Currently a petition is circulating among ALA members that attempts to put a measure on the ALA spring ballot in an effort to overturn the most recent decision by ALA Council to change the language of the job announcement for the next ALA Executive Director from “MLIS preferred” (or CAEP/school librarian equivalent) back to MLIS required. YALSA’s Board of Directors strongly favors retaining the current status that prefers that candidates hold the MLIS/CAEP degree rather than require it. We feel that in order to effectively lead a professional organization the size and scope of ALA, a person’s skill as an association executive is critical. If there is a degreed librarian with these skills, that would be most desirable.
A short history of the organization’s debate on this topic starts in the year 2000, when ALA Council voted to require candidates for the then open position of ALA Executive Director to have an MLIS degree. The most recent ALA ED, Keith Michael Fiels, was hired and served in that capacity until his retirement in July of this year. Since then, Mary Ghikas has capably filled in as interim executive director. Before the 2017 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Atlanta, the ALA Executive Board introduced a resolution that would change the MLIS requirement clause in the job announcement for the next ALA ED to MLIS preferred. After a robust debate, the resolution was closely defeated by a 78-75 vote. The Search Committee, headed by former ALA President Courtney Young, was tasked to find the next ALA ED with the knowledge that all potential candidates hold an MLIS, among the many other requirements stated in the job announcement.
The Search Committee narrowed their search and invited several candidates to interview in August and September. After having done so, they determined that none of those top candidates satisfactorily fulfilled enough of the requirements of the posting. We respect the hard work of the Search Committee and the decision they came to. The Search Committee declared a failed search and then approached the ALA Executive Board to recommend that the ALA Executive Board and ALA Council revisit the issue of requiring an MLIS. That recommendation was accepted, and this time Council voted electronically to expedite the matter. After a week of discussion and a week of voting, the measure supporting a change from the MLIS being required of applicants to preferred, passed by a wide margin of 77% of those who cast their ballot.
A petition is now being circulated that, if enough signatures are gathered, would halt the search for a new ALA Executive Director until the matter of MLIS required vs. preferred is put up to a vote of the entire ALA membership during the spring 2018 election. This membership petition requires 479 signatures and has nearly 400 so far. The goal of those circulating the petition is to overturn Council’s decision that an MLIS be preferred but not required. In addition to a Facebook page being set up by the petitioners, there is also some discussion happening in ALA Connect
YALSA Board’s position
YALSA is only as strong as ALA, so it is in our best interest to ensure that a strong and diverse pool of candidates is eligible to apply for the ALA Executive Director position. Industry best practice indicates that the executive director position of a nonprofit organization, especially one as large and complex as ALA, requires expertise in nonprofit and association leadership. ALA consists of 57,000+ members who are experts in librarianship, many of whom hold MLIS degrees. As long as the executive director has the passion for the organization’s mission and a strong commitment to libraries and library values, as well as a willingness to learn more, that is adequate because they could call on the expertise of the members and member leaders, especially the ALA President. Additionally, if ALA limits the pool of candidates by requiring all applicants to have an MLIS, it would exclude qualified people of diverse backgrounds who, for whatever reason, chose not to dedicate their schooling to librarianship. According to ALA’s Diversity Counts report, 88% of credentialed librarians are white and 83% are female. Since diversity is a key action area for ALA, the CEO search should be conducted in a manner that allows for the greatest potential of qualified applicants. ALA needs to attract the best executive director possible to lead positive change and solve some real challenges in our organization.
For a full account of the rationale that led to the YALSA Board’s decision to support an MLIS preferred but not required, read YALSA’s September 2016 Board document and October 2017 document.
Proponents of requiring an MLIS for the ALA Executive Director position feel that the issue is a matter of professionalism: that not requiring an MLIS de-professionalizes librarianship. While this issue is important, it is essential that we keep in mind that ALA is not a library. It is an association. YALSA’s Board is a strong proponent of maintaining professional standards for librarians and for other occupations. And professional standards for the leader of a non-profit association like ALA are degrees such as a Master’s in nonprofit management, or certification, such as the American Society of Association Executive’s “Certified Association Executive” designation. Just as you would not want someone without a medical license operating on you, you should also want to ensure that the person running an association like ALA has the relevant credentials and experience to do an excellent job.
The previous ALA Executive Director announced his retirement in the fall of 2016 and we are still without a permanent replacement. During this current political climate, when institutions like libraries are under attack, ALA needs a strong leader. We cannot afford to be without a leader any longer, nor can we afford to put up unnecessary barriers to highly qualified and diverse individuals to applying for this job. I hope you will stand with YALSA’s Board and ALA Council and agree that an MLIS degree for the ALA Executive Director should be preferred but not required. We encourage members to carefully consider ALA Council and the YALSA Board’s position, as well as the above reasons when discussing the issue or casting your ballots, if the petition moves forward.
Sandra Hughes-Hassell, 2017 – 2018 YALSA President
Todd Krueger, YALSA Division Councilor