The Canadian Library Association journey to recreate itself continues! Congratulations to the Executive Board, the many volunteers, Kelly and the staff at CLA for their incredible work during the past year as they worked with members and other associations to draft a Futures Plan for CLA.  Keith Walker, current President, laughed that he had sent +5000 emails to CLA colleagues this past year, but within the laughter is the truth of the dedication he and other Board members have demonstrated consulting members, responding to criticism, drafting, re-drafting and RE-drafting a plan to define a national voice for the library sector. What a task; at times a thankless task.  No one volunteers to be on a association’s Board to be told “welcome to the Board – by the way, the association is broke”.  And yet these people faced and made incredibly difficult decisions and carried out their Board responsibilities with grace, professionalism, vision and good will.

Their vision — the new vision for CLA — is that CLA will be the national voice for the library sector — the sector’s advocate nationally and internationally.  How it will do that will be determined.  First the association had to stop the financial bleeding (which they have done — they presented a balanced budget! Woot!), and had to have members approve the significant by-law changes. Now the new Board will develop the strategies and tactics required to begin to bring the vision to reality. 

An indicator of a healthy association is that members are willing to contribute their time and expertise to leading the association — and, with that leadership responsibility — to making decisions that may not be popular with everyone but are in the best interests of the association’s success and sustainability. CLA has people standing for election for all 5 leadership positions; this hasn’t happened in years!  Kudos to all those nominees.

How ironic that NPR’s blog post last night was “Time for Associations to Trade in Their Past?”  As the post says, “

Traditionally, the trade association has served as a clearinghouse for its members — a not-for-profit entity that enables its members to share knowledge and contacts. Some associations use their membership muscle to lobby Congress for favorable laws or money or tax breaks. Many stage annual conventions where members meet and freely exchange information, ideas and remedies.

But in this age of teleconferencing and social networking, the game has changed. Through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other websites, professionals stay in touch with each other — and with advances in their fields — around the clock. If they have a special problem, they no longer need to call the association and be connected to someone else with a similar problem — they can just go to the Internet for a solution. And who has the time or money for an annual convention anymore?

Which brings up an inevitable question: Are associations still necessary?”

Many within the library sector believe CLA is still necessary. NPR’s post identifies a few considerations for associations, like CLA, to be successful in the future:

“An association must be in the business of providing “just-in-time knowledge” to its members, [Jim] Carroll says. He defines it as “the right knowledge at the right time for the right purpose for the right strategy, all revolving around the fact that the knowledge is instant, fast and transitory.

Rebecca Rolfes, author of The Competition Within: How Members Will Reinvent Associations and a not-for-profit prophet, suggested the advent of the open-source association, in which “developer groups would have access to online collaboration tools where they could gather all that input, come up with ideas, and then put them out for the community of members to test and determine their value.”

And Ann Oliveri, who writes The Zen of Associations blog, imagined a future in which associations are “recognized as knowledge ecologies, dynamically connecting theorists, practitioners and clients in adaptive collaboration, continuous loops of experimentation, application, feedback and refinement.”

What will make CLA successful? Simple: it’s members; members who look beyond the segment of the library sector in which they work to what’s best for the association and, more importantly, for the library sector as a whole.  We, like the members of any association, get the association we deserve; if we collaborate, work together, give and take, dialogue and, whenever possible, laugh together and make each others’ lives a bit easier, there’s not stopping CLA — or the library sector.