Personalizing Service
Getting Ready For The Spring Tour

Organizational Transparency

Perhaps the most intriguing discussion from the MLA Board of Directors meeting last week had to do with how we might make use of social networking tools to make the organization more nimble and transparent, and provide better opportunities for members to participate directly in decision making.  Our president-elect is committed to making this a hallmark of his presidential year and there was quite a bit of enthusiasm for the general idea among the board members -- now the question becomes, how do we actually make this work? 

There were some interesting cautions from the association's lawyer -- he works with a number of other not-for-profit organizations which are also trying to make use of these tools, so he's aware of the variety of ways in which things can go askew.  There's a clear tension for the board members between having a vigorous open discussion and also meeting our fiduciary responsibility to support the decisions of the board and present a united front once votes have been taken.  It's one thing to have strong disagreements when a group is gathered in a meeting room and you have time to work through those disagreements and come to a consensus using all of the nuances & capabilities of in-person communication, and quite another thing to open those discussions up to the world using blogs and wikis and such, where misunderstandings and hurt feelings are much easier to come by, and where once the ill-tempered reply is posted, there isn't any taking it back.  The dilemma is that the very tools that have the potential to open up discussion can also have a chilling effect and shut it down.

Over at Five Weeks to A Social Library, the crew is having a discussion this week on blogs and how they might be incorporated into the daily operations of a library.  Many of the same issues pertain.  There is, of course, the basic learning curve of getting people comfortable with the technology and making sure that the technical implementation is as trouble-free as possible.  But then you quickly run into the more substantive organizational dynamics issues -- a traditional, hierarchical organizational structure, where all of the avenues of communication are clearly laid out and run along lines of administrative authority simply can't survive.    Something new is going to emerge, and we're not at all clear yet what risks we are taking by transforming ourselves in these new ways.

I am convinced that in the long run, these transformations will be good for our organizations.  Implemented well, these tools have a tremendous capacity for empowering association members, library staff, and the members of the communities that we serve.  But they do this, in part, by weakening authoritarian power, and this will give even the most well-meaning administrator pause.   Anyone who has followed one of the recent heated discussions in the biblioblogosphere (where we are generally quite polite compared to what goes on elsewhere in blogland) is going to be somewhat nervous about opening up our organizations in this way.

MLA will move forward (as will our libraries) -- too cautiously for some, too hastily for others.  Mistakes will be made.  I'm counting on the fundamental goodwill and dedication of all of the participants to see us through.


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