Earlier today, the 2023 slate of candidates for ALSC governance positions was shared on our website. I want to offer a massive thank you to the Nominating and Leadership Development Committee who spent over nine months hard at work to put together this slate of candidates: Anna Taylor (chair), Sophie Kenney, Hanna Lee, Susan Dove Lempke, and Cecilia McGowan.
The charge to select candidates for election is not an easy one to execute–identifying ALSC members who have both the interest and capacity to serve three-year governance terms has been a challenge for some years now, even before the pandemic added additional burnout and capacity challenges for many ALSC members who might otherwise be interested. This 2023 Nominating and Leadership Development Committee was able to focus all of their time on identifying and speaking with potential candidates for governance positions; as a result of the overwhelmingly member-approved bylaws changes this past spring, only ALSC Board positions are on the annual ballot moving forward. Yet even with this committee focusing 100% of their attention on developing the slate of candidates for ALSC Board, ALSC Vice President/President-Elect, and Division Councilor, it is clear that all of us, as members, can contribute to expanding our leadership pool and building on the strength of our governance.
ALSC members will be able to vote for strongly qualified candidates in the spring 2023 election–the candidates who have agreed to stand for election are all well-equipped to serve our association well. You will notice, however, that for two of our elected positions, the Nominating and Leadership Development Committee was ultimately only able to secure one candidate for each role. Those positions are the Vice President/President-Elect and the Division Councilor. These single-candidate races were not a purposeful decision, but rather a result of the fact that despite months spent cultivating and talking with many ALSC members who might serve in these roles, only one member was able to commit to running for either position.
I recognize that it would probably be easy for members to attribute the fact that there are single-candidate races on the 2023 ballot on our recent bylaws changes, which require the Nominating and Leadership Development Committee to identify at least one candidate for each vacant position (rather than exactly two candidates per vacancy, as it was prior). While that connection would be easy to make, it would both be incorrect and deflect from a deeper leadership concern for our association. We do not have a reality in which we seek only one candidate per vacancy–we have a reality in which it is becoming ever harder to identify members who are willing and able to stand for election and to serve at our highest levels of leadership.
The Nominating and Leadership Development Committee worked diligently and reached out to many ALSC members, particularly many BIPOC individuals, in an attempt to have a culturally diverse full ballot. Most of these individuals declined, and others who initially agreed to serve, in light of circumstances beyond their control, ultimately also declined. In addition, very few people submitted nominations. While this ballot has one person standing for each of these two positions, we do not intend for single-candidate races to be the norm moving forward. That goal will take work, however.
We currently have a leadership drought, and we need every member to engage to address this issue.
In many ways, this leadership drought makes sense in our current pandemic context. The past couple of years have been tough on a lot of people. Many people are struggling to take on a three-year obligation at the moment, especially one with the time commitments of association governance. The Nominating and Leadership Development Committee identified and had ongoing conversations with multiple qualified candidates who ended up feeling unable to commit to a three-year volunteer position. We expect to return to those candidates in the future and hope they will have capacity to serve when circumstances are different. If members have suggestions for how to make governance positions more manageable for people, please let the Board know.
Additionally, it’s important to recognize that the 2023 ballot does not represent the full diversity of our membership or fully reflect how we hope our ballots will look in future. It reflects the members who felt able to commit over the past few months. It reflects the reality that many ALSC members from historically marginalized people groups–BIPOC members in particular–have expressed a fatigue at being constantly asked to do more work than they have capacity to do. We cannot ask the same members to always be the ones to take on the work that is necessary of all of us.
So what can members do?
You can petition to appear on the 2023 ballot.
Most immediately, if you are interested in standing for election on the spring 2023 ballot, but missed the calls for nominations and suggestions from the Nominating and Leadership Development Committee over the past year, you still have the opportunity to petition to be included on the upcoming ballot. This is an explicit option in our bylaws, and it is outlined in our elections timeline. Your petition must be signed by 25 personal members of ALSC, and it must be submitted directly to ALSC Executive Director Alena Rivers no later than December 1. If you do plan to petition to appear on the ballot, I encourage you to submit your petition and consent to Alena a bit earlier than December 1 if possible; this will allow you more time to fill out the candidate biographical information that will appear as part of the ballot.
For future ballots, commit to suggesting members who you think would be excellent candidates for governance roles–and potentially even nominating yourself.
Each year’s Nominating and Leadership Development Committee puts out many calls for nominations and suggestions, sharing those calls across many platforms and networks of library workers. Unfortunately, it is increasingly rare that members reply to those calls with names and recommendations. As such, it falls on the committee to try to solicit suggestions from existing member leaders as well as the members they know. Disappointingly, they still receive almost zero recommendations. In my opinion, it is the responsibility of each and every one of us as ALSC members to be engaged in the governance of our association–and suggesting members for consideration for leadership roles is something that we all can, and should, do. This includes recommending members who may have engaged more with other units of ALA—we encourage their participation in ALSC and would love to offer opportunities for leadership in our own division. If we each suggested even one name of a member who we think would be an excellent candidate, then future nominating committees will have many, many more members to talk to about potential service. In the meantime, the Board welcomes your input on ways to connect with the membership to identify more potential candidates for leadership. At the end of the day, we need members to weigh in–if we assume someone else will do it and thus we don’t need to, we never grow our pool of leaders.
In the longer term, you can work to see yourself as a leader–and build your skills and mindset with ALSC.
While the biggest reason we have this leadership drought is because many capable members do not have the capacity to lead right now, it’s also a reality of our association that many, many members simply do not see themselves as leaders. If you personally fall into that category, may I suggest you modify that thought just a bit: you don’t see yourself as a leader yet. Leadership is about many things–skills, experience, perspective, coaching. ALSC can and does support members in developing all of these. Over the next year or two, think about your ALSC and library work, and think about how you can take one incremental step forward to build yourself as a leader. If you’ve not served on a committee before, perhaps your step is to submit your volunteer form and observe a few committee meetings as you await an appointment. If you’ve served on a committee or two, update your form to indicate you’re willing to serve as a chair (and you can always email the appointing officer–the ALSC Vice President–in the spring to express your interest directly!). If you’ve served as a chair, give some thought to volunteering to be a Priority Group Consultant, to formally or informally mentoring more junior members, or to standing for election.
Addressing this leadership drought requires several layers of goals, many of which take time to create the change we seek. In the short term, we’re hoping to streamline our volunteering process and improve our communication so we catch more of our qualified members at the right time in their professional lives. We’re also working to connect more with members who may have engaged more with other ALA units than they have with ALSC. In the long term, our organization hopes to make both the field of library children’s services and ALSC’s membership more accessible and inclusive. Over time, we hope and expect that our governance positions will reflect that evolution, and our leadership drought will be replaced by ongoing abundance.
I will be honored to serve on the ALSC Board alongside any of the candidates who are on the ballot this spring–they are qualified, committed members of our association. I would also love to see our association grow our ranks of member leaders so that many, many more of us see ourselves as having the skills, interests, and capacity to serve in a governance role. ALSC is all of us, only as strong as we members build it–and it is up to each of us to build the leadership and the association that we want to see.