January 7, 2016 edit:
I would like to encourage you to read May – December 2015 TAC Chair Kimberley Barker’s perspective at The Dissolution of the TAC posted today, May 2014- May 2015 TAC Chair Eric Schnell’s perspective comment from Monday, and (an extreme rarity ever these days) the entire comments thread. I am not sure I have seen so many thoughtful, articulate perspectives shared in social media comments for a very long time.
I would also like to reiterate that I appreciate the work our colleagues do as volunteer members serving national leadership roles. They are absolutely included in my first point of clarification that I care about colleagues as people above all else. I did not write my post to blame. I wrote it to share my perspective and ideas for possible consideration.
I also want to share that a Board member contacted me very soon after I posted on Monday, seeking permission to share with the Board. I granted that quickly, including “I can’t emphasize enough that this is not a personal attack; I am truly grateful for the Board’s service and you definitely have my permission to share. If I can be of any help with dialogue or clarification I warmly welcome that too” I received a kind reply back, and have just replied to the Board member again now encouraging consideration of Kimberley’s post and the entire comments thread.
TL;DR version: I’m really concerned about some things, and the end result is that the main reason I’m renewing my national Medical Library Association (MLA) membership for 2016 is because I have to in order to be an officer for our awesome regional Pacific Northwest Chapter (PNC/MLA) and I will not flake on my commitment.
Long version: I’ve been concerned by conversations I’ve had with active MLA members who are angry about the direction things have appeared to be going with the national organization’s leadership during 2015. This anger is distinctly different than the usual organizational mumbling & grumbling about issues that we all have from time to time. Then, a decision was made by national leadership in November that I was personally very angry about. I remained angry for a month while awaiting the public explanation for this decision. I spent several weeks after the explanation considering what my written response to it here would be and whether or not I would renew my national membership. I freely admit my personal bias here as a nationally elected MLA Nominating Committee member for 2013 and Local Arrangements Co-Chair, Chair-Designate & Chair terms for national MLA committees between 2010-2014.
Points of clarification before I continue:
I care about my national medical librarian colleagues as people above everything else. It is because some of them (from my perspective – I do not write on behalf of anyone else) have been treated egregiously by our national organization that I can not be silent and pretend that everything is awesome. Instead, I am writing here with what I understand to have happened as my way of pulling the Toyota cord* because this does not seem right to me. I’m also not one to stand for pointless whining and my stance on being a bitchbrarian remains unchanged (especially for myself).
I am not angry with any particular person. The opposite is true; I consider most of those involved with national leadership roles good colleagues and friends and am appreciative of the work they do in serving to the best of their ability. Through the committee roles I was elected and appointed to I understand enough (but not everything) about our national organization’s culture. Usually there are multiple perspectives that are discussed (sometimes passionately) by these groups then incorporated in every eventual outcome, other potential outcomes are considered and discarded as part of the decision making process, and all of this may or may not be evident to those outside the fold.
The Technology Advisory Committee (TAC) of MLA was disbanded during a November MLA Board meeting effective December 31, 2015. This was publicly announced on the MLA blog with a strange URL of http://www.mlanet.org/blog/placeholder that was later revised to http://www.mlanet.org/blog/integrating-technology.
Here is where my personal bias becomes more clear: TAC is the national committee I was a member of starting in 2010 and was Chair Designate and Chair of between 2012-2014.
The above is not Steve Jobs’ full quote, and I want to include that with bold emphasis mine:
Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them. It’s not the tools that you have faith in, tools are just tools. They work, or they don’t work. It’s people you have faith in or not.
I heard individually from multiple TAC members in November about what had happened and could not believe it at first.
Has something changed with technology advisory committees on the national library organization scene? No, there is still a member Website Advisory of the American Library Association (ALA). There is even a Web Coordinating Committee for the ALA section dedicated to technology (LITA – Library and Information Technology Section).
Why, then, is MLA excluding the membership’s voice regarding organizational technology by discontinuing a committee with a 20 year history of enthusiastic service to MLA’s members and the national organization leadership?
It is nowhere in the Technology Advisory Committee nor MLANET Advisory Board charge that members were ‘technical experts’ as stated in the explanation given. TAC members are not all technology librarians, or rather if that was a service qualifier then I was the biggest poser ever as a Chair. I agree that ultimate decisions and any directional activity regarding technology is well beyond the scope of a member advisory committee – that is ultimately headquarters’ responsibility – and this was never TAC’s scope in the first place.
The TAC charge, last revised in 2010 with bold action terms mine, was:
- Identify, evaluate and recommend to the MLA Board appropriate technology, including but not limited to social media tools that would add value to MLA, its units, and MLANET.
- Conduct periodic needs assessment of the MLA membership to determine their priorities for MLANET and other technology including social media tools.
- Develop, review and advise the MLA Board on priorities, strategies and policies related to MLANET and other technology.
- Monitor technology implementation on MLANET and conduct ongoing evaluation and analysis.
- Provide an ongoing channel for communication by working closely with MLA units and committees to keep MLANET current.
- Communicate with MLA membership about changes and enhancements to MLANET, social media, and other technologies that MLA employs.
- Develop policies for maintaining, sunsetting, and archiving content published on MLANET and other social media sites sponsored by MLA.
- Maintain liaisons to the chapters and sections.
- Prepare and submit annual objectives and budget and midyear and annual reports.
Communicating. Advising. Recommending. Monitoring. Assessing. These are very good things to have a diverse range of perspectives working in an ongoing, collaborative committee discussion with our Section Council and Board liaisons and MLA headquarters staff. To me, this is especially important in developing assessment tools to include the membership at large so their collective voice is heard regarding technology. I am currently a member of our medical school’s Student Technology Advisory Team (medSTAT). We discuss the results of our technology surveys, online class experiences, and what is and isn’t working well with the technology. The students are not technical experts; they are enthusiastic about making technology work better for themselves and their fellow students, many take on a tech ambassador role with their fellow students (we are distributed across 5 states), and I have learned a great deal from their advisory perspective. My experience with TAC is that we were working in much the same way with the membership.
If MLA has now become an organization where the national leadership will make major decisions regarding national committees (are any others next on the chopping block?) without an opportunity for discussion from the committee and/or membership on the matter, then can we please have transparency about this? If this decision was being considered by national leadership, why was it not brought up for a discussion with TAC or acted upon during the MLA meeting in Austin before 2 new members joined the committee? TAC members also did not have the opportunity to consider other MLA committees to apply for before the October 31st deadline since this notice was handed to them 2 weeks later.
(Reminder: my perspective, no one else’s) To me, this national leadership action in November is the same as MLA saying they have no faith in TAC’s people and that the technology tools in place are just fine without their ongoing input. This is not only a deep insult to a group of MLA members who come from a diverse range of perspectives and backgrounds who care about the medical library field and technology, but undermined all of their commitments for the remainder of their terms (end dates ranging from May 2016 to May 2018). This can have real implications for employment and performance evaluations with expectations for this type of professional organization service. I know since professional service weighed heavily in my own recent promotion.
(Still my perspective, no one else’s) If ‘we [the board] will continue to be mindful of technology, the technology goal has now rolled off the board’s priorities’ (source) then is it MLA headquarters who are the people behind the tools we are expected to have faith in without the MLA membership having a voice, except on an as-needed-by-HQ basis like the next decision regarding a learning management system (LMS) (source)? What has happened to the important roles of ongoing communication, monitoring, and assessing that TAC has always advocated for?
So what are you going to do about it?
Beyond writing this? I don’t know. I’m one person saying ‘You know what? This doesn’t seem right.’ I wasn’t on TAC in 2015 because my service term there was done. I’m not in a national leadership role now.
However, it’s not like technology growth is over and this is the zenith – we all know the landscape will continue to change very rapidly. We will laugh (are already?) about the datedness of Twitter and hashtag chats (yes, I like poking fun at myself being the lead #medlibs chat moderator & recently wrote an MLA News article) and Facebook the way we already (always?) have about the term Web 2.0 and MySpace. Keeping an eye on the horizon and continuing the discussion of what is really needed over the years ahead is vital.
Again, I believe the national leadership is doing their best and does not mean harm by this action. I respectfully disagree strongly with it. Healthcare technology works better with an inclusive team of perspectives (if you have not read Digital Doctor, put it on your 2016 reading list right now) and there’s no reason this should be different. I would love to see some iteration of TAC continue with liaison roles and a committee charge that has been reviewed and updated to continue serving both national leadership and membership needs, especially regarding communication and assessment. I truly do not see how we’re going full speed ahead without this.
*See Zenjidoka: The Power of Self Reliance. We got a new RAV4 named Rey so I may be biased towards Toyota too.