Is ALA Clueless about Collaboration?

I recently looked through ALA’s new strategic plan “American Library Association (ALA) Draft Strategic Plan (Version: December 2009)”.  Here is the only reference to collaboration in the document:  “10. How can ALA improve collaboration within itself?”   Here is the only mention of cooperation: “28. How will ALA facilitate the improved cooperation among types of libraries to truly guarantee that libraries are central to lifelong learning?”  The words “partner” or “partnership” don’t occur in the document.

Having been working on this blog for a year now, I feel that I can say with some confidence, that if ALA’s vision for collaboration is this narrowly drawn, they are missing a major trend in librarianship.  Collaboration is about taking a deep breath and looking outside the confines of a narrow worldview.   ALA’s draft plan asks the question: “How will ALA ensure the future relevance of libraries?”  I would suggest that collaboration, partnerships, and a wider worldview should be a necessary part of the answer.

Valerie Horton
Collaborative Librarianship, News Editor


2 responses to “Is ALA Clueless about Collaboration?

  1. I agree that collaboration is the key to future success in libraries. But there’s a pretty steep learning and experiential curve. Here’s my own very subjective view of what groups or organizations working together means.

    Phase 1: “Lets’ co-sponsor!” means we both put our name on it and one of us sets the goals, plans and does the work, provides most of the resources. and has most to the decision-making authority. Phase 2: “Let’s partner!” means we determine the goals and work to be done together, divvy it up along with resources and make decisions that are in the best interests of our own organization. Phase 3: “Let’s collaborate” means we seek out people. groups and organizations, have a two-way conversation about what is important in our libraries/communities and develop a common vision that is so compelling that it overcomes our parochial interests. It means planning, working, deciding and allocating resources together as if we’re a brand new organization.

    That is a really tough, rewarding and sometimes just flat our frustrating thing to do. I’m not aware of any substantive training in current library education or continuing education that really teaches us how to do that. How many of us ever get beyond the partner stage of working together?

    Re. ALA — as current prez of the Library Leadership and Management Association of ALA, I attended the strategic planning brainstorming sessions. There was a lot of discussion about the importance of partnerships and collaboration for “big ALA” as well as its divisions. There’s still an opportunity to comment via ALA Connect and with colleagues.

    Also, just discovered Collaborative Librarianship. I’m liking it and will be back. Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

  2. The following comment came in from a member of the ALA Strategic Planning Committee.

    Valerie –
    Thank you for your comments. I’m glad you support the “transformational” element of the ALA plan. This is an important addition to this reiteration of the plan. Based on discussions I have been a part of, collaboration is at the core of ALA – it is mentioned directly and explicitly in the association’s core values. I believe including collaboration as a value, rather than just a strategy, is very powerful. In addition, collaboration is also an important strategy. It is one approach, and an important approach, to assisting organizations in achieving its goals and objectives. It’s also important for organizations to be very strategic in who and why they are collaborating. I have seen organizations spend significant resources on collaborations that never really assist in moving the association’s strategic plans forward.

    Paul D. Meyer