Greetings, RUSA members! In my first column as President, I’d like to talk about some possible new directions for RUSA. But first, I want to acknowledge and thank all the committees, sections and members, as well as the RUSA staff, who contributed to the success of RUSA’s programs and events at the Annual Conference in San Francisco. We have much to be proud of. Among other events, we held the RUSA 101 session to educate new members about our organization, honored the recipients of RUSA awards at our Awards Ceremony, and celebrated great writing– while enjoying a talk by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar– at the Carnegie Medal celebration. RUSA sections sponsored many stimulating programs and discussions, and 2014-2015 RUSA President Joe Thompson brought us an outstanding President’s Program featuring danah boyd. (See Joe’s recap below for more on that.)
So now that the conference is wrapped up and we’re all back at our “normal” jobs and lives, where do we go from here? I’d like to use this column to talk about a major new initiative for RUSA. One of our big tasks in the coming year will be to develop a proposal for the formation of Interest Groups within our association. What do we mean by an “interest group”? Interest groups can be defined in different ways, but the basic concept involves a group of members coming together around a current topic of common interest or concern. Enthusiasm for the idea of Interest Groups within RUSA was clearly expressed by members in responses to the survey done by the RUSA Review Task Force in 2014. The RUSA Review survey asked members this question:
We are considering a new kind of community within RUSA, called Interest Groups. These Groups would be RUSA-wide communities that are organized around popular, current topics, enabling members from across RUSA to connect with others who have shared interests. These groups can hold discussions, email forums, programs and other events. Some topics for Interest Groups may include but are not limited to: Marketing/Outreach, Programming, Library Spaces, and Usability. Are you in favor of adding Interest Groups?
Of the 395 RUSA members who responded to the question, 89 percent answered “yes.” Interest groups are obviously an intriguing idea. Why? An interest group model offers several advantages. Interest groups are formed at the grassroots level, and are relatively bureaucracy-free. They can be formed quickly in response to pressing needs which members may be encountering in their daily work. They offer an easy way for members to get involved. And they can evolve or be disbanded easily when no longer needed, so that members can move on to other Interest Groups or types of involvement.
The RUSA Review survey also asked members for their top choices for possible Interest Groups. In addition to some of the topics mentioned in the survey question–marketing, outreach, programming and space planning– other choices were readers’ advisory and assessment. Many other topics could be proposed, including more specific topics in response to current issues or questions.
In order to move the Interest Groups idea forward, we will need to create some structure with specifics for how Interest Groups should work within RUSA. The Organization & Planning Committee has been tasked with this work, starting with looking at how Interest Groups have been implemented in other ALA divisions. Key questions to be answered include:
- How many members are needed to form an Interest Group? How do they go about forming the group?
- Can non-RUSA members join a RUSA Interest Group?
- Can Interest Groups sponsor programs and discussions at conference?
- How much support from the RUSA office can Interest Groups request? Can they make budget requests?
- How and to whom do Interest Groups report out?
- How is leadership assured from year to year? How are leaders elected or appointed?
- How would an Interest Group be disbanded and how would a decision to disband be made?
As the Organization & Planning Committee investigates these questions, they will work on wording defining Interest Groups to be placed in the RUSA Bylaws (which will require a vote of the membership in the 2016 election cycle) as well as additional details to be included in the RUSA Guide to Policies and Procedures. Please stay tuned for more details on these proposals over the coming months.
The formation of Interest Groups does have a potential downside: it will add further complexity to an already complex organization. Like many ALA divisions, RUSA is highly structured. It already comprises six sections and over 200 committees, including both RUSA-level and Section committees. So as we contemplate Interest Groups, we also need to decide what RUSA can do less of to make time and resources available for Interest Groups. We know that our members are becoming less interested in volunteering for administrative tasks, and more interested in volunteering to be a part of interesting projects and conversations. Along with implementing Interest Groups, can we also streamline and downsize our administrative work? This is a key question that we will have to answer.
I welcome your comments on these questions and proposed changes. Please feel free to contact me any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.
RUSA President 2015-2016