The Wonder of the Unremarkable

The Myth of Digital Democracy?

Yes, we're disappointed.  When the MLA Board of Directors held its fall meeting in Chicago a few weeks ago, one of the major agenda items was to begin the process of updating the associatioin's strategic plan.  We started talking about it, and about how to get member input, and somebody suggested that we put it up on the new Connections blog and let people react.  Excellent idea, we agreed.  Rather than a dozen people holed up in a meeting room deciding on the direction of the association, let's get the membership involved right from the very beginning.

So MLA President Mary Ryan put up the post a couple of weeks ago, asking for feedback by the end of the month.   Krafty picked up on it the next day and put up a post encouraging people to get involved.

Since then, nothing.  Not a comment.  I know that it can't be because people don't care about the priorities and goals of the association.  We have a pretty good level of involvement (as measured by the number of people on committees and task forces and serving as officers in sections) for a volunteer association.  And from time to time there's a flurry of comment on MEDLIB-L suggesting that MLA should do this or do that.  So here's an easy opportunity for people to provide their thoughts about the direction that the association should take and no one is taking advantage of it.  Why is that?

Personally, although I am disappointed, I'm not very surprised.  I've always been skeptical about the promise of online communication.  Many years ago, when the type of ubiquitous communication that we have now was still just a vision, the most optimistic futurists would write in glowing terms about the dawning of a new age of participative democracy, a leveling of the playing field, the ability for everyone to have their say on any issue of importance.   The elites would lose their grip on power and communities would come together to have more fruitful discussions and to make better decisions.  The reality, of course, particularly as demonstrated in this election year, has been pretty ugly.

When Mark Funk chose "Only Connect" as his presidential theme, it signaled a commitment on the part of the board of directors and headquarters staff to use the new communication tools to create a broader connection among the members, and to provide opportunities for involvement at a level that we haven't had before.  I think we've had some real successes, particularly among members of committees and task forces.  But we're not engaging the broader membership yet the way that we'd like to.  The intention of the Connections blog is to provide a forum where anybody can get their two or three cents worth in.

We're doing our part.  But if the members aren't willing to take the time to participate, then what's the point?  Are we just fooling ourselves?  What do we need to do to make the potential of those connections a reality?


jacque doyle

Scott (and Mary) - I must have seen Mary's post and I did register for the blog...but asking members who have never been involved in the Assn and even long time members like me, to react to a multi page strategic plan is simply asking too much. The document itself doesn't inspire creative thinking and members would just see having to read through the whole thing and react is something that would take way too long to do. Recall that folks are now used to the USA Today approach: lots of bullets, charts and graphics. The SP is chock full of great stuff but I suspect breaking it into smaller chunks and asking more directed questions might work better. I care about MLA and our profession but couldn't figure out how to respond to the entire document in an efficient way.

T Scott

Jacque -- thanks! That's exactly the kind of suggestion that we need -- and one that we've been considering this week. If other people feel the same way, or have suggestions about how we might divide it up and the kinds of questions that we might ask, that would be helpful as well.

Nikki Dettmar

I found the concept of registering to post comments for a blog a personal roadblock to my participation. Exactly why, I'm not certain, but I remember my hesitation quite clearly. Perhaps it's because I don't want yet another username and password to keep track of? I am happily subscribed to the RSS feed and voted in the poll along with 43 others.

Second, the timing isn't the best. Aren't all medical librarians absolutely swamped in October with regional chapter meetings, Medical Librarian month promotions/library open houses, etc? I know for me personally more than a few meetings with colleagues have been rescheduled this month for this reason.

Third, I'm currently involved in strategic planning. I know it is a ton of work to put this documentation together, and I agree with Jacque that asking about a particular chunk at a time is probably a good idea... but not in October. I, personally, am dancing on the edge of total overload this month and suspect I'm not alone.

T Scott

Nikki -- thanks, excellent comments. I have ambivalent feelings myself about the registration process and I think the pros and cons of that are something we'll continue to discuss. And you're right that October is always a very busy month -- on the other hand, except possibly for the week between Christmas and New Year's and sometimes maybe the last week of July, I find that dancing on the edge is my normal mode. That's one of the perpetual problems with a volunteer organization -- our intentions are often outstripped by the lack of available time.

At any rate, thanks very much for taking the time to comment!

Brandi Tuttle

I agree with Nikki. Those very reasons kept me at bay... I'm definitely willing and eager to contribute but I need less barriers. And yes October is swamped, though I'm not sure when is a good time anymore... :)


From Mary's post, I was expecting to see something new about the strategic plan. But the link goes to the same plan that has existed for a while. Perhaps a few bullet points of new strategic directions the Board is considering would prime conversation?

Definitely people care about MLA and its future, and it was a great idea to use the blog in this way. Just takes a while for people to new possibilities!

T Scott

Marcus -- interesting comment. When we started discussing the plan, our initial approach was to do just that -- see if there were some refinements or changes that we wanted to make and then send it out for feedback. Then we decided that rather than take that approach, why not give the members a chance to weigh in at the very beginning -- rather than responding to our ideas, let the members give us their ideas to shape the direction. From the comments that I'm getting here, it's clear that we need to do something that provides a more concrete and specific way for members to respond.

Michelle K

I read strategic plan earlier this month when I posted on it, and since then I have been kind of mulling it over now and then. I tend to agree with the others who have commented that it a large body of information to process and comment all at once.
It may be easier to generate discussion and solicit opinions if it was broken into segments making it easier to focus on specific areas.


I must be missing something because the strategic plan doesn't seem all that long to me. In fact, it seems a bit short. All very nice ideas but where are is the action? How is MLA going to achieve the goals and objectives?

I agree that October is a particularly bad month. Yes, many of us are always busy, but October and May are particularly bad.

To be fair, it was the Krafty Librarian's blog post that finally compelled me to get involved.

I agree that registering is a block. I did so and waited for a whole day until I could post a comment. That might not seem like a long time to some but it is to x-gen folks. Even so, I was patient and waited and now, try as I might, I can't get past the two word encryption/pass code today to comment. I wonder how many other people have tried to comment and have not been able to.

I gather from Connie's comment that the deadline has been extended until Nov. 15. I hope this is true.

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