LITA IG plans and other failures

“And other failures?” Read on…

10 of 19 in Anaheim

Roughly a year ago, I kvetched about the difficulty of finding out what LITA interest groups were planning to do during ALA Annual 2008. See, I had this silly idea that LITA Interest Groups would be trying to attract new members–both people new to LITA and people new to the IG–and that publicizing their plans would be an easy way to do so. (OK, so I also remember back when we had the LITA Newsletter, when nearly all IGs would regularly note their upcoming plans…)

Last year, I was able to get “some information” on 10 of the 19 IGs–but only by going to four different places. I found none in the LITA database, two on the LITA blog, two on the LITA wiki–and eight, but only six new, on LITA-L, which as I noted is the “least likely place” to attract newbies. It’s also the most useless place if you’re actually trying to put together a conference schedule.

Nudging for Midwinter

I had four initiatives in mind as incoming LITA Publications Committee chair–some of them initatives that weren’t really “my business” (except as a LITA member of long standing). One of them was to encourage IGs to communicate…

I sent out mail. I offered to do the heavy lifting (e.g., wiki markup) if IG chairs would just send notes. And it worked, to some extent–although, at the same time, I got a certain amount of “what business is it of yours?” pushback. The LITA Wiki had actual information on ten of the 17 IGs, in one place, where it was easy to view. Not a great showing, but at least it was gathered together.

Giving up for Chicago

I didn’t try nudging again this time. The rest of my supposed initiatives were either non-starters or clear failures, and I wasn’t going to spend the energy to try to resuscitate them–and, frankly, I felt just slightly singed by the whole process.

So here we are, with people making their final schedules for Chicago.

How many IGs have information describing their plans on the equivalent single page on the LITA Wiki for Annual 2009? That’s easy: Zero. Not one.

OK, there are three–but indirectly, on the handful of IG pages, rather than directly on the ALA Conference 2009 page. Authority Control, BIGWIG and IRSIG do have info if you know where to look. It’s truly sad that only four of the IGs even have pages on the wiki with any content on them.

So let’s go to the ALA wiki for 2009 Annual, an equally reasonable place. If there are any, I can’t find them–heck, I can’t even find a page for discussion and interest groups. Call it zero.

The LITA blog? Zero. Not one.

So if you’re new to LITA or trying to gather information on topical discussions of interest at this point, LITA IGs–or at least 14 of the 17 (or 16 of the 19)–are closed books.

Now, if you’re already a LITA member and fond of the least current technology in the group, you’re on LITA-L. That would make a difference: I found six IG posts regarding ALA 2009 plans, going back to May 2009. Notably, there’s essentially no overlap–with the possible exception of BIGWIG, no IG could be bothered to put information in more than one place. That still leaves eight or ten IGs with no available information at all.

I get it

I can only come to one of two conclusions:

  1. LITA IGs really don’t want to attract new members to their groups or to LITA itself.
  2. The half hour it would take to add an item on a wiki page is just too much effort to expect of a volunteer chair of an IG. (I say “wiki page” because the blog and the LITA database both involve some additional overhead.

I tried. I failed, although the results were better for Midwinter 2009. For all I know, most LITA IGs may be falling apart anyway (how would I know? Post-conference minutes or reports in a public arena are even rarer than pre-conference plans).

Other stalled initiatives

What else did I have in mind back when I foolishly agreed to chair LITA Publications Committee?

Here’s what I sent to the LITA Publications Committee, noting that it wasn’t clear that any of them were within the purview of the committee. I listed them in what I saw as descending order of importance:

1.      Can LITA IGs (and to a lesser extent, LITA committees) do a better  job of letting the rest of us, including new members, know what they’re  going to be talking about during Midwinter and Annual? My attempts to  find out for Anaheim resulted in a pretty dismal success rate, even  scouring all four channels LITA seems to use: I think we have too many
channels and not enough content. I’ve taken my first step in this  regard: Mail to chairs asking them to do one-paragraph descriptions of  plans to at least one of the four channels (blog, wiki, list, website).  Admittedly, this is no longer part of PubComm’s responsibility because  there’s no publication (nor, at this point, should there be).

See discussion above. Maybe, maybe, if someone (the IG coordinator? staff?) made a point of bugging every IG chair at least twice, and did the work of actually assembling the results, you might, perhaps, possibly get 50-60% success. Without that bugging, we seem to be back down to little pieces widely scattered.

2.      Can we work on moving ITAL to Gold OA status–and does it make  economic or other sense for there to still be a print version? This is  really ITAL’s area, and “six-month embargo” is better than nothing, but,  well, maybe ALA divisions should be leading, not following…

I still think it’s a valid question, but there are dollars involved…at least ITAL is clean green OA.

3.      Should there be a LITA Publications Committee, or would the division  be better served by, say, a LITA Communications Committee?

Another way to put this: Are publications still core LITA activities? Given that the committee will, in Chicago, almost certainly accept the TER editor’s recommendation to formally cease publication of TER (which hasn’t actually appeared in 18 months), given the trickle of LITA monographs, given that ITAL has its own committee…well, this is for someone else to pursue. Would I serve on a LITA Communications Committee? Absolutely not.

4.      There’s a minor issue about one LITA publishing arrangement that  appears to violate LITA’s bylaws, but I suspect the bigger question  there is whether LITA publications of that sort are likely to be  significant sources of revenue or service to the field, and there I’m
treading very lightly.

I have a little more background, and am uninterested in pursuing this one…

Strike four, you’re out…

Well, I’ll call the first one a foul ball: When I was directly hounding people, I got better than half of them to respond. Take away the direct hounding…

See some of you in Chicago, as I turn the invisible gavel over to the incoming chair, one who will most assuredly do a better job than I’ve done.

4 Responses to “LITA IG plans and other failures”

  1. laura Says:

    This is the sort of thing that makes me wonder if all these committees and interest groups are really even necessary or of interest to anyone. My extremely minimal experience with ALA (none of it with LITA) suggests to me that there’s a lot of bloat — a lot of committees that exist just so that people can be on committees, just as a lot of journals exist just so that people can publish in journals. I’m not a fan of participating in puppet governments or puppet bureaucracies, and your description above very much makes LITA IGs sound like the latter.

  2. walt Says:

    Laura,

    In the case of LITA Interest Groups, that can’t happen–at least not for very long. At least when IGs were established (when LITA reorganized itself, got rid of Sections, and got rid of most of its appointed committees), they had to be established by petition and the petition needed to be renewed every three years, a “sunset clause” so that no-longer-interesting IGs would just disappear. They’re also entirely self-governing: No appointments, no real place for “puppets.”

    I think the renewal process may have changed, but the fundamental idea is still there and, I think, still sound. And, discouraged as I may be by LITA, it definitely does not have a bloated committee structure–it’s been known to change committees to IGs (which can then disappear). Actually, that’s been one of the complaints from some quarters: LITA doesn’t have enough appointive positions for people who only get funded for conferences if they’re holding an appointive position.

    The problem isn’t interest; the problem is communication–and interest in adding members.

    (If you look at the LITA page, the list of “Inactive interest groups”–0nes that haven’t renewed–is almost as long as the list of current ones, and I believe there are some IGs that predate that list.)

    It may be worth noting that IGs in LITA are different from Discussion Groups in most other divisions (I think one other division has now gone to a self-governing-IG structure) in some ways: They can propose programs and ask for budgets, where DGs can normally only discuss.

  3. Irene Iwan Says:

    Hi Walt,
    I totally agree and volunteer to help get out news in the future if you’d like. I am a member of LITA and didn’t feel engaged in Chicago (except when I crashed LITA bloggers Sunday night). As using computers is cited in the news as the number one reason people are swarming to public libraries we should agressively embrace all librarians involved in LIT.
    Irene

  4. walt Says:

    Hi Irene,

    That’s great–but I’m not the one you should be volunteering to. I’m not even sure who *should* be working on this–only that it isn’t me, not any longer.

    (I don’t think you “crashed LITA bloggers Sunday night”–at least not if you were at the OCLC Bloggers Salon. That’s not LITA, and I don’t think it would be considered crashing anyway…)


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