As many librarians know by now, on Saturday January 8th at the ALA Midwinter, there was a LITA board meeting. Jason Griffey, one of the LITA board members live-streamed the event. Having not been notified of this in advance, the board voted to stop the streaming once they realized that the meeting had been being broadcast in public.
Many librarians have written thoughtful posts on this including Karen G Schneider, Michelle Boule Smith, and Meredith Farkas. I am not going to argue about ALA’s open meeting policy or the legitimacy of the reasons given by the LITA board since I simply do not know much about those matters as a relatively new member of ALA. (Those blog posts and comments have great information about them.) But I wished that LITA -the division that I deem to be my primary home at ALA- were the first division to stream a board meeting for the members who could not attend the conference. And I still hope it would become the case at the upcoming Annual.
I am in favor of streaming open meetings and making more programs virtually available. The reason why I love to attend a library conference is that I get to meet and hear from so many different librarians. All of them have so much energy and great ideas, which help me do my job better and enrich my thoughts on librarianship. So the more people add their thoughts and ideas to the discussion, the better the conference experience becomes. So why not invite more ALA members to join the conference in the virtual space?
I was even more surprised to see that the LITA meeting in question was not even a program. In my mind, yes, one may want to block a program since it should be ‘technically’ only available to the attendees who paid for the conference. (Actually, I will try to counter this later too.)
But a business meeting? If someone is going to sit down and watch a board meeting for three hours discussing policies and bylaws not even physically attending the meeting, I would say that that someone should be commended. When I attended my first-ever LITA board meeting as an observer on Monday, there were only two (!) people including me who were not on the LITA board. And even I (a LITA-sponsored emerging leader) didn’t stay for the whole meeting. That is a small number to be present considering that there are thousands of LITA members.
I understand that having a meeting while knowing that every word you speak is being broadcast can be extremely difficult. There may well be some people who would even avoid physically attending a meeting. And I completely sympathize with them. (I myself hate to have a webcam pointed at my face when I have an online meeting with colleagues although I like to see their faces!)
However, we live in times in which people’s attention and time are hard to come by and probably worth much more than any content online. Content is not scarce nor particularly precious. Even if a board meeting is indeed publicly broadcast, I would be shocked if that suddenly draws in hundreds of people. The LITA board may have to sacrifice their discomfort at public broadcasting whether they like it or not if getting LITA members’ feedback and ideas broadly from as many LITA members as possible is a top priority to the division.
We often act as if by putting certain content online, suddenly we create this great danger of having that content exposed to ‘everyone’. Theoretically, yes, it is true that by putting something online, it will be accessible to everyone on the Internet. But the reality is that the content will be accessed only by those who ‘decide’ to give their time and attention to the particular content. Just think about how hard politicians campaign to get voters’ attention. ALA is lucky to have many members who are eager to participate online if an opportunity is given. Streaming a business meeting may be well worth the effort “and” the discomfort of the meeting attendees at a physical meeting if that will allow many eager members to participate further in ALA.
Lastly, I want to say a few things about why even ALA programs should not be ‘strictly’ restricted to those who registered for the conference. I organized and moderated a panel discussion at ACRL New Members Discussion Group (NMDG) at this year’s ALA Midwinter. The panel discussion was great success thanks to the NMDG team who diligently prepared for and organized the program virtually. Some of those members could not attend the conference, but they generously donated their time, thoughts, feedback, and ideas to the program that they could not attend over a few months’ period.
If (hypothetically) this NMDG discussion were to be streamed, I would have thought that it should be streamed to everyone or at least to all team members whether virtual or not. Actually, in the case of NMDG, all team members were virtual members until the day on which the program took place. As we benefit from our colleagues’ generosity, why shouldn’t we be able to return it in a way? Since all our labor was freely given to create a program and all panelists also served for free, why can’t it be made available freely (or at a small cost for a virtual conference registration)?
While ALA encourages all its members to participate and be actively involved in the ALA conferences, I hope it’s not ignored that those who are willing to contribute to ALA virtually should be “provided with a means to do so.”