The Versioning Problem
Librarians Unnumbered

Excess of Democracy?

By tradition, the Lister Hill Library is a member of every MLA Section.   I know how difficult it can be to get feedback from section members, so I try to make sure that I vote every time a vote is called for (even for the single-slate elections -- it's a bunch of work to get those things together and it's depressing to do all of that and then watch a 10% or 15% response rate come in).  When a matter is coming before Section Council, and the council rep polls the membership for their thoughts on the issue, I usually try to respond.

Just recently though, I've noticed a trend that gives me pause.  MLA has a very convoluted process for determining the members of the nominating committee.  Sections and chapters hold elections for potential nominees, and then the councils select from those people the nominees who will actually appear on the ballot.  This year (and I think this is the first time I've seen this), several section council reps have sent to the section discussion lists the list of potential nominees and have asked for feedback on who they should vote for.   In some cases this has been very explicitly a ballot that presumably the rep will tally and then use to determine their vote.  I don't think this is a good idea.

It's reasonable for the rep to solicit feedback.  But the rep's job is, fundamentally, to use their own judgment in addressing the interests of their section.  If every issue that they're supposed to vote on is rolled back to the membership, what's the point of having a rep?  More troubling, given the very low response rates to these, the results are very likely to be skewed -- as often as not, the rep is not going to be voting the interests of the section as a whole, but the preferences of the small minority that bothered to return the pseudo-ballot.

In the big picture, there's no harm done.  Virtually anyone who gets elected at the section or chapter level is probably reasonably qualified to serve on the nominating committee.  But it seems to be a perversion of the process, in the quest for more perfect democracy. 

It seems perfectly appropriate to me when a message comes out from the rep saying, "There's a proposal before Section Council to create a new SIG.  Here's the background information and I'd appreciate your thoughts on the matter."  Presumably that gives the rep some useful information to consider in determining their vote.  Too often, however, I've seen messages back to the list soliciting more feedback:  "So far, the vote is five in favor of and three opposed..."  But my comments weren't intended as a vote -- that was my thinking on the issue and the rep is perfectly free to disagree.  Should five out of eight hastily composed responses be what determines the Section's vote? 

It'd be a different thing if the rep sent out the list of potential nominees and said, "Here's the list I'll be voting on.  If you know any of these people or think any of them would be particularly good, please let me know."  In that case, the rep is gathering additional information that they can use in fashioning their vote.  But to turn it into a ballot process comes close to abdicating their responsibility as rep.  When I vote for section council rep, I'm not voting for someone who will serve simply as a go-between from the membership to Section Council -- I'm voting in favor of their judgment, and indicating that I trust them to use it well.


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