ALA Resolutions: Why do they do that?

by Gina A. Persichini

It is often asked, “Why doesn’t ALA work on improving library funding instead of spending time on all those resolutions?”  The easy answer would be to explain that ALA does, in fact, address funding issues all the time. They have offices and staff that spend a considerable amount of their time addressing funding for libraries.  The more complex response addresses the underlying, unasked question, “Aren’t resolutions a waste of time?”

No, they have a very real function.  To explain, though, we have to delve briefly into some ALA hierarchy.  ALA Council is the governing body of the Association. Council determines ALA policies. There is a 12-member ALA Executive Board made up of members of the Council. They act for Council in the administration of established policies and programs and, as such, manage the affairs of the Association. ALA also has an Executive Director and staff. The Executive Director has the authority to carry out activities for the operation of the Association and implementation of policies & programs. He also directs a staff to carry out these efforts.  There are many more relationships that make up the structure involving offices of ALA and standing committees, but that is a good starting place.

ALA has over 60,000 members. As an organization, the challenge is to figure out how to represent the needs of 60,000 individuals and libraries with a unified voice.  That means ALA staff need guidance from Council and the Executive Board – representatives of the membership – to be sure the association is acting on behalf of the members.

One way they provide that guidance is through resolutions.  Resolutions, if passed, state the opinion of the assembly considering them.  So, where Council represents the membership of ALA, resolutions represent the opinion of ALA. Resolutions can be used to establish policy or to establish a position on an issue.

How does it work? If I want ALA to take a stand on something, then I need to direct ALA to do so. It’s not enough to say that ALA needs to take a stand on; the people that speak on behalf of ALA members need to be clear what that stance is.

A resolution includes WHEREAS clauses that provide a background or reasoning behind the point being made. It is usually among these WHEREAS clauses where one will explain why the issue is important to libraries. WHEREAS clauses will, in the best of situations, succinctly lay the foundation for the resolution.

Then we get to the RESOLVED clauses. The RESOLVED clause states the opinion and/or directs action.  For example, ‘be it RESOLVED that the ALA (1) thinks ABC is bad, (2) urges some organization to stop doing ABC, and (3) sends notice to that organization and its stakeholders to let them know where we stand on the issue of ABC.’

Resolutions, once drafted, are considered by the ALA Council. Often, background information is provided, members of Council think about it, have discussions to hear multiple sides of an issue, and vote whether to pass the resolution or not.  If passed, then ALA Executive Board, the Executive Director, and staff have their orders (in the form of the resolved clauses) to take action. It also provides the parameters for how those ALA leaders might publicly speak about a particular issue.

It is not just about taking a stand on issues. As mentioned earlier, Council is also a policy-setting body.  Not too long ago, ALA members drafted a resolution that would, if passed, direct ALA staff to improve transparency by sharing transcripts and audio recordings of Council sessions. Council sessions were already recorded to assist staff in creating minutes. Plus, council sessions are transcribed for the hearing impaired.  Knowing these functions were already in place, these members wanted that information shared for those who were unable to extend travel arrangements to observe Council meetings.  The resolution was brought by two Councilors and, after considerable discussion about potential costs and benefits, the resolution passed. It is now an ALA policy that audio recordings and transcripts of Council sessions are shared via the ALA website with all members.

Resolutions can be introduced by certain ALA committees, by a member of the ALA Council, or by members through the Membership Meetings.  So, if anyone has a matter they would like to ALA address, they need only take it to one of those sources. That isn’t as daunting as one might think. Because the make-up of Council includes a representative of each Chapter of ALA, it means that every state has a liaison.  To bring up an issue or find out how ALA is already tackling an issue, you need only contact your state’s Chapter Councilor.  And, rest assured, this Idaho Chapter Councilor would be delighted to hear your ideas.

Gina Persichini is the Networking Consultant at the Idaho Commission for Libraries and serves as Idaho’s Chapter Councilor to ALA. To have your idea for ALA heard, contact Gina at gina.persichini@libraries.idaho.gov.

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