA Professional journals?
In terms of discovery, open access is vital as an information policy.  Hugh Rundle's blogging and Information Online commentary are very important and interdisciplinary statements for the debate.
2) What is your plan to make ALIA something Librarians want to join, not just something they feel they should? 
This is such an interesting question for me, given almost continuous personal membership [and reading of Incite news and journals] for 38 years.  Driven by a purpose together, the increasing relevance of personal professional association memberships for coaching leaders and workplace well-being must be recognised and facilitated by employers as both an entitlement and obligation.
3) How do you think ALIA can have a bigger voice in (inter)national conversations about information and technology? 
ALIA has an important voice nationally, and needs all sectors networking to project its informed position on areas such as a national digital strategy or the NBN or cybersafety in life online. It is a global world and ALIA is enterprising and influential with global partners, as the evidence in Information Online conference outcomes. Again, it is the cross-sectoral collaborations identifying the opportunities and innovative areas for information and IT convergence.
Joseph Cullen (Director)

No response received

Alyson Dalby (Director)

Alyson had a slight advantage on the rest of the board nominees, in that it was her invitation to ask questions on Twitter that prompted me to contact all nominees, and she had about a week longer to answer them.

Alyson responded to my three questions by way of three separate blog posts:

1) What is your position on Open Access for ALIA Professional journals?

Open Access and ALIA

2) What is your plan to make ALIA something Librarians want to join, not just something they feel they should?

Join us, join us

3) How do you think ALIA can have a bigger voice in (inter)national conversations about information and technology?

ALIA's volume control

Damian Lodge (Director)

UPDATE: Response received 11 March

1) What is your position on Open Access for ALIA Professional journals?

This is a very difficult question first up. I have spent a few years on the publications committee of ALIA and the last 8 years I have managed two publishing companies. The Open access discussion is complex and has a huge range of factors to consider. The journals themselves make very little for the Association but have a number of costs involved. These journals are where our profession publishes leading research and leading current best practice and ALIA has continued to run the journals as a service to the profession. Over the years many discussions have been held on how to improve the revenue streams of the journals. It’s a tough market, really tough. Is selling more advertising space to bring in more revenue the way to go? Id be happy to hear from members on what they think is the right way to go. At the moment I dont think that ALIA can afford to keep losing money on its publications.

2) What is your plan to make ALIA something Librarians want to join, not just something they feel they should?

You must receive something for your membership fees. In the past people have said about ALIA - it’s not what ALIA can do for you but what you can do for ALIA. That’s ok to a point but I pay my fees I want something in return for those fees. ALIA must be able to show value back to its members for the money the members pay. The Board must be able to show value for the fees members pay.

3) How do you think ALIA can have a bigger voice in (inter)national conversations about information and technology

Here in Australia we have too many little library associations that would be far better served by coming under the ALIA banner and utilising the administration team that ALIA head office have.  This also relates back to question 2.  We wouldn’t have all these little library associations if ALIA was 1. better able to show value for money for the price of the current membership and 2 had better structures in place for the smaller associations to come on board.

The ALIA ED and Board already work closely with the other key non library associations to provide a clear voice on important issues.

Janice Nitschke (Director)

No response received

Judy O'Connell (Director)

Judy responded by email, without directly addressing my three questions:

Nice to hear from you, particularly as you are thinking about important and highly relevant topics!

Without replying directly to your three questions, I can assure you that the new directions that have been established for ALIA this year, which are being shared at various meetings by Sue McKerracher easily capture exciting new directions for promoting key issues in Australia related to the library and information professions, and the ongoing advocacy needs of ALIA. Open access is just one of the many important issues that I cannot help but be involved with as part of my professional role at Charles Sturt University, where I am most definitely engaging with all the newest and most important issues that impact our professions. My passion and engagement with ideas and future needs has  always been open and freely shared via my blog Heyjude, which I have been writing since 2006 and via all my social media sites, where I engage and share openly and freely with all in the library, information and education environments.

UPDATE 4 MARCH - Judy has expanded her response by way of a blog post.

Susan Coker (Vice President)

1) What is your position on Open Access for ALIA Professional journals?

This is a curly one, and quite frankly, not a matter to which  I had given much thought, prior to now. The decision by ALIA to move the ALIA journals to be published by Taylor & Francis from the beginning of this year was a sound one, based on financial reasons.  ALIA is not a publisher, and the cost of the journals, ALJ and AARL, greatly exceeded the income received.  The Board has a responsibility to run ALIA in a financially sound manner, and if elected, would be something I would be focussed on. Open Access is a laudable aim, but someone has to pay – the author, the user, or the publisher.  If it’s the publisher then that is ALIA, and all its members,  and would likely result in increased fees, which might bring us back to the question above. The decision by the ALIA Board to outsource the publishing to Taylor & Francis, while still retaining ownership, seems a reasonable compromise, for the next three years.  The ALIA website has a fact sheet about the decision which compares the two models with the current situation.

I have been increasing my understanding of the Open Access issues, and attended a couple of presentations at Information Online on this topic. The presentation by  Paula Callan, Danny Kingsley and Lisa Kruesi was excellent.  “Murky”, would be how I would describe the situation, both in Australia and overseas.  It will be interesting to see how this discussion proceeds, informed by the work of  CRAC, the Caul Research Advisory Committee. This matter will no doubt continue to be debated, and if elected, I will be taking a keen interest in the discussions moving forward.

2) What is your plan to make ALIA something Librarians want to join, not just something they feel they should?

The short answer to this question is that I don’t have a plan at this point.  Having said that, membership attraction and retention is critical to our Association.  My approach would be to try to  understand the current membership situation.  I attended Information Online last month, and conducted a straw poll of membership, as I had your question to hand.  I did this during casual conversations with people I hadn’t met before.  Of the people I asked, no-one was an individual member, all were attending the conference from institutional memberships.  I found this interesting.  The general comment was along the lines of “everything I need from ALIA I can get from the institutional membership” – news and information, discounts for conferences, journal access.  Before coming up with a plan, I would want to understand the current breakdown of the membership – institutional vs personal, membership via sector, and demographic detail.  Using this evidence, It would be possible to develop specific plans to address identified gaps.

To attract more members to our Association, we need to be able to answer the question, “What’s in it for me”.  Members want different things from the Association, at different points through their careers, and the Association will need to be able to provide an answer to that question for each and every member, and ideally, non-member.   In Townsville, the public library service enjoys strong membership levels in the community of about 50%.  However, later in the year we will be putting into place a non-user survey to find the answer to the question “What would your libraries have to do/provide to get you to join?So,  ”  What would ALIA need to do/provide to get more people to join”.

As well as attracting new members, retention rates are critical. I would be interested in finding out why  individuals and institutions cancel or fail to renew their memberships.  I would like to see the Association follow up with those who leave to find out why, and what ALIA could do to get them back.

A few random, and untested thoughts and questions:

  • Students.  Can we work more with students, and their institutions, to encourage membership?

  • Regional and rural members.  One of the additional benefits to city members is access to special groups which are not  generally available to librarians in Innisfail, for example. There is just not a critical mass of library staff.  Let’s start to take advantage of technology which would allow members from regional and rural areas to be able to access programs and activities offered by ALIA groups in major cities.

  • Library staff with non-traditional qualifications.  What would attract someone who worked in a library, with a marketing qualification, to become a member of ALIA?  What could ALIA offer over, say, the Public Relations Institute of Australia?

  • What are the barriers to membership?  Is cost an issue?  Who are our competitors?

Your question links in  nicely with the 2013 year of ALIA renewal and I look forward, if elected, on working with the Board to focus on our membership.

3) How do you think ALIA can have a bigger voice in (inter)national conversations about information and technology?

In answering this question, my focus will be on how ALIA can have “more influence”.  I read your recent blog post about the announcement by the Prime Minister of a new program “reading blitz” and your comments that there was a failure when libraries were not mentioned as being part of this ‘reading blitz’.  While trying to steer clear of politics, we are in an election campaign, and photos of ministers and children will be all over the news.  The issue at hand is about children’s literacy outcomes, the issue is not  that libraries didn’t get a mention. Worse than not being mentioned in the launch, would be for the program to succeed without input from libraries.   It’s up to libraries, and ALIA, to get on board and use this campaign to raise the profile of libraries in their local communities which is where their influence matters in improving literacy outcomes for primary school children.

I concede that ALIA is not widely known outside library circles, and we can, and should, do more to have influence in those (inter)national conversations.  I would contend that there is a wider pool of conversations which would include social inclusion and active citizenship.

Libraries are not the only institutions and citizens concerned with access to information, social inclusion, and the impact of technologies in our lives.  We can increase our influence by finding and working with those others, both (inter)nationally and locally.

Michael Robinson (Vice President)

UPDATE: Response receive 11 March

1) What is your position on Open Access for ALIA Professional journals?

As you will know, ALIA has taken the decision to assign the publishing of the Australian Library Journal and Australian Academic and Research Libraries to Taylor and Francis from 2013. While not being fully aware of the background discussions to this decision, I am confident that one of the key issues considered was the cost of publishing in-house vis a vis publishing via Taylor and Francis, and the corresponding improvement in visibility and exposure of ALIA content that partnership with an international publisher can offer. It also means that ALIA can focus on more frequent and pertinent communications on current activities and issues through its dissemination of a weekly newsletter. Open access is an awkward issue for many professional associations in our industry, as the impulse to advocate in favour of open access in its various forms at policy level may not sit comfortably with the practical need to retain content published by the association, as a key part of the value proposition it puts to existing and prospective members. In the ALIA decision what we are seeing is a re-evaluation of the importance of in-house publishing to the mix of member-only benefits, combined it would appear with a concerted effort to reduce cost while not losing the publishing opportunities that both journals offer librarians and researchers in our field. If this is correct, one would hope that it also allows for and promotes opportunities for ALJ and AARL authors to pre-publish their papers through institutional or open repositories.

2) What is your plan to make ALIA something Librarians want to join, not just something they feel they should?

Having been at one time or other the President of VALA, the President of the Hong Kong Library Association, and also a member of the IFLA Regional Standing Committee for Asia-Oceania, my experience has been that attracting new members and retaining the existing ones is a problem common to all library associations, and I suspect to most types of professional association in general. Having said that, I believe that the prospects of librarians wanting (rather than having) to join ALIA are enhanced through tangible and realizable membership benefits, and through providing opportunities for the membership to have active involvements with the Association at a local, regional or sectoral level. For example, an initiative we developed in the HKLA was to work directly with the various institutions offering LIS programmes in Hong Kong to provide automatic membership for all students in the field, and we followed that with various programmes targeted specifically at this group to make them feel fully engaged with their professional association. While I am sure a lot of work has been done on this in the past, we need to look at the ALIA membership in more detail on a sector by sector basis to disentangle what appeals to different types of librarians, but also what appeals to existing and prospective members in different parts of the country, particularly outside of the capital cities where most ALIA activities occur. I think we also need to look at barriers to membership and active engagement, which may be as straightforward (but not simple!) as looking at the fee structure and asking ourselves whether it represents value for money for librarians in different sectors and different levels of the profession. I can’t profess to have the magic answers to this, but another approach I would be interested in pursuing is to look at how other professional associations have addressed the issue of membership value, and take good practice from this. In answering this question at the present time, I do feel very much on the outside looking in, and one aspect of the ALIA election process which I think is particularly valuable is that the elected Vice-President is also the President-elect, as this gives the incumbent the opportunity of a year working within the Association to gain a closer understanding of real needs and issues, and to test ideas more rigorously.

3) How do you think ALIA can have a bigger voice in (inter)national conversations about information and technology?

I think part of the response to this question sits within the context of the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper and the increasing role that Australia seeks in the region. I believe that there are opportunities for ALIA to take a greater leadership role in Asia and the Pacific, particularly through the leveraging of our sophisticated library and information infrastructure and professional expertise to enable stronger relationships and collaboration with libraries and library associations in other parts of the region, and also to assist where appropriate in the development of libraries and in the promotion of policy debate and advocacy on information issues. Both within Australia and internationally, I also believe that ALIA’s advocacy “voice” would be strengthened through more active partnerships with other library and information associations such as IFLA, and with other professional “non-library” bodies.

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