The annual election of ALIA Directors is once again upon us. For the third year I have asked nominees a series of questions, and present their answers here to assist ALIA members in deciding for whom to vote.
ALIA elects Directors to the Board on a rotational basis. The Board consists of five Directors serving two year terms, a Vice President (who is also President-elect), and a President (the previous year’s Vice President). This normally means that each year we elect a Vice President as well as either two or three Directors. This year, for the complex reasons I explained last year there was initially only a single Board vacancy, in addition to the usual Vice Presidential vacancy. After nominations had closed Anne Lahey resigned from the Board, creating a second vacancy.
Nominees this year are Patricia Genat for Vice-President (elected unopposed), as well as Fiona Emberton, Ghylene Palmer and Evelyn Woodberry for Director. You can find further information about the election process, and the official candidate statements, on ALIA’s Elections page. This year I have decided to list the responses together under each question, rather than repeating the questions under each candidate, as in previous years. The order in which the candidates’ responses appear was chosen randomly. I have kept the same order for each question to ensure clarity. All responses are as they were presented to me, except for some occasional and very minor formatting changes. As Patricia Genat was elected unopposed I did not ask her to respond to these questions. I would like to thank all three Director nominees for their time and thoughtful responses - this is the first year I have received responses from all candidates before the publishing date.
1. Why are you running for the Board? What are the top three things you want to achieve in your time as an ALIA Director?
I have been involved with the ALIAWest Committee for several years now and through this experience, I have had opportunities to learn more about the value of our Association and I have enjoyed the chance to contribute to it in ways that have been enriching to our WA members.
It has been rewarding to have input at a local level and this experience has inspired me to want to participate more at a national level and the most beneficial way for me to do this is to gain a seat on the Board. I wish to learn more about our Association and find ways to contribute to the direction of the professional body. Being part of the Board would allow me to influence ways to create opportunities for LIS workers to develop within this industry.
Top three things I would like to achieve in my time as ALIA Director should I be elected:
- Advocate for the profession and the sector - continue to advocate for the library and information sector outside of the “library world” and increase our visibility.
- Increase memberships through improving membership experience and retaining LIS workers in the Association and redevelop the cultural/workplace expectation to be a member of their professional association.
- Support our emerging leaders in the profession - give them direction and engage them.
Being a Director will provide an opportunity to contribute at a National level. I have worked with many different types of LIS both here and overseas (including Parliamentary, Academic and Public). I have worked in other sectors including commercial organisations.
I’m passionate about libraries and excited about their future. Australia often leads the LIS world and I am keen to ensure this continues. The world is changing rapidly and ALIA needs to respond positively at the same time we need to keep what’s working well.
Top 3 things;
- Strengthening the appeal of ALIA membership
- Help future-proof the profession and organisation
- Increase the level of professionalism in the LIS sector
It’s important as a Director to fully understand the role and to work within the remit of the Board. Some of the following scenarios may not be in the realm of the Director’s responsibilities and therefore I would work with the other Directors closely and also the ALIA team to ensure the best outcome and keep communications clear and open.
After many years working long hours in Libraries and universities I now have the time to give back to the profession and as a member of the Board I would hope to bring some of my knowledge and expertise to ALIA.
Top 3 things
- Make use of my government contacts while they are still relevant to assist ALIA to lobby regarding the value and contribution of libraries.
- Assist with positioning ALIA as the peak body for librarians and information professionals to be sustainable into the future.
- Contribute to the professional development of ALIA members in the areas of leadership and management.
2. According to the last publicly available data (the 2013 Annual Report), ALIA has a membership of around 16% of the potential ‘market’, including institutions. This is less than the rate of trade union membership across the Australian workforce during the same period. What does ALIA need to do to encourage more LIS workers to join?
ALIA could explore ways to lower costs and/or create more value for money. I believe in continuing professional development and training and and as a strong and desirable selection criterion for professional positions and for membership of the Association. ALIA need to demonstrate value to existing and potential members.
The benefits of joining the Association should be given more exposure especially marketing to non-members. Existing members, particularly those in senior positions, should be spruiking ALIA membership more and encouraging others to attend events, join ALIA, participate and be engaged in professional issues. At the recent ALIA Information Online conference, perhaps there could have been a half hour session on the benefits of joining ALIA just after the President's address - there was a huge opportunity that was missed.
The link below provides a list of benefits:
A couple of my personal favourite benefits include:
- ALIA Members can now download over 100 specialist LIS ebooks covering a wide range of relevant topics. Read them online or offline
- If you can’t be at your local group’s meetings and events, then join an elist and contribute to discussions. ALIA provides opportunities to interact with professional colleagues face to face or electronically so they can share knowledge and best practices and advance the profession.
- Ensure you remain current with ALIA’s free member access to over 130 online full text professional journals with ProQuest’s Library Science package.
With regard to unions, ALIA is not a registered organisation under state or federal labour laws, and as such cannot be compared to union peak body. It would be more appropriate to compare ALIA’s percentage of the “market” with other professional associations where membership is not compulsory to work in that field.
Such professional organisations would include ASA and RIMPA. According to ALIA Fact Sheet (located at https://www.alia.org.au/sites/default/files/documents/ALIA-Fact-Sheet September 2014.pdf accessed 5 March 2015), ALIA membership is now 5000. Another factor that could affect the percentage would be total employment in the library and information sector which appears to be either contracting or being renamed (eg data management, repository manager).
Firstly ALIA needs to fully understand the workforce; their environment and their motivations. Then we need to help people understand the real benefits of being a member. It may be that ALIA needs to change the offer to better suit contemporary life and its demands as well as responding to the new library realities.
Members need to feel that they are receiving value for their annual membership fee. One way ALIA can achieve this is by hightening its profile as a representative body for members with governments and employers. While this is not an easy task part of the role of the Board would be to identify who to target to have the most impact. If members can see the individual benefit of belonging to the organisation they are more likely to join.
3. The last three ALIA conference calls for papers (ALIA Biennial 2014, ALIA Online 2015 and New Graduates Symposium 7) have all had to extend their closing dates, presumably due to low numbers of abstract submissions. Is ALIA running too many conferences?
- ALIA conferences are important to members of the Association and the wider library and information profession. The presentation and papers of these conferences are of significant value to our members and to the profession, and the conference experience provides an invaluable opportunity to network. The NLS conferences in particular are cheap and effective and are an opportunity for us to get to know our graduates and to guide them towards their career goals so I would like to see this conference continue.
- At the same time, surveys need to be carried out to find out from members and the wider LIS community, if there are too many conferences, or that the themes or structures need to be more appropriate or more specialised. It could be that timing and/or location of the conferences are an issue. Should ALIA do more to encourage a culture of sharing and/or demonstrating through conferences and that we have something of value to share?
- It is acknowledged that in a time of tight budgets, institutions and individuals may find it difficult to find funding for conference attendance no matter how much value there is in this activity. I see a future in combined conferences such as ALIA/LIANZA Joint Conference in 2018. The cost-effectiveness of a combined ALIA National/ Information Online Conference as a biennial event could be investigated. Vendors may also be more willing to support a biennial conference.
As a committee member of Online 2015 I have seen the great feedback and did not see a low number of abstracts.
We owe it to the membership and wider sector to deliver the best possible learning and networking experiences in a variety of platforms. Conference formats need to evolve strategically in line with technological, educational and commercial changes at the same time maintaining the opportunity for social interaction.
I am not convinced these two issues are related. It is essential to make sure that a conference is targeted and relates to its stated purpose so that it differentiates itself from other conferences. The call for papers needs to be targeted and not depend just on individuals putting themselves forward as speakers. Approaching relevant speakers, canvassing members for speakers they have heard or know to be good speakers and making sure there is variety based on the full scope of the profession is part of the programme committees brief. That said conferences need to reflect the changing environment and part of the Board's brief should be to consider feedback from conferences and make informed decisions about their future structure and focus.
4. The last available data (the 2013 Annual Report) showed that ALIA’s finances are in poor shape, with rental income dropping and poor past investment choices leading to low returns. The December 2014 Board Meeting summary also states that the 2015 budget forecasts an operating deficit. What will you do as a Board member to ensure ALIA’s finances are improved?
Regarding the low rental income from ALIA House, it could be due to external factors such as more office space available in Canberra leading to lower rents. If elected to the Board, I would work with other board members to determine the best action in our members' best interests to address the operating deficit and investment choices.
Three ways of improving ALIA’s finances could include:
- Increasing membership, increase revenue - there may be ways to make contributions tax deductible?
- Managing ALIA more efficiently, cutting costs (reduce waste, do things smarter and cheaper)
- Getting financial advice on how to make better investment decisions.
Improving membership numbers would be the most effective way of improving ALIA’s finances.
As a Director there is a responsibility to assess the fiscal situation of the organisation. Strong finances are ensured by strong membership base and fiscal governance. Strengthening membership numbers, exploring new incomes streams and creating a more efficient ALIA are areas I am keen to contribute to.
As a new member of the Board I would expect that the Board will receive a full briefing on the organisation's financial situation and any plans in place to address issues identified as part of the report. I would need to hear this prior to making any recommendations. Having managed large budgets in previous positions I have held, as have other Board members, I would expect to develop a strategy to address any financial issues.
5. The latest data on ALIA’s membership numbers and finances available to members was published in April 2014 and relates to 2013. ALIA Board meeeting minutes are not made available to members, other than a vague summary of proceedings. Is this acceptable? Do you think ALIA’s governance needs to become more transparent, and if so what will you do about this if elected?
I believe in organisational transparency and that members are entitled to know how their professional organisation is going. If elected to the Board, I would encourage greater engagement and participation to ensure openness and transparency and the most effective and efficient ways to do this. I located the draft Minutes of 26th Annual General Meeting held 21 May 2014 at: https://www.alia.org.au/sites/default/files/documents/ALIA AGM 21 May 2014 MINUTES FINAL DRAFT.pdf
In keeping with meeting protocol, the motion that the minutes of the 2014 Annual General Meeting be confirmed, will be put at the 2015 Annual General Meeting which is yet to be held. The meeting is scheduled for 20 & 21 May 2015.
Regarding membership, the current statistics regarding membership are included in the document entitled ALIA Fact Sheet (located at https://www.alia.org.au/sites/default/files/documents/ALIA-Fact-Sheet September 2014.pdf accessed 5 March 2015). I also believe ALIA is currently installing a new membership database, which will vastly improve information to members. I have witnessed great improvements to the ALIA website over the past two years, including links to governance information. If elected, I will ensure that information on the ALIA website is current and accessible to all.
ALIA needs to be transparent and accountable to its membership in line with the trend for openness in similar organisations. I need to know more about the situation from key people, ask the right questions and see what is possible to improve the situation. Even if there is simply a perception of transparency issues action may be needed to build trust and improve communication.
The release of membership and financial data in an annual report will by definition be retrospective as accounts need to be audited and end of year data collated. This makes sure that the information provided is validated and consistent year to year.
The release of a summary of proceedings from any Board or Council (not just ALIA) is standard practice. Members elect the Board to manage the business of the organisation and provide guidance and leadership. Minutes of such meetings can cover sensitive and difficult issues and providing a summary ensures the discussions are able to be held in confidence while still advising members of the issues under discussion. If elected I would be prepared to review the summaries provided to ensure they reflect the issues as appropriate.
6. A couple of years ago, ALIA’s journals, Australian Library Journal and Australian Academic and Research Libraries were contracted out to Taylor and Francis. These journals are not available to members unless they pay a subscription, and are embargoed for up to two years. Is this appropriate for a library and information association’s own journals? Should ALIA make these journals open access?
Open access is in accordance with ALIA’s core values, particularly: “Promotion of the free flow of information and ideas through open access to recorded knowledge, information, and creative works” (ALIA Core Values Statement, https://www.alia.org.au/about-alia/policies-standards-and-guidelines/alia-core-values-statement, accessed 5 March 2015)
As you know there are different types of open access. I have checked Sherpa/Romeo site, and found that both the Australian Academic and Research Libraries and Australian Library Journal are “Green” open access, which means that the author can archive a pre-print (i.e. pre-refereeing) and the post-print (final draft post-refereeing). These open-access versions can be deposited in an institutional or subject-based repository, or the author’s personal website.
ALIA members have full access to the publisher’s version/PDF of the journal articles in the AARL and ALJ (including the most recent issue) through the ProQuest LIS Journals online package (to which ALIA has a subscription). This package also provides access to over 100 other journals.
Paywall issues were a recurring theme at Online 2015 and open access is a core value of our profession. It’s all about FAIR – Fair Access to Information Resources. The challenge is to balance access technologically with remaining viable and providing membership benefits. This said, open access is the ideal.
The payment of a subscription for the journals is standard for most organisations as it is optional for members who are interested in subscribing to do so.
On the other issue of open access, I will be interested ot hear the reasons for the current model and participate in any discussion around changes.
7. ALIA’s website includes a large number of pages that are actually PDF files, including the ‘online’ version of Incite, and the annual financial report which is published as an image, breaching the Disability Discrimination Act and basic web standards. Isn’t it time ALIA realised it is 2015 and used proper standards for presenting online information, by presenting everything as semantically marked up HTML? If so, what will you do as a Board member to ensure this is prioritised?
This is an important issue, which ALIA is aware of, having published its Guidelines on Library Standards for People with Disabilities (see https://www.alia.org.au/about-alia/policies-and-guidelines/alia-policies/guidelines-library-standards-people-disabilities).
However I agree that this policy is out of date and requires updating in terms of recent technologies. If elected, I would ensure that the latest standards are applied to ALIA’s publications. In this, I would seek the advice of people such as Gregory Kearney, Manager Accessible Media and Webmaster, Association for the Blind of Western Australia, as well as Maryanne Diamond, General Manager Advocacy and Engagement at Vision Australia. Vivienne Conway, who did her PhD at ECU looking at website accessibility, has published in the Australian Library Journal so her advice would be invaluable in moving forward with proper standards for presenting information online.
If ALIA is not making good progress with the implementation of the accessibility agenda it would be important to ask why and what other priorities are taking precedence.
The organisation's website should meet the accessibility requirements so that all members can obtain information. I will be happy to take up the issue of the website as a Board member to maximise accessibility and ensure the organisation meets its legislative requirements.
Once again I would like thank all three candidates for their time in answering these questions for you and me. Two of them will soon be ALIA Directors - I wish them good luck.