A recently successful member petition will place a measure on the spring ballot to overturn a recent ALA Council action regarding requirements for the ALA Executive Director (ED). The measure would change the language of the job announcement for the next ALA Executive Director from “MLIS preferred” (or CAEP/school librarian equivalent) back to “MLIS required.”
- In 2000, ALA Council voted to require candidates for the then open position of ALA Executive Director to hold an MLIS degree.
- In preparation for the retirement of ALA ED Keith Michael Fiels (in July 2017), the ALA Executive Board introduced a resolution that would change the MLIS requirement clause in the job announcement to “MLIS preferred.” The ALSC Board voted to support this change, as reported by our Councilor, Jenna Nemec-Loise.
- At Midwinter 2017, Council discussed the resolution, which was narrowly defeated in a vote (78-75). The ALA ED Search Committee opened their search with the MLIS requirement.
- After a robust search, including interviews of top candidates, the Search Committee determined that none of the top candidates interviewed fully satisfied the requirements of the position, and declared a failed search, recommending that the ALA Executive Board and Council revisit the issue of the MLIS requirement.
- The issue was reopened on ALA Connect this fall, to expedite the process. ALSC co-signed a letter from 10 ALA Divisions restating strong support for the “MLIS preferred” language, and our councilor restated our position. This time the council vote was 77% in favor of the “MLIS preferred” language.
- Shortly after, a member petition was circulated, and quickly garnered the 479 signatures required (1% of the ALA voting membership) to place the measure on the spring ballot.
- Following success of the petition, to ensure due process, the ALA Executive Board decided to place the Executive Director search on hold, pending the results of the election. The earliest the search would begin again would be May 2018. Mary Ghikas continues to serve as Interim Executive Director.
“MLIS Preferred” Supports ALSC Core Values
In our initial board discussion (informed by prior discussion at the ALSC Executive Committee meeting, and YALSA’s board discussion document) we recognized that there are many skills and qualities that make a successful candidate for the ALA Executive Director. Familiarity and understanding of ALA’s mission and of libraries is of course essential, but is not exclusive to those holding an MLIS degree. Industry best practice indicates that expertise in nonprofit and association leadership is also key to the ALA Executive Director position.
Furthermore, given the underrepresentation of people of color among MLIS holders (who are 88% white), we must assume that requiring an MLIS would also make people of color underrepresented in our candidate pool. As director Amy Koester put in our discussion: “Underrepresentation should not be mistaken for under-qualification; if a candidate pool is limited by a specific credential, and that credential disproportionately favors one group (or disproportionately undervalues others), the process is flawed and inequitable and denies the association the opportunity to consider all truly qualified candidates.”
Indeed, ALA President Jim Neal explained a little bit about why, based on their experience with the first search, the search committee felt that “MLIS preferred” would cast a more successful net of truly qualified candidates. Our councilor eloquently put it another way in her call for councilors to “try different.”
The ALSC Board recommendation begins by outlining our Core Values, and proceeds:
Fundamental to our vision and values is ALA’s pursuit of organizational excellence, an effort helmed by an Executive Director who champions advocacy, information policy, and professional and leadership development for 21st-century libraries, library workers, and library users.
ALSC remains steadfast in supporting ALA efforts to cultivate organizational excellence, especially during the search for a new Executive Director. Guided by our core values, the ALSC Board of Directors encourages the ALA Executive Board to recommend—but not require—candidates for ALA Executive Director to hold a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree.
We acknowledge the 2000 ALA Council Resolution on Requiring Professional Librarian Credentials for the Executive Director of ALA and understand its implications. However, should there be an appropriate way to exercise flexibility within the hiring matrix while also respecting the Council resolution, we ask search committee members to do so. Such measured consideration might ensure that credentials beyond the MLIS and other transferable skills receive equal merit during the search process.