Wednesday, April 05, 2006

American Library Association Discussion of the Role of the ALA-APA

On April 5, 2006 following ALA-APA Library Workers Day the ALA Council had an online discussion about ALA-APA.

Mark C Rosenzweig
Councilor at large
To: ALA Council List
April 5,2006.

I agree with Barbara Genco about the saiience of the example of the AFT's campaign . There is no indication that APA is interested in or capable of moving in that direction. Indeed, the contrary.

Oh yes, there are motivated and idealistic people who have thrown themselves with enthusiasm into the relevant committees of APA and who can there spin out excellent ideas about what advocacy should consist in. But APA seems, objectively, to exist to channel those energies (a) outside of ALA proper -- where they once resided as a real ferment to possible effective activism -- and beyond ALA's member-based governance and (b) into forms of activity which have little to do with professional or worker advocacy in any meaningful sense (lobbying, campaigning, demonstrating, remonstrating, mobilizing support , creating solidarity) because the underlying premise of APA with respect to what it calls advocacy, nowhere more clearly if indirectly articulated than in the NLWD proposals which provoked my initial posting on this matter, is that the economy, the political situation, and the prevailing social atmosphere actually __preclude__ effective advocacy -- that there __can__ be "no raises", with all else that implies.

Is Council's poor oversight to blame? Is it a disempowering lack of autonomy, as Michael McGrorty would charitably have it, that has hobbled APA? Let's talk turkey here. APA is not really governed by Council. That is a paper conceit. So far Council, not sure of WHAT its role is with regards to this organizational homunculus we have created, has been in effect to rubber stamp everything in hopeful anticipation of some worthy,sustainable, perceptible outcomes. APA, for all intents and purposes , IS virtually autonomous presently.It may even be suggested that that is part of the problem. In any case, with regards to APA, no matter what the pretence is there is no comparability to Council's well-defined governance role within ALA proper. Why? Because in ALA COUNCIL REPRESENTS THE ALA __MEMBERSHIP__. APA HAS __NO MEMBERSHIP__!! It has bee clear from the start that it was not going to be a membership organization , no matter what else it might be. That appears to be writ in stone

Who does Council then represent when it puts on its "APA hat" as people jokingly like to describe the charade which we enact?

No, APA has not been hobbled by bureaucratic requirements of reporting to an APA Council. It has shown little regard for the concerns of Council, ALA or APA, and has provided Council with little information. We get far more information from a typical ALA committee than we do from this parallel 'allied' organization.

The problem is the divergence, the incongruence , and indeed the disingenuousness, at the root of APA's dyadic ostensible mission(s) and its real,it functional purposes , something which can be traced back to the circumstances of its inception. If you will recall, there are supposedly two missions of APA,: certification and "advocacy". Unlike the Trinitarian doctrine of the Christian Church, which at the Council of Nicaea reconciled the three hypostases of God in an at least theologically sustainable unity, our metaphysicians of the executive before our Council has never demonstated the consubstantiality of the two elements of APA. There is no unifying concept and never has been with APA.

The fact is that APA emerged in an effort to find a legally viable vehiicle for an ALA certification program of debatable merits. It was suggested that tax laws made the creation of an independent organization with a different tax status necessary. Eyebows rose.

The mention of tax status reminded people of the hollow arguments, in other circumstances, against increasing ALA's advocacy role frequently invoked by ALA Counsel. At this point proponents of a much -needed "salary initiative" on the part of ALA, having NOTHING to do with certification, stymied by the threatened tax status arguments of Counsel against advocacy on workplace issues, had the epiphany that the new organization being proposed as the business basis for selling certifications could be redeemed by including within it the additional (unrelated though it was) mission of "advocacy". So the dog of APA as a premise for a certification program (supposedly massively revenue-generating -- and remaining to be seen as such) had the tail of advocacy stuck on it. It should be noted that,as is so often the case in natural history, the tail's supporters thought the tail was as powerful as the dog if not able to wag the dog.The tail at first show wagged to the left and people skeptical of the selling of indulgences -- excuse me-- certifications, found the tail so attractive and waving so friskily that they bought the whole dog. Thus was ALA-APA sold tro Council and membership. Shortly after it was bought, the new owners were advised to have the tail bobbed, so that advocacy became, shall we say,much attenuated even as it remains as a decoration which is still mentioned whenever the dog which proved to be quite lame was criticized.

Now, I can hear people, my friends on the left among them, militant library labor advocates among them, saying "Well APA is what we (that is , active participants, right-minded supporters) make it. If we want it to be different, we need to get in there and fight for it to be different." I hear where they're coming from. If I thought APA had any real life, wasn't the essentially lame, half-dead dog I just described I would be with them on that of course.

Having observed with concern the development of the APA and the illusion of its substantiality against all evidence, I would advise the following

Return the advocacy mission to ALA proper. Dissolve APA or at least the pretense that it has anything to do with advocacy.
Admit -- to use another hoary animal metaphor-- that the whole thing is an albatross around the neck of the ALA.

Mark C Rosenzweig
Councilor at large
At 12:28 PM -0400 4/5/06, Genco, Barbara
Councilor at Large.

Apropos of our discussion re: Library Workers Day...
The level of advocacy suggested by AFT (see below) is far more concrete and much less 'feel good' focused than our own!

We can learn from the advocacy efforts of similar undervalued professions (see child care workers below. We can surely leverage their experiences to make our own efforts far better and have real value.

PS...A note from the Dept. of Reality Check-
IMHO...ALA Council should not be in the business of deriding specific ALA staff in this forum. Remember...This was our very first (albeit a seriously wanting and non- substantive attempt) at a NLWD. We can and will do better.

Barbara Genco, Councilor at Large

From: Marci Young []
Sent: Wednesday, April 05, 2006 11:05 AM
To: Barbara Genco
Subject: Worthy Wage Day is Coming May 1st

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Marci Young

As I read this discussion I wonder if we all have the same perception of
the ALA-APA mission and its current priorities? I wasn't on Council when
the ALA-APA was created so perhaps my perception is skewed.

Putting aside the web site quote (which I agree sounded more defeatist
than I am sure it was intended), this discussion now seems focused on the
mission of the ALA_APA. I do not understand the statement that the
ALA-APA was created "as a separate entity to make it possible to lobby, to
make contact, to advocate..." I did not have that perception at all
about why the ALA-APA was created and I do not think the supporting
documents say that either -- at least not exclusively. Here's a quote from
the Business Plan:

"Services provided by ALA-APA fall within two broad groups: (1)
certification of library personnel, including application fees and
(potentially) some ancillary materials; (2) information gathering,
analysis and distribution -- including subscription services,
specialized reports, consultation and advocacy support -- associated
with the improvement of salaries for library workers."

In the last year and a half ALA-APA Council has heard discussion of
the growing certification program, the library worklife newsletter and the
salary studies. As I understand the business plan the role in advocacy is
to be primarily informational and supportive.

We have all heard discussion, both optimistic and skeptical, about the
ALA-APA's ability to sustain itself. Financial projections at the
midwinter meeting seemed to suggest that the ALA-APA would only be able to
meet its financial benchmarks by aggressive growth of the certification
programs and publication sales. The financial realities suggest to me
that the ALA-APA is a long way from having sufficient resources to sustain
the programs it currently has -- let alone embrace an active advocacy
campaign. A focus on the current business plan at this time seems prudent
to me from a managerial perspective.

There seems to be a general agreement that the ALA-APA must sustain
itself. While I admit to some skepticsm about its long term
viability, the ALA-APA does have a business plan that the ALA-APA
Council and Executive Board have reviewed and supported. I really
believe we should judge success based on the goals and objectives of
that plan.

If the collective expectation of the ALA-APA is that it is to be an
organization primarily devoted to advocacy on behalf of library
salaries than I would suggest that the business plan needs review, as does
the notion that it must be self-supporting. I'm certainly not suggesting
such a change. I think we have a great lobbying/advocacy resource in
Washington. I thought the ALA-APA's job was to develop the ammunition and
advocacy support materials the ALA WO would need to help us to move such
issues forward.

Eileen Palmer, MI Chapter Councilor
Eileen M. Palmer Director
The Library Network
13331 Reeck Road tel: (734)281-3830 ex 107
Southgate, MI 48195 fax: (734) 281-1905

> Rory and all:
> What Michael McGrorty described in his short list sounds very parallel
> or familiar to the approaches and modes taken up by OIF. (At least as
> far as I'm familiar with them and their activities as a remote
> observer...) Are there some means to effect transference of that OIF
> style and effectiveness to ALA-APA? What's truly interfering with the
> work of the officer and office? How do we extricate the heavy machinery
> of "organization" and let APA become the rumblin' tumblin' entity it
> needs to be? I guess these are questions aimed mostly at the first
> point on his short list. Let's start re-shaping appropriately.
> (*Before* it devolves(?!?!) into an entity with a public image showing
> ineffectiveness and that must be repaired or retired!) MJM
> P.S. Ms Grady: Along these lines, what would you have changed first if
> anything?
> ****************
> Michael Miller - Councilor-at-Large
> wrote: -----
> To: ALA Council List
> From: Rory Litwin
> cc: ALA Council List
> Subject: [ALACOUN:17618] Re: APA
> I want to thank Michael for sharing these insights with us and
> remind Councilors of his significant background in labor relations.
> wrote: The difficulty with APA is that it
> presents the appearance of an opportunity to address a variety of
> problems facing library workers, without the mechanism, or, it seems,
> the political will to engage those problems. APA was created
> That isn't happening. One of the reasons it isn't happening is because
> of the duality of the roles of its members. Another is the sheer
> unfamiliarity of the role. By way of example, imagine that it
> became obvious that there were library systems which were doing a
> particular thing to their workers, working some form of abuse or
> neglect. Would APA rise and condemn them--as individual libraries,
> naming them and/or their directors? Let us imagine that a large city
> system decided to begin substituting non-MLS holding clerks for
> librarians in reference positions, and laying off the librarians. Would
> APA rise to condemn the library and its director by name, with specifics
> of their outrage? What if a large library system were found to be
> paying starting salaries below poverty levels? Mind you, the
> sort of responses called for here require no more in the way of expense
> than the sending of a letter. But oh, that letter! I do not think that
> the APA Council, composed mainly of library directors and
> administrators, is soon to become willing to issue specific
> condemnations of other library directors--not on these grounds, and not
> soon. Nor would they be comfortable with establishing pay standards or
> anything like them.
> To be effective, which is to say, worthy of its mandate, APA would
> have to take on a role of lobbyist, but with a twist: it would be an
> advocate whose direction would come from the consensus of a large and
> varied group of people. Reaching that consensus, within the context of
> current system, would be difficult: witness how tough it is to get
> Council to settle on the specifics of any particular issue, merely to
> consider a Resolution. Council is like herding cats--to do this sort of
> thing with the issues that would come before APA would be like herding
> microbes. A large portion of lobbying is taking stands that are
> essentially negative--issuing condemnations of particular activities,
> and suggestions (if not demands) for alternatives. Another part is
> taking positions requiring positive input and followup over an extended
> period of time. APA doesn't seem the vehicle for this. To be honest,
> APA seems to have come from a good idea, to become merely another
> pigeonhole into which agenda items are shunted, there to die. Which is
> why APA is reduced to issuing announcements of the sort that brought
> about this discussion. In its present form, which is pretty much what
> its funding, structure and the will of its members desire, APA can do
> very little more. What APA needs, apart from money, would make a
> short list: 1. Less input from fewer members. The organization
> needs to get away from the elephantine processes of Council. The two
> groups are different in goals and needs. APA needs a dose of autonomy,
> the chance to work freely within established rules and standards of ALA.
> Council should act as a review, not the originator or impetus. Why?
> Because Council has other work, and they work slowly enough at
> that--plus, addressing APA issues twice a year at meetings is no way to
> address developing problems. 2. A focus on attacking what's wrong,
> where it's wrong, by name. Period. 3. A sense of militancy, of
> wrongs waiting to be set right; of a world to be made better. Not by
> hand-wringing but by strategy. Less corn, more hell. M.
> McGrorty -- Rory Litwin Humanities Librarian, University of Minnesota,
> Duluth

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