“Sometimes your cards ain’t worth a dime, if you don’t lay ’em down.” – Truckin’, Grateful Dead
I’ve written this post a million times in my head over the course of the past year or so. In some versions, it’s a multi-part rant, in others, it’s a short book. I’ve settled on keeping it brief(ish) and constructive. If our myriad associations are going to stay alive (which I have serious doubts about – and not just CLA, but that’s another post), I feel like we need to have some honesty out there about what is really involved in running them. So, here goes – the unvarnished truth about my experience on CLA executive council. Take this to heart if you intend to stand for an association council, or if you enjoy calling them out from the sidelines – it will be relevant to both camps.
It’s a lot of work. Like, A LOT. And if it’s not a lot of work, you’re not doing it right. What struck me was the stoicism of my colleagues as we all sat around board room tables for multi-day meetings that started on Sunday morning. Granted, this was only a few times a year, but depending on your role on council, this was a common occurrence. Weekends, evenings, holidays… doesn’t matter. The work of the association chugs on. Because it’s never enough. The work will never be done. The action lists are behemoth to behold, and no matter what does actually get done, there will always be loud voices calling out what isn’t done. It’s exhausting, defeating and demoralizing.
You will work with (and occasionally disagree with) powerful people. Like it or not, seasoned administrators often step up for the leadership roles – there’s a reason for that. Being an association leader usually requires institutional support in terms of funding for travel, and for the time that needs to be invested. This sort of work is often expected of administrators, and less so for those who are newer or less established. “But, but … SKYPE.” Yes, the panacea that is tele-commuting. It doesn’t work to run a large association. Certainly there are many tasks that can (and are) done via teleconference, but there are fiduciary duties as well as employee relations that simply cannot be done on the web. If your association has a board president and a treasurer, they will be required to travel – a lot. And that costs money. As we well know, associations don’t have a lot of that, ergo, we have people of privilege running them. Do I wish it was different? Absolutely.
But here the’s thing – powerful people are still just people. If you’ve got something to say, they will listen to you (and if they don’t, keep repeating yourself until they do). They didn’t get where they are by not experiencing dissent and consensus. Speak your truth – it’s yours and you have the right to defend it, just as others on the board do. That being said, inclusivity of varied views sometimes means watering down the message. To assume we are all working from the same core values is naive; being a librar* does not implicitly mean that you’ve signed on to a shared code of ethics. Not only is a board made up of different representatives of various sectors and roles, it’s also made up of different people. Humans gotta human and emotions are involved. We will not always agree. If you’re not okay with that, don’t sign up. But … speak up. You still have the opportunity to have your voice heard. And every now and then, you’ll get a win. You’ll still lose sometimes, but at least you’ll be on the record.
And even if you’re not on the board, you can still disagree and take part. Send email. Write blog posts. Use social media. Talk about what you want to see happen.Talking to people is almost always more effective than talking about them. Executive can’t fix what they can’t or just don’t see – you’d be surprised what gets missed in the maelstrom of everyday business, especially when most of the board are also leading large organizations. Shit gets overlooked. It’s not necessarily intentional ignorance, as fun as that narrative seems to be for a good yarn and some faves/clicks, it’s often simply that they haven’t gotten around to it yet.
I decided to run for CLA council because I was disillusioned and couldn’t understand why it was so dysfunctional. I needed to see how it worked. I understand a lot more now, but still remain somewhat disillusioned. Do I regret it? No. I forged relationships with some pretty incredible people, and got to have experiences that would have never happened in my regular professional life (*cough* met Bob Rae *cough*). Would I do it again in the future? Yeah, probably not. It’s thankless work and sucked up way more of my emotional energy than I was happy about. But I can at least say that I gave it a go, and am a better professional for it. After all these years, though I was tempted many times, I did not break up with CLA. I probably still won’t because I genuinely believe a national association is a necessary body. There remain many systemic issues with the organization that I hope to see addressed, and I don’t think bailing will help it on its way. And so it goes.
Indeed, what a long strange trip it’s been. Thanks for the memories, CLA.