News & Noteworthy

Interview with Scott Walter, Candidate for ALA President 2018-2019

Photo of Scott Walter
Photo of Scott Walter
Scott Walter

What changes do you foresee in ALA’s divisional structure over the next 5-10 years?

ALA is a complex and dynamic association, and the “lines” between different organizational units (Divisions, Chapters, Round Tables) are not always clear. Indeed, “lines” are precisely what we don’t want, and there will be continued emphasis in the coming years on efforts to improve communication across these units and to promote shared initiatives. In my “home” division of ACRL, I have seen this change dynamic in action as we have seen new units (Discussion Groups, Interest Groups) draw deep and immediate engagement around well-defined topics, and traditional units (Sections) evolve, merge, etc.

Precisely because divisions are often seen as one’s “home” in ALA, their continued support, and their leadership in ALA-wide issues, will be critical to the continued recruitment (and retention) of engaged members. We may see changes in the scope of existing divisions, or the rise of a new division that reflects a critical area of emphasis for the future of the field. We may see opportunities to align the work of Round Tables with Divisions, and we may see continued growth of the divisional “presence” within the Chapters (especially if members continue to seek to make their mark on the profession through work closer to home). The questions that must guide any changes are: how are divisions able to bring their areas of expertise to the strategic goals and initiatives of ALA; and, how does affiliation with ALA bring demonstrable benefit to divisions in terms of their ability to recruit, retain, and support the continuing professional education and leadership development of their members?


What are three things ALA should be doing to improve virtual participation?

Assuming you are referring to participation in the work of the Association (as opposed to participation in programs), the first thing ALA must do is to allow all levels of service, including participation on ALA Council, to be open to members who can only participate virtually. Second, ALA must continue to pay special attention in future contracts with convention centers and hotels on the conference “campus” to costs associated with promoting virtual participation, whether this participation is through audio or video means. The ability to support this sort of participation should be considered as high a priority in negotiation as other “basics” have been in the past (the availability of high-quality and consistent wifi access on a crowded convention center network comes to mind as one “infrastructure” piece that has proven problematic). Third, ALA should provide training on a routine basis in the effective management of virtual meetings, including provision of meeting materials to members participating at a distance, suggestions on how to improve virtual engagement and to ensure the ability of members participating at a distance to contribute to real-time discussion, and checklists of available technology, e.g., conference phones, Skype, other virtual meeting platforms. Bonus answer: ALA should promote a greater degree of sharing across divisions regarding “what works,” comparative costs, and, if possible, shared platforms (to promote a more consistent experience of virtual participation across one’s ALA experience, which often encompasses participation in more than one division).


As ALA shifts from in-person collaboration to other forms of participation and, thus, revenue, how do we make up for this lost revenue?

That’s the question in front of any professional or scholarly association, and the one that placed an obstacle for so long in front of open-access initiatives, as scholarly associations expressed concern about what moving a journal to OA might mean for revenues. How do we do things differently without upsetting traditional revenue models and budget planning, and how do we do it in real-time? There is no easy answer, but there are some common ones, e.g., diversify the revenue streams so that there is less dependence on the 2-conference-per-year model, improve the quality of conference programs to make ALA the “don’t miss” event on the professional development calendar that will ensure growing attendance, and make changes that will lower costs (e.g., the potential that the current “conference re-model” proposal has for opening up additional cities as potential ALA conference hosts).

A more radical approach would involve a full-scale re-thinking of the role, scope, and focus of the Midwinter Meeting in the Association, e.g., Midwinter could be reconfigured from another “national” meeting to a “regional” meeting where the program could be attuned to the needs in the host region in any given year. This would allow us to further consider the question you posed earlier regarding virtual participation in Association business, as well as the concern I suggested regarding the need to better understand (and build upon) the relationship of ALA and its Chapters. A focused program like this might actually draw equal (or better) numbers than the more broadly pitched Midwinter meeting does now (and might allow for less direct competition for scarce travel funds in any year when there is also a “can’t miss” national program like the biennial divisional meetings of ALA, PLA, AASL, etc.).


How will you encourage library students to get involved, and to take leadership positions, in ALA?

The most important thing we can do to encourage LIS students to get involved in the Association is to show them that membership will be a benefit to them throughout their careers. Promoting the Association through LIS programs (and LIS faculty support for student chapters) is one important initiative. Another is active involvement by practitioners in the development of programming for those student chapters so that students are introduced, from the beginning, to the idea of ALA membership as a path to building a network of colleagues who will support them throughout their careers. Making ALA membership affordable to students is also critical, e.g., encouraging LIS programs to directly fund memberships so that all LIS students are able to join ALA (or, to be fair, another, relevant LIS professional association) during their student year(s) at no cost to them. Continuing to support (and enhance) the work of the New Members Round Table is critical, as is the continued development of ALA and NMRT initiatives that connect new professionals with specific projects and opportunities in the divisions. We can look at projects like Emerging Leaders for the ways in which they reflect what the research tells us about how to engage new members in ways that are more likely to encourage them to make an ongoing commitment to the association.

member engagement graphic
Member Engagement Continuum

This image from the American Society of Association Executives shows the continuum of engagement that begins with new membership and can, with attention to opportunities, lead to the career-long engagement we would love to see from members. Finally, we cannot encourage LIS students to take leadership positions in ALA if we do not offer such positions, and this is similarly true for new professionals and other new members. A deep look at the way in which those opportunities are (or are not) offered to, and placed within reach, of students and new members (especially those without professional development funds) is a critical step in making any plan that addresses this question.


Is ALA a place for MLS-degreed professionals who do not work in libraries? Should it be? Why, or why not?

Of course it is. Next question?

Seriously, though, the ALA mission statement makes clear that the mission of the Association is to “to provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship.” Since one may provide library and information services outside the framework of a library (and, in fact, this is far more the case than it was when this mission statement was first adopted), it stands to reason that anyone doing our work, in any context, should find a home and a network of colleagues in ALA.

The more difficult question that you did not ask is whether or not ALA is a place for people providing these services, and sharing our work both inside and outside of libraries, who do not hold an ALA-accredited degree. The answer to that question is also “Yes!” I once worked in an academic library where the AD for Facilities was a licensed architect, but not a librarian; I certainly think he would have found a home in the LLAMA Buildings and Equipment Section. Likewise, there are many academic librarians who find a home in the Society for College and University Planning, given how important libraries (and librarians) are to institutional planning efforts. Our libraries have become the home for professionals from different backgrounds who come together to provide the highest quality collections, technology, resources, facilities, and services for our communities. If ALA is to be the home for all those whose work contributes directly to “the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services,” we need to welcome all who work in libraries, and to the benefit of library and information services, to the Association.


With librarians of all types using technology as part of their everyday work, what specific leadership and expertise do you see LITA bringing to ALA?

LITA has played a critical role in the Association for years in terms of trend-spotting and in helping librarians to see how developments in the broader realm of information technology have relevance to their work. LITA members, often in complementary roles as members of other divisions, have also played a critical role in designing and delivering continuing professional education to ALA members, and in creating resources that introduce the membership at large to emerging technologies (e.g., through the LITA publishing program). As the use of technology has become ubiquitous in our personal lives, as well as our professional lives, LITA members have provided important guidance to ALA members without as strong a background in technology on the impact of technology on library collections, services, management, etc., as in Sarah Houghton’s presentation during this month’s Symposium on the Future of Libraries on “21st Century Library Ethics.” Finally, LITA members can play an important role in LIS education, both in terms of helping to evaluate the ways in which LIS programs introduce pre-service professionals to technology skills needed for professional success, and in terms of teaching the courses that bring those technologies into the LIS curriculum, e.g., Meredith Farkas’s “Information Technology Tools and Applications” at San Jose State.

As the technology environment in libraries continues to expand, and as the borders between the technology found in different types of libraries blurs, LITA can play an important role in helping us to understand how these changes foster new opportunities for collaboration across library types. In Chicago, for example, the earliest adoption of digital media services and maker spaces probably came through Chicago Public Library, but we now see these services provided routinely in academic libraries, high schools, and specialized environments like technology incubators. The work we have been doing at DePaul to launch our new maker space has opened my eyes to a number of new partnership opportunities across campus, and with other libraries and museums across Chicago. I won’t lie – I was also slapped in the face by what’s coming when I learned that my daughter may begin doing “big data analytics” as early as her first year Computer Science course in high school (!). LITA members will be “out front” in considering the collaboration opportunities that will be increasingly possible across ALA divisions as library technology becomes more diverse and ubiquitous in our work.


 How can ALA help LITA help everyone?


As I said at the start, ALA must “bring demonstrable benefit to divisions in terms of their ability to recruit, retain, and support the continuing professional education and leadership development of their members.” I might now add to that, “and to other members of the Association.” I’ve already mentioned one way in which this happens, i.e., the collaboration between LITA Publishing and ALA Publishing to bring LITA expertise to all (and this need not be limited to traditional publications, but can encompass webinars or other e-learning opportunities). ALA can also highlight cross-cutting programs like the just-concluded Symposium on the Future of Libraries that brought expertise born in the division to the attention of a much wider member audience. ALA can also pursue high-level partnerships with other professional associations in the technology sector that would provide opportunities for LITA members to work with other technology experts, and to bring that broader perspective back to the Association, not just in areas such as information retrieval or user experience testing, but also in information ethics, management of digital identity (and protection of one’s own privacy and security in the digital environment), and assessment of K-20 student learning in the area of information technology. Because technology has become a pervasive influence and experience in our lives, and in the lives of the members of our communities, it is critical for the Association to think creatively about the areas of LIS work that may now be informed by the expertise housed in LITA.