LITA Board of Directors candidates: Cody Hanson

With the help of some great LITA member input, I’ve put together a list of interview questions for the LITA President candidates in the upcoming ALA Election, March 19-April 27. I’ve asked the Director candidates to respond to these same questions. I hope this helps you make an informed decision among these outstanding candidates.

What is LITA?

LITA is a community of library and information professionals of all stripes working together to explore the ways technology can enhance the services we provide.

LITA has the best members anywhere, but it’s struggled with
retention. How will you make the members feel supported by, and connected to, LITA?

This is a tough question. LITA is an organization both for and by its members. You get out of LITA what you put into it, and each member ought to be as responsible as the next for communication, and for embodying the supportive, welcoming, productive ethos that we love about LITA.

That said, “Ask not what LITA can do for you” isn’t probably the most effective sales pitch when membership renewal time comes around. When I look at the value that I get out of ITaL (especially now that it’s OA!), LITA-L, conference sessions, IG meetings, and (dead serious here) LITA happy hours, my membership dollars feel very well spent. Which segues nicely into numbers 3 and 4…

If you could focus on one effort during your time as LITA Director, what would that be? What one thing most needs your attention?

I’d be interested in exploring a concerted member-driven marketing and communications effort. LITA staff do a terrific job of promoting the association and our events, but by necessity speak with an official voice. I’d like to see a communications committee that could take responsibility for LITA’s blog, Twitter account, etc. and begin pulling together all of the fantastic work of the association and its members. I think that a coherent and ongoing voice documenting the day-to-day accomplishments and concerns of our members would provide a powerful illustration of the value and vitality of the organization.

Given the current financial conditions, many LITA members are unable to travel to conferences. What are your views on the use of technology to enable virtual attendance to various LITA meetings and functions?

Another softball, eh?

I feel that all appropriate measures should be taken to ensure that open meetings are as open as possible, and to ensure that LITA membership has value even when members aren’t able to travel to meetings.

This is a very thorny problem, and not just for the legal reasons addressed at the recent LITA board meeting (see Andromeda’s post for her analysis). Here’s a no doubt incomplete list of issues as I see them:

  1. Technology – Yes, it is 2012. Yes, we still cannot rely on sufficient reliable bandwidth to stream meetings and sessions from our conference locations. The vagaries of convention center bandwidth mean that we often won’t know what’s possible until we fire up a webcam at the start of a meeting. Under these conditions, we can’t responsibly give our members the expectation that they can reliably attend our sessions virtually. If you had stayed home from this past Midwinter under the assumption that you’d be able to view and interact with meetings in real-time, you would have been sorely disappointed, but not for lack of trying by LITA members on-site.
  2. Privacy – There is a big difference between asking someone to volunteer on a committee and asking someone to do that committee work in a video live-streamed to the entire Internet and archived on a third-party for-profit video service. Yes, the work of our board and committees should be transparent to our membership, but many people have legitimate reasons why they may not want their voice or likeness broadcast willy-nilly, and I would never want these concerns to keep someone from volunteering for LITA.
  3. Revenue – LITA relies on income from event attendance. Yes, almost all of LITA’s meetings are open meetings, but historically they have been open to paid conference attendees, with minutes available to the membership at large. When we make the decision to stream everything, we no longer give members as much incentive to attend in person. Again, I say this as a strong supporter of enabling virtual attendance. But for the association to remain strong, we’ll have to find new sources of revenue to replace event income, or figure out how to make LITA function as a leaner organization than it already is.
  4. Quality – UStream+Twitter?Being there. We can and should investigate tools to help make virtual attendance at LITA events as robust as in-person attendance. But at least for right now, it isn’t the same. If we can’t bring you the hallway conversations and happy hour virtually, you’re missing out.

These are problems that we need to solve. And these are areas where I think it’s LITA’s duty to ALA and to the profession to lead the way. Perhaps we turn the problem on its head by making everything virtual first and then porting it back to the in-person events. Find ways to provide appropriate access for members, and look for reasonable opportunities to monetize quality virtual offerings. But we will have to solve these problems deliberately and systematically, because they bear directly on the health and future of the association. I would urge LITA members to engage with the full range of issues implicated here, and to resist the temptation to mistake the absence of an immediate solution for a lack of commitment to transparency.

What new collaborative opportunities between LITA and other divisions or round tables would you like to see happen?

I’ve been really impressed with the recent work of LITA’s Program Planning Committee. Abigail Goben and company have an incredible number of sessions coming up at Annual that LITA is co-sponsoring with other divisions and round tables. I’d like to see this trend continue, for LITA to position itself as a resource for the rest of ALA on tech topics.

This does get tricky though, and I wouldn’t want to sugar-coat it. At present, LITA’s operation is dependent on revenues not just from membership, but from events. In both of these areas, we’re often in effect competing with other divisions and professional organizations for the same shrinking pool of revenue. The most important issue we need to collaborate on with our peer organizations is growing that pool, and bringing greater coherence to the slate of organizations and professional development opportunities we offer.

Heck, I’d really like to see LITA collaborating with Code4Lib.


For more about Cody, see his LITA election page.