Four in Five Librarians Do Not Rock the Vote

One in five.

That’s how many ALA members voted in this year’s annual elections for positions ranging from President to Council. One in five is also the ratio of voters to non-voters for the previous year’s election. For a profession that likes to reach back and quote individuals going back to the Founders about the importance of information in a democracy, it falls a bit short for its own professional organization.

To get some insight into this phenomena, Oleg Kagan has created a ALA Non-Voter’s Survey for the four in five members to fill out. It offers a range of explanations to choose from as well as providing space for people to type in their own. Participation in the survey is anonymous, so please take a moment to add your explanation if you did not vote.

In looking at the excuses, my own personal guess would be between “forgot” and “I don’t know enough about the candidates to vote for one”. I’d also be curious as to how the number of voters compared to the number of people committees, roundtables, task forces, Council, etc. (aka people who are actively involved in the organization at present.) 

If you voted, how did you make your decision as to who to vote for? If you didn’t vote (and you want to share), why didn’t you vote? And how can the organization get more people to vote?

(h/t: Patrick Sweeney)

29 thoughts on “Four in Five Librarians Do Not Rock the Vote

  1. I did vote, but I get why some people might not. I don’t like to vote without educating myself about the candidates, and the number of candidates for council is overwhelming. It ends up feeling arbitrary. I’m in ALA, ACRL, and a few sections, and I’m not sure I knew more than two or three people on any of the ballots.

    It’s also not always clear what these folks do and what impact they have.

    Perhaps it would help to have some more consistency in the ballots. Instead of a personal narrative, candidates would have to identify their top two or three concerns or issues in librarianship and their top two or three goals for their time in office.

    Also, maybe ALA has some statistics that suggest otherwise, but I think it’s bad to have the ballot open for so long. It’s open for a month or so, right? Well, when I get an email telling me to vote, and I have a month, it’s easy enough to put it aside. I say two weeks max. That way we might actually feel some urgency.

    • Hmm. What about having the certain issues defined and letting candidates make their stance on it? And I don’t mean things like censorship or freedom to read or other mainstays, but organization and professional issues.

      Not that I have any ideas on what those issues could be, but I think that might be a ‘right this moment’ sort of deal.

    • Seconded — I voted, but I put it off because I didn’t know anything about most of the candidates. Of course I felt educated about the ones I knew personally, and I thought ALA had done a good job informing me about the presidential candidates, but aside from that I was at sea. I was very bothered that I couldn’t read the candidates’ bios until I had actually started using the ballot, especially since it wasn’t well-communicated in advance that the ballot *would* have bios, or that I would be able to read the bios without disrupting the vote submission.

    • I completely agree with this. I think that there are just far too many positions and people running for seats that I am just paralyzed by choice. I only voted on those categories and people who I know professionally or personally. That’s not really informed decision making. I just don’t have the time in my life to sift through the biographies of hundreds of candidates for positions in ALA.

      Perhaps if there were fewere positions which required membership vote and the remainder were appointments from within division or round table. I care more about who will steer the ship than about who will be on the remainder of the team.

  2. Or barring any substantive changes to the ballot, how about a 10% discount on next membership renewal for those who do vote? Or vote and be registered to win a new iPad!

  3. I did vote, and i read through the nominee statements. Anyone who was too lazy and left it blank didnt get a vote, the others I voted on by both what they said and what they had done.

    A lot of the personal narratives were mind-numbingly general: improve participation; lead change. I happily voted for members who actually got to the “how” of things…but the majority of those running wrote no such thing.

    I do wonder how many librarians are members in-name-and-dues-only of ALA. I noticed some librarians I work with had “continue membership in ALA” on their yearly goals and had for ages, but that’s *all* that happened – there was no hitting the conferences, joining the subgroups that would actually be useful to their work, etc. – I wonder if they’re our 80%.

    • It’s funny, I read the same thing about the statements for the people running for ALA President this past year. Very airy, wishy washy language that happens to look a lot like what the other person wrote. So it becomes a matter of name recognition.

      It sounds more like people are writing what they expect people would want to hear rather than selling what they have done as a means of asking support. I know a certain amount of advertising subscribes to that, but it’s shouldn’t be so vague as to sound contentless.

  4. Thank you for posting this. I wonder why the survey designer didn’t have an option for “don’t care”. Apathy is a huge factor when it comes to voting participation.

    • Hi Leah,

      I probably should have put a “Don’t care” option, but like Andy said, that’s what the Other box is for. I had the same feeling about putting “Huh? Election? ALA? Whaaa??” as one of the options.

      The most important parts of the survey to me are the “open” fields. That’s where I expect the most useful and interesting answers will be.

      The checkboxes are simply easy to quantify. They give fairly little information.

  5. I voted and, like many others, go *mostly* from the statements that candidates submit. There were one or two people who I am familiar with online and therefore they were a familiar candidate to vote for. They also recommended certain people for council, advice that I gladly took. The movers and shakers tend to know other movers and shakers. I, too, was disappointed with the statements the candidates submitted –or didn’t submit at all! This is their time to shine and very few were sparkling at me. The candidates who went that extra step to contact me via email or just write a great statement got my vote.

    As to voters vs. non-voters, I’m rather doubtful that we’ll be able to do much to get people to vote who just don’t care. It “looks good” if you’re a member of ALA but if you don’t have to do diddly-squat besides pay a membership fee, then who’s going to care about the next leaders of the organization? I think this is a big issue with no easy answers.

    • I’d rather not see people reason themselves out of trying and give up. It’s worth it to take a shot and try to unravel it. I don’t know if what Oleg will get will be statistically significant, but I do know that any feedback is more than they had to start.

      • The sample population is members who are eligible to vote, but didn’t. That’s a pretty important element here. If a person voted, we would ask totally different questions. Questions related to voter experience etc.

        What this survey is getting at is the thought process that goes into not voting, meaning what goes into the decision not to vote, if in fact such a decision occurs. In order to reach the population of non-voters, we need to ask THEM for their opinion, not the nine-thousand-something people who did vote. While their opinion is very important, they’re already past that decision point. Plus, it’s only three questions on purpose. Fitting both populations into 3 questions and getting useful info would be a stretch.

        As for statistical significance, there are several issues that limit our reach to the sample population (i.e. not everyone has the internet or uses their ALA email) and the distribution thus far has mostly been ‘net-based. However, in terms of numbers, several sample size calculators showed that getting around 400 (~382 actually) surveys would mean we are able to (aside from the aforementioned issues) safely generalize our findings to the forty-thousand-something non-voters. That’s as far as my stats knowledge goes…I did take a class as a prereq to lib school, but that learning flies so quickly away. *sigh*

  6. They could make the process easier. The only way you could get to the ballot was using a link on an email from ALA. As far as I could tell, only one email was sent out. I couldn’t find my email, so I asked if they could resend the information. Instead, they sent me an email stating that they had already sent me the information I needed. I did finally find the email in my SPAM folder and was able to vote, but it was a much more time consuming process then it should have been.

    • Jessica, I’ll follow up here on your comment. I know that we send out multiple reminders — but then the reminders go to the same email address as the original “time to vote” message. So, if your spam filter scoops up the first one….
      We’ll keep working on the “make it easier” bit. Thanks.

    • Agreed. I also seem to recall discovering that I needed my member number to vote, which is when I decided that the process was too annoying for basically zero return to me, personally. I don’t remember my member number! (And I don’t regularly have it handy, either.) This is why I created a username to sign into ALA sites. Why couldn’t I log in with that?

  7. I voted for the first time this year. I have been a member of ALA and ACRL off and on for a number of years now. Voting has never been a high priority because it seems that the leadership of ALA often is so far removed for the realities of its membership. It’s not particularly inspiring. While I understand that you have to establish a reputation and gain experience to be seriously considered, the candidates for president are often so high up in their organizations that they seem to have forgotten what it’s like for front-line staff. That’s disconcerting to me because I’d imagine most of ALA’s membership are people who are doing the face-to-face, daily work to keep libraries running. Personally, I don’t need a bunch of ideological statements as much as I need people in the Council and leadership who truly get what it’s like to be a librarian or library staff member who is overworked, being asked to do more with far less, and sees the gritty side of the populations we work with. Most of what comes out of ALA is useless or too late for issues facing librarians today. My vote doesn’t seem to have much influence in changing the organization.

  8. In your post, you asked how the number of voters compared to the number of people appointed to/elected to boards, committees, task forces, etc. Some years ago — when the Handbook of Organization was still being printed — I asked how many names were in the index of persons — the index of all the individuals on “official” groups of one sort or another. The number was approximately 5,000 — so about 50% of the number of people who actually voted.

    The number today is an interesting question — and I’ll give some thought to how to arrive at an answer. What the “handbook” number doesn’t account for, for instance, is the people who start/champion/support various member groups in ALA Connect. The “handbook” number wouldn’t necessarily include all the project groups among ALA Emerging Leaders.

    It makes sense to be that there would be a link between active engagement and participation in the election — but that active participation can take multiple forms. It also makes sense that individual “friend” networks would come into play in a decision to vote — but I’m not sure how I’d look at that question.

    An interesting discussion thread… thanks.

    • Thanks for your comment, Mary. This is an interesting puzzle to unravel which why I’m curious to see what results Oleg receives. I certainly hope this blog post (and some of the answers I have gotten on Twitter) will offer some insight to you and the ALA staff about this particular issue.

  9. I didn’t vote because the ALA does absolutely nothing for me, as far as I am concerned. If it wasn’t for the “prestige” of belonging to a professional organization (and for the publications) I would have no reason to belong. As far as I am concerned the ALA doesn’t tackle the big issues that are facing libraries today. The management of ALA seems so far removed from the realities of libraries issue, I grow tired of supporting it.

    • I agree with you. I have been a member for two years and the things I have read in ALA publication shave little to do with me, my library job and what I plan to do in the future with my career. I have debated whether to stay a member for the upcoming year.

    • @Aaron, There’s prestige with being an ALA member? I wasn’t aware of that.

      Sarcasm aside, why are you a member? Better yet, what issues are libraries facing today that ALA does not confront, that you wish they would? I’ll bet if you joined a smaller ALA division that aligns more with the specifics of your concerns or area of librarianship you would feel more satisfied.

  10. I voted. I didn’t find the process difficult and had no issues casting my ballot. But for council I only voted for a few people — people I knew and felt would be good additions to council. Almost none of them won. I’ve noticed over the years that it is really hard for people to get elected that first time so I usually try to support those who would be new to council. Certainly council benefits from the experience of those who have served multiple terms but it would also benefit from some new perspectives so I use my votes for them. I think it would be good for ALA to indicate on the ballot (and in the announcement of the results) how many are new to council. It’s so important to have a good balance.

  11. I will sadly have to go with the “Waaaaaaa?” option since I had no idea there were elections in which I could participate. I knew that ALA had elections but not that I was a ordinary member had the option to vote. To be honest, I assumed those positions were employed positions, not voted ones, insomuch as the candidates were simply interviewed and hired.

    I plan to be more informed next time.

  12. I vote almost every year. And I plow through the bios and statements. It probably takes me an hour or so to get through the list. I don’t vote for: anyone who has already served two terms (no matter how good they are – take a break); anyone who hasn’t been an ALA member at least five years (do they really know what they are getting into?); and those cranks who have personal crusades on singular issues. I try to vote for at least one trustee. And I start at the bottom of the ballot and work my way up (I figure they’re lonely down there, and most voters fail to reach them out of exhaustion).

    It’s way too long a list, for what seems (to this long time observer) to be a debating society. Maybe we could regionalize the elections, or otherwise make it a more digestible list.

    But what I woudl really like to vote for is the Executive Board. Now that’s where the decisions seem to be made which affect us as a profession and where the organization moves from. Having the Council elect them is a throwback to when the state legislatures elected our US senators.

  13. I’ve been voting for a least a few years (3?) now, though I’ve been a member longer than that. I agree with many of the previous posts: the process is quite cumbersome, since I do not know most of the candidates… So, I find that I have to go through, and glean from their bios, experience, “statements” whether they would be good representatives for “the rest of us” in the rank and files at HQ and stuff. I don’t know, I reckon that it some ways it has to do with the fact that we are pretty large NATIONAL (professional) organization: ALA, fer sure! I feel a tad more comfortable touching like organizations closer to my interests (e.g., ACRL, or local professional organizations like VLACRL, etc.) I often end up doing this stuff after hours, too, as often we can’t spare the work hours, due to our regular duties — and, dang, those blasted meetings!

  14. I’d like to add a word of support for the comments of Keith McCoy. Like Keith and for the same reason, I’ve made it a habit to start from the bottom of the ballot and work my way up. I also avoid voting for those who have already served. But this year, after 37 years of voting, I decided to vote only the top of the ballot. I skipped the Council elections. I agree that Council seems to be a debating society and not a legislative body and this year I could not justify spending a lot of time reading through that huge list of names and bios to elect members of a Council where there’s lots of talk but little action. The Executive Board seems to be the group that has the power and makes the decisions and I too would like to vote for its members. Actually, I would gladly vote to both provide for the popular election of the Executive Board and abolish the Council.

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