Library Issues Personal

Why ALA will never learn

Good job on the unconference. Just one fairly serious problem, at least to me. The Wiki has almost zero mention and absolutely no logos for LITA. The only LITA mention is in the text of the About BIGWIG wiki page.

This is a portion of an email that BIGWIG received as a result of being featured in the ALA Direct email after Annual, getting a bit of press for the BIGWIG Social Software Showcase.

I have lots of things that I’d like to say about this, but they all boil down to this: when, as an organization, we are more concerned with how we are portrayed than with results, I believe we’ve seriously lost our way.

I have also been thinking a great deal about the various fronts that have began mobilizing to make active change in the ALA. BIGWIG has obviously been working to move LITA in directions that we feel are important, but I admit that the bureaucracy of the whole endeavor takes some of the wind from my sails. If we ran our libraries the way we run our organizations, our patrons would be in real trouble.

By griffey

Jason Griffey is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at NISO, where he works to identify new areas of the information ecosystem where standards expertise is useful and needed. Prior to joining NISO in 2019, Jason ran his own technology consulting company for libraries, has been both an Affiliate at metaLAB and a Fellow and Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and was an academic librarian in roles ranging from reference and instruction to Head of IT at the University of TN at Chattanooga.

Jason has written extensively on technology and libraries, including multiple books and a series of full-periodical issues on technology topics, most recently AI & Machine Learning in Libraries and Library Spaces and Smart Buildings: Technology, Metrics, and Iterative Design from 2018. His newest book, co-authored with Jeffery Pomerantz, will be published by MIT Press in 2024.

He has spoken internationally on topics such as artificial intelligence & machine learning, the future of technology and libraries, decentralization and the Blockchain, privacy, copyright, and intellectual property. A full list of his publications and presentations can be found on his CV.
He is one of eight winners of the Knight Foundation News Challenge for Libraries for the Measure the Future project (, an open hardware project designed to provide actionable use metrics for library spaces. He is also the creator and director of The LibraryBox Project (, an open source portable digital file distribution system.

Jason can be stalked obsessively online, and spends his free time with his daughter Eliza, reading, obsessing over gadgets, and preparing for the inevitable zombie uprising.

6 replies on “Why ALA will never learn”

Several things bug me about the way that message was delivered:

1. The perfunctory “good job” message… as in, “good job, BUT…”
2. The use of the word “serious.” Serious, as in open-heart surgery or nuclear warhead? Hmmm, maybe not.
3. The focus on LITA-LITA-LITA.

That said, I can understand to a small degree why LITA might like to get its name connected to BIGWIG. You’re doing a fabu-wonderful job, BIGWIG is hot as a pistol, and BIGWIG is a LITA IG. Hitching wagons to stars and all that. If I were a LITA muckety-muck, I would have smarmed up to you as much as possible. “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOh, Jassssssonnnn, what a cooooooool wiki, can we get our LITA logo on it, kissy kissy kissy?” The teachy-preachy finger-wagging message is just dumb, though not entirely unexpected. LITA is still scrabbling around for half a clue.

Any endeavor required to turn a slow-moving barge (thank you, Karen Coyle!) will of necessity require miring oneself in a bureacracy of frightening proportions. But another way to look at it is that ALA is a city of about 70,000 librarians, and with enough effort you, my friend, can be mayor.

Keep the oars in the water. Do not give up, and when messages like this arrive, do what you have done: refute them.

As for libraries that are less dysfunctional than ALA, mazel tov for you to have found them. Most bureacracies are dysfunctional by nature.

Anyway, fabu job on BIGWIG and don’t be dissuaded by the occasional dumb-**s comment floating to the surface.

What Karen said. I couldn’t believe it when I saw this come through my aggregator! And yet, I also completely understand why it did. If I were an organization housing a rogue group that just got the best press possible, I’d want to make sure people knew that was *my* rogue group, thank you very much.

Still, did they not notice the URL for the wiki? It says “lita” there quite prominently.

Ah well, such is life, I suppose.

Jason: I just wanted to let you know that ALA is not alone. I’m very involved in ASTD and am Vp of Tech for our local chapter.

Social software has a HUGE impact on training needs. If we don’t go with it, it could eliminate the need for many instructor-led trainers. Mine the existing knowledge, and all that. Personally, I evangelize it – adults learn more discussing things at the watercooler than in any instructor-led session.

However, there is a huge fear of technology. Everyone talks about informal learning, but moving forward is like walking through quicksand. The bureaucracy is stupid, and the red tape is thick.

I want to implement a CMS for our local chapter (Ack! You mean not basic HTML!) and I’ve built a board wiki that is like pulling teeth to get people to use. They asked for it, you know. I guess they didn’t figure I’d deliver. (They don’t realize pbwiki is so easy to set up.) I sat through a board meeting yesterday and wanted to just bang my head against the wall the whole time.

So it’s not just ALA. It’s any volunteer organization that has done so well for so long by just staying the same.

Disappointing. The unconference was far and away my favorite part of the conference. I attended a few other LITA events, but only to hang out with the folks I met at the unconference.

I have to renew my ALA membership over the next few weeks and I am going to join LITA because of BIGWIG and the unconference.

I repeat, I would not be joining LITA if it were not for BIGWIG and the Social Software Showcase. Obviously BIGWIG mentioned LITA enough to convince me to join.

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