ALA IFC’s Fostering Media Diversity in Libraries, and ALA’s grey literature in general

In my view, one of the most important documents and position statements that ALA has produced in the last few years was its June 2007 report, “Fostering Media Diversity in Libraries: Strategies and Actions.” This was produced by a subcommittee of the Intellectual Freedom Committee, now dissolved, called the Subcommittee on the Impact of Media Concentration on Libraries. This subcommittee studied the effect of media concentration and produced a report with guidance for librarians on what is a central issue affecting intellectual freedom in the current economic system. This report has a political-economic perspective to it that is a little different from what we usually see coming from ALA, in the sense that it goes beyond being civil libertarian and critiques – in a moderate and indirect way – the system upon which the Association’s many corporate donors depend.

I had hoped that this report would make it into the new edition of the Intellectual Freedom Handbook, or that it would have its conclusions codified in some other way so that it could have a continuing life in the Association’s communications, and not disappear into the mists of time as “that report from 2007” that a few people vaguely remember. But at present it seems to be having an especially difficult time remaining in memory.

At the moment and for the past year or so, ALA has been having serious problems with its website, as data has been transferred between one internal architecture to another. In the process, this document disappeared and became unavailable (along with many others). ALA is struggling to make its documents available again. I’m naturally paranoid, so I can’t help wondering if there’s some selectivity going on, but I’m aware enough of what happens when systems fail to know that there needn’t be any conspiracy theory to explain the loss of documents, unless you can detect a pattern, and I haven’t looked into it enough to see any.

Karen Muller, ALA’s librarian, was very helpful in finding this document on ALA’s internal network drives, and sent it to me. In order to make it available while ALA is striving to get its website functioning properly again, I have uploaded it to my own server to share with you.

The problems ALA is having with its website are related to a rollout of a new website that should be coming along soon; documents are disappearing in preparation for it. Paranoia aside, this does leave me wondering about the general question of ALA’s grey literature and how it is controlled and made available (or not). Is there a weeding process going on in the transition to the new site? ALA produces many documents in a given year. What happens to them? I don’t think they are ever listed anywhere; their life seems to be tied to the committees that produce them, so you kind of need to know about them to find them (or ask for them if they can’t be found on the site). I think that probably no-one in ALA really knows what documents have been lost. This is a problem that has an obvious solution: index all of ALA’s grey literature in a central way. I think that the responsibility to do this would logically fall on ALA’s librarian and knowledge management officer, Karen Muller. If her job presently demands too much of her to make this possible, then maybe ALA needs to staff that function more generously and give her an assistant. If there is already some indexing of ALA’s grey literature going on, then I think the index should be made available to members and the public.

We are headed for a major turnover in member leadership in ALA as the older generation approaches retirement en masse. This means that the availability of the Association’s committee reports and studies and other grey literature is going to have growing importance. I hope that ALA will approach this issue systematically and solve the problem, and not just float onward without dealing with it.

3 comments on “ALA IFC’s Fostering Media Diversity in Libraries, and ALA’s grey literature in general

  1. Rory–

    The document you sought earlier this week was certainly intended to be available; that clicking on the link yielded up a “404” has only to do with the technological changeover–and the issue has been fixed, with the document readily available as a PDF from as I write (we’re still checking some of the other links to it). There is no intent to suppress it.

    Apart from a few bibliographies or resource listings that have been taken down because their contents were woefully out of date–and we have someone else criticizing us for having a similar document still available when some of its contents need to be updated–the only other type of content that is likely to be removed is registration information for past unit events, old rosters, some links off old press kits, and the like. In many cases, we are dependent on the work of member volunteers for updates to bibliographies or resource guides. With shifting committee priorities and interests it doesn’t always happen on the desired timeline–if ever–and rather than keep possibly misleading information available as “the ALA statement” on an issue we “weed” it from the web. But these are not the “white paper” kinds of things that may become or that might influence policy.

    Now for some good news: Next month, the Library staff will be augmented by a half-time reference librarian, easing my workload so that I can focus on the general management of the library (we have some routine infrastructure work to do–a small backlog of complex cataloging, collection in-fill, etc.), as well as on document and information handling at ALA.

    The matter is quite complex, as important documents are made available in a variety of ways–paper distributed at meetings, files attached to e-mails, files posted as links from the web, files posted as links from wikis and blogs, and with the enhancements to the online community (ALAConnect) due this fall, as documents included in the community areas. Fortunately, the key documents do become part of the official record, either of a committee or Council, and are included in the files retained here for some years, and then transferred to the ALA Archive. Developing staff procedures for ensuring that all of ALA’s key documents remain available is already on my goals list. I’ll appreciate any suggestions you or others might have.

    — Karen Muller, MLS
    ALA Librarian and Knowledge Management Specialist

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