SLA and its discontents: Disagreeing with grace


flickr photo shared by wwarby under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

(I feel like this should be unnecessary, but let state for the record I want nothing but the best for SLA and its long term survival.)

This week reminds me a football match that’s kind of ugly with little to show for it.

This has been a very busy and significant week in SLA. On Monday SLA President Jill Strand emailed the membership to announce that SLA Board has decided to engage association management consultants (AMC) following recommendations from the Transition Committee. There has been some discussion about this, with some welcoming the change while others have reservations. Some wonder about the implications for current SLA staff. Others have felt this move should have been taken a while ago (when Janice Lachance first left) and it’s too little too late. Still others are deeply unhappy but cannot constructively articulate their concerns. It’s been rough.

Part of the fall out of this announcement was that Juanita Richardson withdrew her candidacy for SLA Treasurer in the election next month. She disagreed with the board and did not feel if elected she could serve on the board in good conscience, and did not want to be potentially involved with the implementation of this decision. This leaves Nick Collison running unopposed in the election. It also made for today’s candidates webinar short and surreal.

(I will not link or directly quote email listserv discussions, aside from the announcement. The barrier citation is another issue to tackle.)

Richardson’s withdrawal from the election has spurred others to comment. Many longtime, veteran members have shared their similar concerns and dismay. There has also been a call to recognize the board is made up of members volunteering to guide the association through this difficult period, and we need to assume their good intentions. We should also trust them that they are doing what they can to help SLA survive.

There was also a call to be mindful of tone and to remain respectful and professional, lest you make a name for yourself as a troublemaker or your personal brand is tarnished. That’s well intentioned, but also strikes me as a silencing tactic to control/squelch debate. By this point in my career people have probably already made up their mind about me, so I don’t really have much incentive to change course.

I think difficult times benefit from healthy, respectful, thoughtful debate and discussion. Yes, assume the board is doing the best they can but you can still question their actions and express concerns. It’s not going to make SLA weaker, if anything we will be a stronger association for it. Debate can be a productive form of engagement and honestly if the board’s actions don’t stand up to questions from the members, that concerns me. At the same time, none of this should be made personal. There’s nothing professional about personal attacks. Disagreement needs to be articulated pointedly and constructively, rather than immediately veering into hyperbole.

To make my position clear, I’m not fully on board with hiring the AMC at this time though I’m not really against it. What I am against is the lack of information about the process leading up to this and what’s ahead. I want to trust the board, as I’ve stated before, but more transparency and details would help me trust them more. That said, I don’t envy their position and do recognize they’re not doing this to hurt anybody, so I don’t want to give them more troubles. I just don’t really agree with them on this issue given the information we have, but of course there’s probably a lot that we don’t know about. (That’s a problem for me.) They need to trust members to be able to handle it and the lack of details is troubling for many of us. What will happen to SLA staff? What will the first steps be? I don’t know and if the board doesn’t know, which would be OK given the scale of the situation, it would be reassuring to hear that.

So to the SLA members who are respectfully engaging in a debate about this important topic, please continue the discussion! To those who are getting personal and nasty, stop it. We don’t need more negative librarian stereotypes. To those of you who feel that any questioning, especially difficult yet professional questions, is causing trouble, do you want members to be engaged or just pretend to get along?

SLA is defining itself now. We’re not in agreement and if we all want to move forward together, we’re going to have to work it out. Healthy debate needs to happen.

 

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