ALA – value vs. return

My last Council meeting as an At Large Councilor is in New Orleans. When I’m at home, I say “Good riddance!” but when I’m in Council meetings, especially if something worthwhile is happening that I feel a part of, I feel proud to serve. The committment to service is one of the things that I really enjoy about my membership in ALA, but I think that’s more about me and my priorities than ALA. ALA gives me a good place to be a helper at a national level. Meredith was over for dinner last weekend and we talked about ALA, among other things. I can’t say that’s what sparked this long and passionate post of hers about ALA [with some follow-up by Dorothea here] , but I know that some of the topics ring very true to me as well. My issues in specific are what I perceive to be the relatively lax standards in library school accreditation and the misrepresentation of the current job market both of which are contributing to a glutted market and a lot of fresh-out-of-school students who are having a hard time finding work at the same time as ALA is hiking their dues by 30% over three years.

And, of course, the web site. I completely accept the “Mistakes were made.” reasoning for why the site is the way it is. What I don’t understand is the absolute lack of anyone seeming to try to make it better, now. Basic things like shorter URLs, accessbility issues like ALT and title tags, and clearer navigation don’t need to wait for a redesign to be slowly added and implemented site-wide. We’re still seeing URLs like this one for one of the main pages on the site, broken links like the ones down the side of this page (B Roll, Downloadable Photos, Contacts, Feedback) and a 404 page that refers to the “new” website and instructs you to email someone who will get back to you within a week. The Member and Customer Service center link in the footer to a sitemap page and the FAQ (which you can get to by going to ala.org/faq, but the “cite this page” link says otherwise) talks about the next conference occurring in January 2006. ALA does a lot of things right, don’t get me wrong, but their sites seem designed and populated with content by people who do not use the web. When PayPal is the dominant way of paying for things online, the ALA Online Donation form looks like this. Library 2.0 is all about continual feedback and improvement, not this sort of “let’s make a list of everything that’s wrong and fix it when we do the redesign.” It’s not normal for a lot of library professionals to be continually evaluating and tweaking, but that’s what maintaining always-on presence requires.

The question remains, how to you serve a completely diverse group of information professionals, some of whom don’t even own a computer and others who maintain elaborate online communities and are involved in creating the next generation of library technology? I have no idea. I can sort of gesture in an “Ug, ug.” way and point to who I think is doing it right, and similarly indicate who I think is doing things wrong. I can join governing bodies and try to put in my $.02 and hope that I see change in my lifetime. I live in a rural area, I’m not against change coming slowly. On the other hand, when you know change comes slowly and you see the lumbering steamship that is ALA coming to a fork in the road and teeter on the brink of, say, another bad website design, or more public statements about the librarian shortage, well I just feel that I have to say something.

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