Vermont Chapter Councilor Report – ALA Annual 2021

a group of librarians in front of the Natucket Public Library sometime in the early 19th century

I am the Chapter Councilor for Vermont. This means I get to (have to) go to the annual and midwinter conferences and represent the great state of Vermont. I mostly like it. To be honest, I’ve liked it MORE since COVID means we can’t travel. This means two important things: meetings are held later in the day to accommodate our colleagues from Hawai’i; and meetings are cheaper because I don’t need to get on a plane and stay in a hotel to attend these meetings. There are many reasonable critiques of ALA, many of which I agree with, but I’m still trying to do my best in this tiny role. I always write up a report for the Vermont Library Association, the group that pays for my membership and which would be paying for my travel and registration. I figured I’d share it here as well.

I’ve just completed the ALA Annual Conference as your Vermont Chapter Councilor and wanted to fill you in on ALA things.

Here is the list of the Council Documents. It’s messy and includes documents both from Annual as well as Midwinter this year. But if you want to find a report, it’s in here somewhere.
All meetings were virtual again this year and the big topic was ALA‘s Forward Together plan. This is the member-led process that seeks to re-envision ALA to help it deal with its declining membership, fiscal issues, and general low morale. You can read more about this program at this website.
I primarily attended Councilor Forums, where we informally discuss what is coming up at the Council meetings, and the actual Council meetings. American Libraries has done some good summaries of all three Council meetings at these links.
Council Forum I was on Friday evening and was mostly concerned with the Forward Together plan, a few resolutions about the subject heading Illegal Aliens, and the Code of Conduct. As you may know, ALA Council passed a resolution urging the Library of Congress to stop using the racist subject heading Illegal Aliens and replace it with something more appropriate. The LoC agreed to do this but during the past administration, for fairly obvious reasons, it didn’t do this. In this new administration people felt the climate would be more favorable but still the LoC has not acted. To this end, two resolutions were offered, one of which was just basically saying “Please do the thing you said you’d do” and another of which was more about asking LoC for increased transparency in their process. There were actual staff members from LoC who spoke to this issue and were strongly urging that ALA wait so the resolution itself would not become a target of conservative backlash.
The Code of Conduct is a document that ALA hopes will govern all the online spaces that ALA uses for member interaction, most notably mailing lists and their online forum ALA Connect. I was on the small committee that created the draft Code of Conduct. You can read the draft here which includes the next steps, notably a Council-approved group of both volunteer moderators and ALA Staff who would review CoC infractions (nb: I will not be on this committee). Response was largely positive.
Forward Together discussion was focused on the restructuring of the association and the fiscal implications of some of these choices. This is a big “inside baseball” issue about how to make ALA more economically viable and doing a major restructuring. It’s been messy and contentious in some ways. I don’t have strong opinions on this except to trust the people who are working on this process and to make sure that smaller and more marginalized voices don’t lose seats at the ALA table. This can be groups like BCALA (Black Caucus of ALA), REFORMA (promoting library services to Spanish speaking people and Latinos) and small chapters like ours, Alaska’s, Wyoming’s and Montana’s. Incoming president Patty Wong, ALA‘s first Asian American President, had some really good ideas about how to continue the work of Forward Together and I look forward to her administration.
Council I was primarily concerned with reports and the Forward Together working group. A decision was made to split up to “action items” into ones we could start with now (some restructuring), and ones that would need a new task force created for (fiscal analysis, some core values analysis).
Restructuring resolution passed during Council II and you can read that resolution at this link.
Council II had a number of smaller items on the agenda including getting the Code of Conduct Committee established (yay), beefing up the Council Orientation Committee (good news), and dissolving the Committee on Membership Meetings which had fulfilled its purpose. SustainRT (Sustainability Round Table) produced a really well-written and presented resolution about making ALA more sustainable in terms of climate change, carbon neutrality and encouraging all parts of ALA to pursue these goals. You can read the resolution here.
This is particularly germane to smaller chapters because this may mean ALA will continue to have hybrid meetings which will save VLA a lot of money not sending people to the conference in person. Obviously there are a lot of benefits to attending in person as well but the costs are one of VLA’s largest expenses. Midwinter, now called LibLearnX for some reason, is in San Antonio and will definitely be a hybrid meeting and I do not plan to attend in person. Annual is in DC and I have not made a decision about in person attendance to that one.
Council III started at 10 am EST and 4 am for our colleagues in Hawai’i which is something we’re going to not do next time (I hope). There were a number of touching memorial resolutions and tributes to those who have retired. I personally submitted a letter to ALA to support past president Jim Neal as a recipient of an ALA Lifetime Membership which I think is likely to be approved but we won’t find out until later. The treasurer’s report was a lot more optimistic than it’s been in the past few meetings and we made a vote to have ALA‘s bylaws amended to allow for electronic meetings and voting which was an easy pass (we’d been doing it under some sort of emergency allowance but now it’s part of the organization’s structure)
Speaking of structure, Councilors voted on adding a ninth clause to ALA‘s Code of Ethics. The existing Code of Ethics is here.
The added ninth clause is this, which passed I believe unanimously.

We affirm the inherent dignity and rights of every person. We work to recognize and dismantle systemic and individual biases; to confront inequity and oppression; to enhance diversity and inclusion; and to advance racial and social justice in our libraries, communities, profession, and associations through awareness, advocacy, education, collaboration, services, and allocation of resources and spaces.

The Intellectual Freedom Committee has been busy and they have been doing some good work thinking about the conflicts between a free-speech approach to intellectual freedom and wanting to be inclusive of marginalized groups and people. They created an informal report discussing the idea of using a “radical empathy” approach over a neutrality approach in libraries (in terms of collection development, meeting room assignments, lots of things). You can read that report here, it’s really worthwhile. A few resolutions passed including one about supporting open educational resources and one condemning US companies’ abridgement of free speech.
We all celebrated the COVID-19 spending bill which included “the largest ever direct and indirect funding for libraries approved by Congress.”
Banned Books Week’s theme will be “Books Unite Us, Censorship Divides Us.” And they’re going to have an “honorary chair” for it this year, author Jason Reynolds. Web address for more information and resources is:
We spent a long time discussing the two resolutions I mentioned above that were about the Library of Congress. The one which asked LOC for increased transparency was defeated (the only thing that was voted down this entire session) and the one which asked them to specifically, again, remove the subject heading Illegal Aliens was referred to the Committee on Legislation (i.e. not passed). Privately, many councilors felt that this change at LOC was something that was already in process, and that making a public resolution on it (a second one) would erode the trust LOC has with ALA and people in the know felt that LOC would be making a move in this direction “with a few months” anyhow. I’ll be curious to see if that is the case.
That summarizes most of my activities during ALA this session. If people have questions about any of this, please feel free to email me or reply to this email and I’ll do my best to share more information about it. It is my pleasure to serve as your Chapter Councilor.