A member investigates: what does the YALSA Board do, anyway?

Like 20,000 other people, I attended Annual this year. It was only the second time I’ve been, so before I left, I sat down to think about how I wanted this experience to be similar to and different from my last/first time (Chicago 2009). I knew I wanted to be bolder in approaching people I didn’t know so that I could meet and talk with more people, and I definitely feel like I succeeded in that! Another one of my goals for my Annual experience this year was to learn more about YALSA as an organization and to find out more about what YALSA does beyond what I’ve experienced so far.

And what better way to do that, I thought, than to sit in on a Board meeting? ALA has an open meeting policy, which means that almost all of the business ALA and its divisions conduct are open to members with the exception of “matters affecting the privacy of individuals or institutions.” Thus, while you can’t sit in on the Printz committee’s deliberations, you can attend Board meetings and hear what issues YALSA’s governing body discusses and the decisions that they come to.

I’m not going to lie: that Sunday afternoon, I was nervous walking into the room where the Board was meeting, especially since I was the only observer there. I wrote my name on the sign-in sheet (keeping a record of who was at the meeting is part of taking minutes), took an agenda, and sat in a chair along the perimeter of the room.

Board meetings open with a ten-minute open information forum, which allows visitors and Board members to share information that isn’t tied to the agenda. I didn’t have anything in particular I wanted to say, but I liked that things started off with a chance for anyone to bring something to the Board.

After that, the Board started addressing items on the agenda. The first item up for discussion was actually really interesting: should publishers be allowed to put ALA award seals on the same story in a different format? Specifically, should they be able to put a Printz seal on an ebook? It’s a little more complicated than just that, because “different formats” could include audiobooks, too, but listening to an audiobook production of a story is a much different experience than reading the print book. And even though ebooks seem like the same book, what if the ebook has additional content like an author interview video or even enhanced text with hyperlinks to author notes or short essays on particular passages? Is that the same work as the original novel? The Board decided to form an ad-hoc committee to explore the issue further and then moved on to the next agenda item.

Over the rest of the hour-and-a-half meeting, the Board talked about how to support Interest and Discussion Groups and about establishing a social media policy for Board members and heard reports from the executive committee, the fiscal officer, and the ALA liaison. I left the meeting feeling like I had a much better idea of what kinds of issues and administrative tasks YALSA handles. I feel like I know my professional organization a little better now, and attending the Board meeting has made me interested in getting more involved, maybe through applying to be on a process committee next.

Even if you can’t attend a conference, you can read the minutes (I’m not sure how long it takes for that page to be updated after a meeting) to see what goes on at a meeting. But if you are going to be at Midwinter or Annual next year, think about taking the time to sit in on a Board meeting. It’s an eye-opening experience, and I’d love to not be the only observer there next time!

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