The First Rule of ALA Executive Board is You Don’t Talk About ALA Executive Board

Ok, not really. At least, I don’t think so. Based on how many people I talked with at MidWinter who didn’t know about the election process or what Executive Board does it might be. 🙂 Several people contacted me and asked me to elaborate on the Executive Board process and experience I mentioned in my MidWinter reflections post. It does seem odd to me that there isn’t more information out there about the process, especially from former candidates. No one said I couldn’t talk about it and since I have been very transparent over the years about most, if not all, of my professional endeavors I thought I would share what I know and reflect on the experience. And use this as an opportunity to encourage you to become (more) involved!

What executive board (and ALA and Council) does and why it matters or Why You Should Pay Dues and VOTE!

First some background on Executive Board and where it fits in ALA:

The ALA president 

is the “chief administrative officer and legal head of the organization.” While many of the roles of an administrative leader are delegated or shared in policy (and practice) to the ALA executive director, some key roles have clearly and consistently been performed fully or in part by the president: representing and speaking for ALA to other organizations and to the public, presiding at Board and Council meetings, appointing committees.(pdf of the full description)

The ALA president is elected by all voting ALA members.

Executive Board:

acts for Council in the administration of established policies and programs and is the body that manages within this context the affairs of the Association, delegating management of day-to-day operation to the Association’s executive director. The Executive Board makes recommendations with respect to policy and operation.

The Executive Board is elected by Council.

ALA Council

is the governing body of ALA. It delegates to the divisions of the Association authority to plan and carry out programs and activities with policy established by Council.

Council is elected by voting ALA members. Broken down:

  • 100 councilors at large who are elected by the Association membership
  • Each division of the Association is entitled to one councilor to be elected by members of the divisions
  • Each state, provincial, and territorial chapter is entitled to one councilor to be elected by members of the chapter
  • Round tables with personal membership equal to or greater than one percent of ALA’s total personal membership shall be entitled to elect one councilor each, and the remaining roundtables jointly shall be entitled to one councilor to be elected for a term of three years by the members of the respective round tables

Why you should pay dues and vote:

To the world ALA represents libraries. Not me or this blog or other bloggers no matter how often we’re quoted by traditional media outlets or how many invitations we receive to prestigious events. When the publishing industry decided they were ready to talk to “libraries” they agreed to talk to ALA President Molly Raphael and other ALA representatives. Yes, I am aware of side conversations happening all over the place. But when it came time for the official conversation it was set up through official channels. (I can already hear some of you grumbling!).

So look around ALA, look at who is representing you on committees, round tables, and interest groups, in your divisions, on task forces, on Council, on Executive Board, and as President. Do their views align with your views? Are they representing your interests? If the answer is yes – sweet! Keep doing what you’re doing. If the answer is no, it is time to take action. Pay your dues, vote, get involved.

I have to quote Abby the Librarian’s post – ALA is not your mom

ALA is an organization made up of US.  It’s not some magical entity floating around to solve all librarians’ problems.  ALA is what we make of it.

You know what is absolutely NOT helpful?  People complaining about something and not doing anything to change it.  ALA is what you make of it.  If you don’t like it, get involved and change it.

Sing it sister! I’ve quoted Abby before when I talked about why I decided to run for Council. I pay my dues, I vote, I get involved, I run because at the end of the day I want to say I contributed more than I criticized. If you don’t like something you have to work to change it. And complaining and criticizing isn’t “working to change it.” Criticism and complaining are easy. Don’t believe me? Just look around, there wouldn’t be that many people doing it if it were hard. Getting involved, giving time and energy, that’s work. Don’t get me wrong; I am NOT saying don’t criticize ALA, goodness knows there are areas that need it, but criticize, then take action (hint: tweeting your gripes is not action).

About running for Executive Board:

So back to my experience running for Executive Board. Here is the Official Job Description (pdf) if you’re interested.

From the ALA site:

The ALA Executive Board consists of the president, president-elect, immediate past president, treasurer, executive director, and eight members elected by Council from its membership for three-year terms.

The Executive Board acts for Council in the administration of established policies and programs and is the body that manages within this context the affairs of the Association, delegating management of day-to-day operation to the Association’s executive director.

The Executive Board makes recommendations with respect to policy and operation.

You must be nominated to run for the executive board. The process works like this: for each seat coming open two candidates are nominated by the Committee on Committees. So if there are 2 seats 4 people get nominated, if there are 3 seats 6 people get nominated. Once nominated you receive an email from the ever amazing Lois Ann Gregory-Wood informing you of the nomination, detailing the requirements and asking you if you accept. Once you’ve accepted, you are asked to provide background info, education, ALA experience, library honors that sort of thing. Each candidate’s info is put on a one-page handout which is given to Councilors at the beginning of Council II. Once all candidates have accepted the nomination their information is sent to the Council listserv. Additionally, during Council I at MidWinter candidates can be nominated from the floor. If the nominee accepts s/he is added to the list of candidates. During Council II, each candidate may give a speech lasting up to 5 minutes. Once the speeches are done, if there is time, Councilors may ask questions from the Council floor on any issue or topic. Questions may be directed to all candidates or specific candidates. Voting commences immediately following the one-hour session. Votes are tallied later that nights and all candidates are informed of the results. (I was not selected to serve on Executive Board)

Hopefully, this has contributed to your understanding of the structure and process, please feel free to ask questions!

10 thoughts on “The First Rule of ALA Executive Board is You Don’t Talk About ALA Executive Board

  1. Thanks for this glimpse into the inner workings of ALA. And thanks for your exhortation to get involved: I’ve been debating running for a Council seat, and your words about criticism vs. action motivated me to put my name in.


  2. Bobbi-

    You make a very interesting point. I served on the ALA EB from 2003 – 2006, and started my blog (Thoughts from a Library Administrator) most of the way through my term. I did talk some about being on the Board, and certainly on the blog have talked about service on Council. At one point I did a little series which I called ALA 101 which had some traction for a bit.

    One of the things which I learned about on the Board is how little I really know/knew about ALA. There are whole parts of the organization with which I have no contact (and no need to contact). In addition, there is the whole infrastructure which supports a membership organization of 65,000+. There are things you can’t really post about (some of the dynamics among Board members, relationships with staff, stuff from the lawyer), and much that is not terribly interesting.

    However, it is a great topic, and I hope that you consider running for the EB again.


    1. Michael,
      You’re right there are some things that shouldn’t be talked about and I would be more surprised if someone had. I think what amazed me was how few people I talked to understood the process and what EB does. I don’t think it was a reflection on those people, they are smart and many of them are very involved.

      I would definitely consider running again! Now that I’ve done it once it will be easy right? 🙂


      1. It is easier the second time around, and a lot of folks who try the second time get elected. (There are a very few, Pat Smith comes to mind, who run twice and win twice.)

        I know that I watched quite a bit before I ran. At that point I was in my seventh year (one four year term, and a second term of three years). I had seen a bit by then.

        One of the wonderful things that happened when I ran was that the six of us nominated by the Committee on Committees all went out to dinner at that Midwinter. It was a very congenial group. Two of those six were elected (the other person elected was nominated from the floor and could not join us for dinner). Of those not elected two were elected in later years.

        You also get to meet some amazing people on the EB. There were some folks whom I knew a little, and some who were unknown to me. I made some great friendships based on my 3 year term.

        It is. however, not for everyone. You need to have patience, a tolerance for lots of discussion, and a willingness to work a sometimes intricate process. If you don’t enjoy Council, you won’t enjoy EB. If however, you do enjoy Council, EB can be great. (My wife served one term on Council and swore never again would she get involved in ALA governance. She has no patience for it. I, on the other hand, thrive on it!)

        Thanks for the thoughtful post, and I strongly encourage you to run again.!


  3. Thank you for such a thoughtful commentary on the Executive Board. I also appreciated the comments received to date. I served on the Executive Board for five years — one year each as incoming ALA president, president, and past president (1979-1982), then two as executive director (1992-1994). Soon after that, when I was asked to speak to a group about the work of the Executive Board, I reviewed my notes, papers, etc., and realized how uninteresting much of it was. While Council, perhaps especially in those years, was dealing with issues e.g., intellectual freedom, international library relations, personnel issues in libraries, etc., the Executive Board was deciding which chapters might be admitted to membership, where Conferences and Midwinter Meetings might be held, etc. Certainly, the work of the Board is essential, and ideally, one should have a broad range of ALA and other organizational experience to work effectively on the Board, but the best of boards can have their value diminished by two or three people who are unaware of the meaning of policy, the nature of member-staff relationships, where ALA stands in regard to other associations, to government, to its members, etc.
    I have attended numerous forums for candidates to the ALA Executive Board, and I am intrigued that all too often, candidates are asked what they believe about certain issues, whether they attended certain events, what their library experience has been, etc., when what the electorate really needs to know is whether they are capable and willing to read piles of materials and to assist in making decisions based on what they have read and what they know; whether they are willing to work collegially with people who may have very different views on issue and to maintain their equilibria when their own ideas are rejected or diminished.
    Almost every Executive Board member whom I have known has encountered disappointments and too many have then backed off from taking stands that need to be taken. They have also been amazed to discover how much there is about ALA and its workings that they need to know, and yet, they are, as board members, especially reluctant to reveal their lack of information by asking the questions that would enlighten them. I continue to be impressed with their willingness to seek the honor and the burden of service and to carry them out as best they can.
    Thank you for giving people the occasion to think more about the work of the Executive Board of ALA and for being willing to run, lose, and run again! All the best!


    1. Hi Peggy,
      Thank you for adding more insight to the role of Executive Board. I hope people take the time to read through your comment and reflect on the points you’ve made. I have no doubt that serving on Board is similar to many committees and those you serve with make a huge difference.
      I too was quite surprised that questions from the floor seemed to have little to do with what EB actually does and what it would take to make one a successful member. I was prepared to talk about team work and problem solving and compromise and difficult conversations, but I wasn’t asked about any of those things. 🙂


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