I’ve always been interested in knowing more about the governance of professional organisations such as Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) and American Library Association (ALA). I like to know how decisions are made and the structure of the organisation so that I can work out where I best fit and how I can help move things forward. I’ve been involved in the following ways so far to help me begin to get my head around this:
- Organised and chaired the first CILIP Election Hustings in November 2010 (on behalf of CILIP West Midlands)
- Attended CILIP AGM 2011
- Been involved in committee work for CILIP (West Midlands branch and CDG West Midlands) and ALA (NMRT-ASCLA liaison and NMRT Online Discussion Forum)
- ALA Emerging Leaders program (where the training included information about ALA and its structure, and we had opportunities to talk to ALA leaders)
- Attended ALA Council meeting
I’m in a relatively unique situation in that I have been involved with both CILIP and ALA and I’m beginning to grasp the similarities and differences (in terms of governance) which I hope this post will highlight.
NB: This post focuses on the top level decision making, much of which I have not been directly involved in. There may be inaccuracies, please feel free to correct anything by leaving a comment.
CILIP is a relatively simple organisation (when compared to ALA anyway!), though it took me a while to figure out its structure and what that means for members. As a membership organisation, many of the people who do CILIP work are members (i.e. volunteers). CILIP do also employ staff, and these people are predominantly based in CILIP Headquarters in London (though there are also staff in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).
Decision making for CILIP happens at Council. There are 12 elected members of CILIP Council, each of whom serve for a 3 year term. 4 new people join each year and are voted in by members (unless there are only 4 people interested in joining Council). Any CILIP member can stand for Council. Elections happen during Oct-Nov (by postal vote) and terms run in calendar years. Also on Council are representatives from key stakeholders such as SCONUL and Society of Chief Librarians.
Council meetings happen four times a year, and each have a closed part and an open part of the meeting. All CILIP members can view the papers for the meeting and from the meeting (unless there are confidentiality issues), and members can observe the open part of the Council meeting. Council members select a chair each year and the Chair of Council chairs these meetings (John Dolan is Chair of Council this year). Also attending the meetings are the CILIP President (and past president and vice president) and CILIP CEO, though these do not have voting powers on decisions at Council. Other CILIP staff and members are invited to meetings to join specific discussions or give updates on progress.
Once a decision is made at Council, if follow up work is needed responsibility is assigned (often to CILIP staff) and the work can begin. CILIP have a number of projects running at the moment and are using the PRINCE2 project management methodology so highlight reports for each project are submitted to the relevant Council meetings to keep everyone updated (this is useful for members too as we can check out these papers from the CILIP website).
Any member can propose an item for CILIP Council – I have done this when we wanted to change the name of the branch from CILIP West Midland to CILIP West Midlands (yes, decisions like that have to go to Council!). Council trustees are ultimately accountable for CILIP as a charity, so it’s a lot of responsibility to take on.
The CILIP President role is more one of advocacy and member communication. It’s the President who is more likely to speak at events, visit workplaces, and spend time with members (and I’m sure this member communication is often fed directly into Council discussions). The way I see it, the President role is a front-facing role (both to members and the general public) whereas the Council role is more the back of house type work.
So what about ALA? Well, that’s a much larger organisation (to give an idea of the scale, the ALA Annual Conference this year had 20, 134 attendees). In a similar way to CILIP, much of the committee work is done by members who volunteer their time for the organisation, though again ALA itself also employ staff for certain roles.
ALA also have a Council where decisions are made, though they have 184 members (according to the 2012-13 listing of all Councillors) so much larger than CILIP, which presents challenges. ALA Council meet at ALA Midwinter and ALA Annual conferences and communicate virtually between. Again, much of the meeting is open to observers so I attended one of the Council meetings at ALA Annual in June.
I don’t think ALA Council has a chair as such; the meetings are chaired by the ALA President. Council consists of some members representing ALA divisions and round tables, and some Councillors-at-large (who represent the whole membership). Members for Council (through both routes) are elected around March each year (mainly via online voting) and begin terms on July 1st (after ALA Annual Conference). Terms last for three years. Division and round table members vote for any officer positions of their respective division/round table (e.g. president-elect, secretary, treasurer, directors) as well as the Councillor position who will represent the views of that division or round table at Council. At-large Councillors are voted for by all ALA members (not members of specific groups) and represent the views of members. They’re the ones you can contact if you have an opinion you would like to be voiced at Council level (unless it is a view of one of your groups in which it will go through your division/round table Councillor). All divisions have a Councillor, but not all round tables have a dedicated Councillor (due to their size). All round tables will be involved in electing a Councillor to represent their views, however this Councillor may represent a number of smaller round tables.
ALA also have an Executive Board, consisting of the president, president-elect, immediate past president, treasurer, executive director and eight members of Council (elected by Council to serve on the Executive Board). Officers do not vote unless there is a tie (voting powers lie within Council members of Executive Board).
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.
ALA President has a similar role to CILIP President, again with a focus on advocacy and member communication.
As with CILIP, decisions are made by ALA Council (or the Executive Board), and then any work required is commissioned – responsibility usually lies with ALA staff, though may also be via member volunteers. ALA also have Committees supporting specific initiatives and these sit underneath Council rather than within a specific division/round table.
At ALA Council (tables at front for Council, chairs at back for observers)
Any member can propose an item for ALA Council, or can feed their views on a certain topic to their division/round table Councillor, or any of the Councillors-at-large who can add this to the discussion during the Council meeting (members may observe, but may not participate). The way Councillors take their turn to speak at ALA Council was fascinating. There are a number of microphones amongst the Council members, and if they want to speak they stand behind a microphone. The President manages the speakers by keeping an eye on who got to the microphone first and ensuring people all get a fair turn. I think each person is limited to a certain time period to speak too (though I’m not sure what that is!).
Each Council member receives all the papers required for the meeting (retrieved from a big crate) and have one sheet which they use to note their vote. Voting is done by show of hands, though also recorded for records. This is all coded and the President makes it clear where to mark your vote for each item on the meeting. These votes are later shared with membership alongside attendance.
Crates with papers for ALA Council
What have I learnt?
I still have a lot to learn, but I’ve found these experiences really interesting in helping me understand the way these organisations work and how decisions are made. Both CILIP and ALA are both member organisations and although there are differences (largely due to size), both are very much centred around the members and their needs. Neither are dictatorship organisations – all members have a voice and can feed into any discussions. That’s not to say that the view the organisation takes on something is one you’ll always agree with, but as a member you have a right to express your opinion and make it known, which may sometimes change that stance. That also means as a member you take on some of the responsibility for the organisation. It’s your responsibility to vote in elections for the people you think can represent our views, and it’s your responsibility to feed into discussions (via Councillors, groups, or directly).
I have found the combination of informal and formal quite striking, and I think this is an issue both organisations are tackling as they are stuck between the rigid rules and regulations of the past and the desire to move towards a more flexible, proactive organisation of the future. For example, at ALA Council the format of the meeting, the voting process and the way decisions are made is formal (using Sturgis code of parliamentary procedure), however Council members aren’t seated all the time (meetings are usually quite long, so there are drinks machines) and many of the members of Council are very approachable and either came over to me in the observer’s area whilst they were getting a drink or after the meeting and were very willing to answer questions I had about Council. I came out of that Council meeting with the feeling that although ALA Council is known as ‘Big ALA’ it is actually not as scary as it sounds and members of Council are very approachable and willing to answer questions or feed things in on your behalf. I found a similar thing at the CILIP AGM too, though haven’t had the opportunity to observe a CILIP Council meeting. In both organisations, people serve on Council because they want to help change things for the better and respond to members’ needs. This level of approachability was a very welcome discovery and something I hope other members are aware of.
I’ll certainly be continuing to be involved in both ALA and CILIP in under to be well-informed to enable me to make a contribution as a member. I have always voted in elections and will continue to do so, and will also continue to read the papers associated with Council meetings (CILIP papers here and ALA papers here).
I’ll also be continuing to support CILIP and ALA through committee work. I’m currently chairing two committees, one for CILIP and one for ALA, and I hope to be able to ensure the work of these committees ties into the strategic plans of both organisations.
If you are a member of CILIP or ALA (or any other professional organisation), I’d urge you to spend a bit of time understanding more about the organisation, how it is structured, how decisions are made, and your role as a member. Vote in the elections. Keep an eye on the papers both before meetings and the decisions after meetings. If you have a comment/question, contact a Councillor. If you have the opportunity to observe a Council meeting (or any other meeting within the organisation), do it. I have found it incredibly beneficial to do so, though appreciate not everyone is able to so I hope some of the information in this post (though possibly not entirely accurate) might help introduce others to the way these organisations work.
ALA and CILIP both face criticism from members and non-members, and I’m sure some of that is well justified, but if you’re a member and want to change the way the organisation is, learn more about why it is the way it is and if you still feel it should be changed, make your voice is heard via the appropriate channel(s). And as the ALA Think Tank motto goes, make it happen!