Four Out of Five Librarians Do Not Rock the Vote, Cont.

One of the blog posts I’ve been anticipating for awhile has finally come to pass. Oleg Kagan released the results of his ALA non-voter election survey this week; the purpose of this exercise was to investigate as to why there is a low turnout in ALA elections. It’s a long post but I enjoyed Oleg’s insights and the yeoman’s work he put into arranging the data and writing up an analysis.

One of the bigger discoveries to emerge from the survey is that of the unfamiliarity of the candidates inhibiting people from voting. To be more specific, non-voters felt that it was hard to get an idea of what the candidates stood for, the difference between positions from their statements (which some judged as “worthless”), and that the sheer number of candidates made it hard to figure out who might be the best candidate for people to choose. Or, in my opinion, they got walloped with information overload. (There is some irony to this.)

Since reading Oleg’s analysis (which if you haven’t done yet, you should do now; I’ll wait), I’ve been thinking about how to condense and present the ballot so that people can be able to make judgments on a hierarchy of information points. (Brief aside: I have no idea what the voting interface looks like; I’m just imagining how a sample ballot or election page might look.)

Here’s what I would suggest:

[Name]

[Memberships][Committees]

[Priority Issues, numbered #1 through #5]

[One line personal statement which links to personal statement that has both a short ~200 word position paragraph and a longer unlimited word statement]

So it would look like this:

Andy Woodworth

PLA, LITA, RUSA, YALSA, AASL. Chair, Volcano Worshipper’s Roundtable.

Priority issues: Advocacy, Organizational Transparency, eBook/eContent, Small Libraries, MLS accreditation 

“I believe public libraries change people’s lives everyday”

(embedded link to short and longer statements)

My thinking approach in presenting it this way is to put association involvement first and foremost to give people an idea if the person is doing anything in the organization. I would imagine that, in electing counselors, some display of experience or commitment might be seen as a desirable quality.

As to the inclusion of ranking priority issues, this could originate from either a predetermined master list of issues that ALA creates or given over to the candidates to formulate for themselves. It would force the candidates to prioritize their issues in a way in which that people could draw differences between them at a glance. As a voter, if you are looking for someone who make certain issues a priority, this would allow you to cut to the chase in terms of offering support for certain candidates. It’s another way of pulling out differences from the candidates and possibly allow for voters to examine similar groups of candidates on a spreadsheet more easily.

With the one line personal statement linking to the longer ones, it allows voters who want more information to seek it out. By including a 200 word personal statement, it gives a sample of what they stand for and their reasoning. The candidates can use the unlimited statement space to make any and all points, plans, or promises that they are willing to offer voters.

I know there are other ideas zipping around about how to address the non-voting issue so I hope this adds to the conversation. I hope that this suggestion can be put to use by the membership in order to make the voting process a bit more friendly by allowing people to base their decision on an ever increasing amount of information offered.

If you have other ideas for how to make the ballot better, comment away!

14 thoughts on “Four Out of Five Librarians Do Not Rock the Vote, Cont.

  1. Although I did vote, like many non-voters I was turned off by the lack of information about the candidates. I procrastinated on voting because I couldn’t tell if the ballot would contain candidate information without starting the vote process, and I didn’t know if I would be able to leave it to read said information without disrupting the vote process.

    Which is to say, I think if you’re talking about communicating *on the ballot*, you’re already too late. The information should definitely be readily accessible there, but there also needs to be information communicated in advance — like a sample ballot, that tells us what to expect from the real one and also provides all that candidate information. (My town sends sample ballots before real elections…isn’t this normal?)

    I’d also like to see more forums for candidates to disseminate knowledge…of course they should all be running their own campaigns, but maybe some prominent AL Direct links in the weeks leading up to the sample election to, say, the sample ballot, or the ALA Connect forum where all the candidates have posted statements and are responding to discussion questions (…that forum should totally exist, right?).

    I feel like I voted for the people I already know because they’re within my own private Twitter echo chamber. Which means I know they’re good people, but it doesn’t exactly work to bring the organization together and make us feel like a cohesive whole, or to help me learn what other constituencies’ interests might look like.

    • I’m with Andromeda on this. I did some preliminary research on majority of the candidates (including people I knew that were running) before I voted, and still felt like I knew close to nothing on majority of their goals or stances on, well, anything. I felt completely overwhelmed by how broad stroked many of the commentary and personal responses were written, how it felt like they were writing things simply to fill a box rather then to take an absolute position on this or that issue.

      That really disturbed me.

      • Even though I am not an ALA member and therefor not a voter, I was dismayed by the ALA Presidential platform writeups. I left with a feeling of “what does that even *mean*?” It really didn’t define what the candidates would do or how they were different from each other. The same went for some of the candidate statements, including from people I know. What gives? If I was to run and use their statements, I’d just shorten it to “YAY LIBRARIES”.

        • This.

          Maybe I’ve been reading too much Hemingway as of late, but I prefer straight to the point with an economy of words rather then jargony, acronymy, OMG I’ll pretend this is a GRE test prep that we were given for their write-ups.

          Also, your suggestion above for the ballot sample makes perfect sense, is simple and to the point. In addition, the a one sentence explanation of their priorities along with their list would be EXTREMELY helpful. If you can’t explain in one sentence, then perhaps you don’t really understand what you’re doing…

          • I prefer straight up, just like the Paula Abdul song.

            The best thing I ever did in library school was take a Professional Writing course. It took me out of Jargon Hell and made me a much better writer. Some of these candidates should really do the same.

            • I feel that, at least in my experience writing was given short shrift. In some classes I was expected to complete in-depth research papers (and turn in my proposal and list of references before I began). For other courses, writing was deemed non-essential, we did not even discuss current issues, just learned how to search databases. Especially now, with budget issues, I see that many aren’t able to communicate clearly and effectively through writing. This effects everything from budget expenses justification, grant writing, to understanding research methodology (in the case of academic libraries) in order to understand the input patrons must put into their research.

              • “in order to understand the input patrons must put into their research”

                Should have read, in order to understand the work that needs to go into research and to tailor reference and instruction sessions accordingly.

    • Sample ballots – YES.

      And I like the idea of having additional “official” forums for sharing knowledge about your skills, etc. I was getting at this idea in one of the ALA Think Tank Facebook groups. NMRT had a great thing going with the Online Candidates Forum, other groups should follow suit. For Council, this could take the form of “Candidate Spotlight” on AL Direct.

  2. This is similar to the League of Women Voters’s approach to candidate information-gathering. I always hunt out their publication (even though it’s paper-only, argh!) before my local elections, and if I’m in any way typical of a potential ALA voter (which, admittedly, is begging a significant question), the technique should work well for ALA too.

    To reach the less-electronically-inclined, I should think putting the voter guide in American Libraries would be a smart move. Ideally, the 200-word statements would go in directly, but with the huge number of candidates that might not be economically feasible. Top jobs get full statements, everyone else gets links, maybe?

    For cool points, how about faceting candidates by their chosen top issues in the online guide? (The worry, of course, is that candidates will try to pander. I have a feeling most librarians are just a bit too ornery and upright-natured for that, though.)

  3. I voted-with your suggestion my main issue is whether the candidates will bother to complete the fields. Several profiles I looked at didn’t bother to list how their experience would aid ALA, either by creating new services or improving old ones.

    • My position would be that they leave the fields open to their own peril. If they want to attract voters, they should define their issues.

  4. The question I would most like to see ALA Council candidates answer on next year’s ballot is: “What do you hope to accomplish as an ALA Councilor?”

    The answer to that question could accomplish two things: inform voters of what you plan to do; and, allow them to use their knowledge of how ALA Council works to decide whether that plan is realistic.

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