ALA Election Participation Survey – Results

[Quick Hits — This is a fairly long post. If you’re pressed for time: Skim the intro, take in the percentages of questions one and two, read question three, skim conclusion. Download .pdf of whole post for later.]


A little while after the 2011 ALA Election, Erica Findley posted a message to the Facebook group ALA Thinktank lamenting the lackluster voter turnout (approximately 1/5 of ALA members voted). Reasons for the low turnout were discussed (mostly by people who voted) until Andy Woodworth challenged us to stop the conjecturing and do something. Reading that, I pondered for a minute or two and decided, per the #makeithappen philosophy, to find out why people didn’t vote. The best way that I could think of how to do that was to simply ask.

I spent a few minutes brainstorming and wording the questions/answer choices and creating the survey. Using Google Forms I got a tool which was both free and conveniently deposited the answers into a downloadable spreadsheet. Naturally, the questions I came up with aren’t perfect, but I felt that the survey had to directly address voting (not general ALA gripes, though those came in too), be short enough so even the worst of I-don’t-care-niks would take a moment to fill it out, and be useful for future Election committees.

After coming up with the survey, I posted a link to the Thinktank for a people to review before giving the word to let the survey loose into the world. The distribution was completely voluntary and started via social media as several Thinktankers posted a link on their Twitter and Facebook feeds, as well as their blogs. After this first wave, I can’t say exactly how the survey spread but I do know that several state library organizations received it as well as some general library list-servs. A huge boost in responses came when the folks behind AL Direct included the survey in their weekly round-up. A completely online distribution means, of course, that offline non-voters were not represented within the results. This is a trade-off that had to be made since a direct mail and/or phone campaign would have made a turnaround of just under two weeks impossible. This is just one of the issues that we must take into account when considering the validity of our results, feel free to post others in the comments.

Between the time the survey opened May 4th and closed May 16th, a total of 521 responses were received. This was brought down to 502 after I removed the entries from respondents that were clearly not part of the sample population (those who voted or were not eligible to vote) and obvious duplicates. The only other edits I made were to insert a paragraph to a respondent’s answer for question two per her request by email, and to correct the occasional typo and spelling mistake when I caught them (I didn’t, however, systematically correct spelling, my name not being “Spell Check”). The complete cleaned-up spreadsheet of responses is here(.pdf, 233KB), the raw responses are here(.pdf, 240KB). A cursory glance will reveal very few differences between the two, but keep in mind that the calculations below are based on the cleaned-up version. Also, I tallied the the following statistics by hand so please excuse the human error that probably hides there. If you catch anything, do let me know.

My more specific analyses are below and in the conclusion, however, a general word or two before the results. Reading through the responses (which I did, several times…Yes, all five hundred of them) was at once demoralizing, enlightening, and hopeful. It’s true that some respondents were very forthcoming about their apathy, but this was tempered by the respondents who, despite being hampered by various things, were truly earnest in their desire to vote. My intention and hope in doing this survey and taking the time to calculate and write up these results is that future election committees, ALA administration in general and, most importantly, candidates would use them to spur change in the election process in order to draw more turnout. 502 responses is an amount that, at least statistically, is said to represent the approximately forty thousand non-voters. Now that we are in possession of this information, let’s take the initiative and increase future voter turnout. #makeithappen


The Results

Question 1:
Why didn’t you vote in the 2011 ALA Election? (respondents could choose all that applied so results do not add up to 100%)

75%   I was unfamiliar with the candidates
38%   I don’t understand what, if elected, the candidates would do.
24%   Voting takes too much time.
23%   Other*
17%   I forgot
9%   The voting interface was clunky
3%   I didn’t know there was an election
2%   Circumstances beyond my control prevented me from voting

* 23% of respondents wrote in their own responses in the open field marked “Other.” These loosely break down in the following way (responses were categorized twice when appropriate, see Appendix for all responses):

25%   (6% of total) Apathy (“Didn’t care,” “Not interested in outcome”) or something similar
21%   (5% of total) Time Pressure (“Too busy,” “Low priority”) or something similar
12%   (3% of total) Candidate Issues (“too many,” “no difference,” “don’t represent me”) or something similar
11%   (2.6% of total) Online Voting Issues (“Paper ballots,” “Won’t vote online”) or something similar
8%   (2% of total) My fault (“I didn’t take the time,” “laziness”) or something similar
8%   (2% of total) General disconnect from ALA as a whole (“not involved with,” “don’t feel part of,” “doesn’t impact my professional life”) or something similar
7%   (1.5% of total) Did not perceive oneself part of voting public (“retir(ing/ed),” “student,” new) or something similar
7%   (1.5% of total) Bureaucratic Issues (Couldn’t login, etc.) or something similar
3%   (<1% of total) Timing of Election (“Voting Window too short”) or something similar
2%   (<1% of total) Other Analysis:
Based on the simple tallies and categorization carried out for question one, the overwhelming problem for non-voters is a lack of connection to the candidates, if not the organization as a whole. The sample population (ALA members who were eligible to vote but didn’t) did not recognize the names of those who were running and were unfamiliar with the position for which they were running. In their follow-up comments, a number of respondents felt that they should not vote for candidates and issues on which they are not educated.

Time was another major issue according to question one. The 24% and the 5% in the “Other” field (note that respondents could have marked off, “Voting takes too much time” in addition to writing a related comment in the open field) that indicated not voting due to time-related issues had a variety of reasons including too much to do at home or at work (staffing shortages, etc.), as well as the size of the ballot, and time necessary to do adequate research on the candidates and their positions. The voting interface, or size of the ballot, could also have contributed if the non-voter had started a ballot but did not have time to go back and finish it.

Related to time issues were cases of “information overload” that led to forgetfulness or lost emails, and a range of bureaucratic issues like absence of login information. Likewise, the “information overload” factor was also likely related to the amount of candidates which might have a link to the respondents who blamed themselves for being too lazy or simply not taking the time to give voting due diligence (2%).

A small faction (2.6%) of the non-voter population were exclusively adamant about paper ballots. This percentage increases a little when the responses that mentioned paper ballots in the other questions (but did not write them in to the “Other” field in question one) were tallied with this. The ease of reading offline, “email overload,” and a distrust in the integrity of online voting were the main reasons for this group.

More information could be taken from the raw data provided in question one if the amount of respondents who marked the same two (or more) options were counted (i.e. How many respondents that marked “I was unfamiliar with the candidates” also marked “I don’t understand what, if elected, the candidates would do”?). Having that information would allow further conclusions to be drawn about non-voters. If anyone would like to take that on, just email me and I’ll send you my Excel spreadsheet with the data. I’m sure plugging the responses into a database would make finding links quite easy (by searching for two strings using an AND operator in the appropriate field, for example). As with everything, post any results you get into the comments and I’ll incorporate them into what’s already up here.

Question 2:
Please expand on the items you selected above.

Approximately 2/3 of the respondents to question one also responded to question two. Instead of forcing you to read all 334 of the responses to this question, I broke them down and tallied them using similar categories as those in the “Other” field above. If they fit in one or more of the categories, I put them there, if they explained an item in question one I didn’t mark them down unless they fit snugly into one of the other categories. Many of them ended up fitting into more than one category. Below the quantified results I’ve highlighted responses I felt were representative or noteworthy in some way.

23%   Time Pressure (“Too busy,” “Low priority”) or something similar
22.6%   Candidate Issues (“too many,” “no difference,” “don’t represent me”) or something similar
18%   General disconnect from ALA as a whole (“not involved with,” “don’t feel part of,” “doesn’t impact my professional life”) or something similar
10%   Did not perceive oneself part of voting public (“retir(ing/ed),” “student,” new, foreign) or something similar
8%   Bureaucratic Issues (Couldn’t login, etc.) or something similar
7%   Apathy (“Didn’t care,” “Not interested in outcome”) or something similar
7%   My fault (“I didn’t take the time,” “laziness”) or something similar
5%   Online Voting Issues (“Paper ballots,” “Won’t vote online”) or something similar
4%   Other
1%   Timing of Election (“Voting Window too short”) or something similar

Time Pressure:
“I’m just so busy, it’s really hard to find the time to become more informed about the candidates.”

“I belong to two divisions and several sections within those divisions, which means a lot of ballots and a lot of races. Most of the time I don’t know much about the candidates and reading through their list of accomplishments is tedious. Unlike political elections, I feel most candidates are generally on the same page with me and there aren’t controversial issues or enough clear differences between the candidates to compel me to vote.”

“The election falls in one of the busiest times of the year for my library, and I didn’t have time to look up all the candidates, learn about them and their positions (not just what they say publicly as part of their platform, but their larger presence in the library world, etc.)”

Candidate Issues:
“I feel anyone willing to run for the positions listed has already decided to commit themselves fully to undertaking the responsibilities necessary to their elected position. Any differences between the candidates would be like deciding what flavors of dessert you wanted after you’ve already committed to eating dessert: they are all equally yummy.”

“To read and make informed decisions about who to vote for and why would have taken more time than I have whether at work or at home. My other priorities take precedence. There is little encouragement or interaction at work to discuss candidates, their importance as elected ALA officers to do what for us that has meaning and impact for us at a local level.”

“I honestly don’t see any difference between any of the candidates. They all take a very standard, middle-of-the-road approach to our profession and supply the same answers to the same questions.”

General disconnect from ALA as a whole:
“…I am not convinced that the leadership of ALA (especially at the very highest levels) really makes any difference in my day-to-day work and the constraints that my library faces.”

“The ALA is some ambiguous, amorphous organization that I really have no contact with. I don’t see how it helps me in the day to day; it focuses almost solely on public libraries; and some of its stances are frankly embarrassing and ridiculous. (Why in the world does a library organization need to pass resolutions on unrelated political happenings? A resolution on the war in Iraq? Really?) I guess I feel that the ALA is out of touch. They talk a good game, but it’s the same game they’ve been talking for the last twenty years, albeit with a different vocab. I can’t think of a demonstrable difference they’ve made in my life, professional or personal, and if they have, they have failed to communicate it.”

Did not perceive oneself part of voting public (“retir(ing/ed),” “student,” new) or something similar
“I’m a new ALA member. I don’t have much familiarity yet with the organization, the elected positions, or the persons running. I hope to become more familiar after attending this summer’s conference.”

“I just became a student member about two months before the election and the little blurbs sent out requesting my vote did not differentiate the candidates. I couldn’t tell what difference it would make to vote one way or the other. I usually vote in EVERY political election, and I hope to know more next year so that I can vote. I felt guilty for not voting, but did not want to make an uninformed decision.”

“I am a retired life member who is no longer active in ALA. I keep up on some of the news, and read parts of the online weekly newsletters; but ALA is not a focus in the way it was prior to my retirement. I will continue to support various units of ALA through paying for membership (& publications) but voting on the scale that ALA elections ask is something I no longer feel compelled to do.”

The clear takeaway from the responses to the second question is that many of them feel different aspects of candidate issues mixed with being “unfamiliar with the candidates” – how are they different, what they do, that there are too many are all strains that can be felt in nearly every response that mentions candidates at all. Respondents felt overwhelmed by the amount of candidates and with no way to easily distinguish them did not want to be “uninformed voters.” But without an easy way to get informed and with the added weight of time pressure, most respondents opted-out of voting.

In fact, the concept of the “uninformed voter” was huge in question two. Wanting to take their voting responsibilities seriously, many non-voters were curious about what their elected officials did, who they were besides what was written in their statements, and how they differed from the other candidates. This seemed to be a thread through many of the contests but particularly when selecting the Councilors – several people mentioned starting the ballot and not finishing it because they were unable to find time to research all of the candidates for those positions. As to how non-voters wanted the statements changed, there were mixed responses; some wanted longer ones, some shorter. Fairly few people explained exactly what kind of information they wanted to know about candidates.

Moving to a larger scale, the issue of being disconnected from ALA was consistently brought up: it’s relation to day-to-day life, the size of the organization, and the complexity of its governance structure was a mystery and a turn-off to many non-voters who, as a result, indicted that they felt distant from the candidates and ALA’s everyday achievements. Even members who were heavily involved in a specific area of ALA appeared wary of the whole. For some of these members (though not all of them), political stands perceived as being unrelated to library issues played a part in their disillusionment.

Two groups that were notable in removing themselves as part of the “voting public” were students and retired (or almost retired) members. Students who were still in school or had recently graduated (Congrats!!), for the most part, did not feel that they knew enough about the candidates in particular and ALA in general to cast an “informed” vote. Many students that responded, however, mentioned that they expected to be voting members in the future once they got settled. Retired members, on the other hand, while remaining involved and passionate about libraries, did not expect to return to being voting members in the future.

7% of respondents reported being in some way apathetic, demoralized, or cynical about the voting process. For many, this was as a result of systematic problems within ALA, for some, it was a matter of representation. A small number of school and academic librarians felt that ALA represented primarily public libraries. A few respondents with non-traditional library jobs likewise felt disenfranchised.

The number of technical/bureaucratic issues such as lost logins, uncertain membership info, or some other technical mishaps were a slightly larger percentage of question two responses than write-ins for question one. The number of folks interested in paper ballots was very slightly higher in question two (13 in q1 versus 18 in q2) though a negligible amount when looking proportionally at the number of responses.

Question 3:
What would need to happen for you to vote in the next election?

Of the 300 responses to question three, only fourteen (~5%) were flat-out against voting in the future. Mostly everyone else who responded had some condition that would lead that respondent to vote in the next election. The majority of these conditions fell into the following categories:

24%   Learn more about the candidates / their responsibilities
19%   Demonstrate ALA/Election relevance
8%   Other
8%   Clear differences between candidates / different candidates
8%   Simpler voting process
7%   More time in my schedule
6%   Nothing, I’ll vote in the future
6%   Paper ballots
5%   Less/more/different reminders
4%   Less candidates
3%   Fix login issues
2%   If someone I know has running

Again, as we saw in the previous questions, the biggest obstacle for non-voters was becoming “informed voters.” Various suggestions were given as to how voters could be informed about the different candidates including: A widely distributed voters’ guide, candidate’s campaigning, “Meet the Candidates” forums for more of the candidates, using different methods to connect to voters, particularly online (YouTube, Twitter, audio, etc.). Non-voters wanted to know who they were voting for and most, when they found this to be too difficult or time-consuming, decided not to vote. Kim Leeder had made a spreadsheet outlining the various candidates for Councilor-at-Large and this was mentioned by a respondent (though not by name), it seems like the spreadsheet is close to what some non-voters were looking for. Dovetailing into knowing more about the candidates is the 8% of respondents that wanted to see a clearer difference between the candidates or different candidates in general.

The second most important condition that would encourage respondents to vote is for ALA to demonstrate it’s relevance. This was a hazy issue for most non-voters, but was often related to paying dues and not seeing noticeable differences in their workplaces especially when held up against the budget issues many of the respondent’s libraries were facing. A sizable group within this percentage were new ALA members who were feeling lost in the shuffle. Several suggested a new member’s guide or something similar to give them an idea why the American Library Association matters. Though, as mentioned in the introduction, this survey was not intended to be a place for general ALA gripes, it appears that not voting in the election is directly related to them. This became clear in the “Other” category in which respondents mentioned ALA’s political stances, and again, dues-related issues. In the same category were requests for changes to ALA governance with special emphasis on increasing term limits. My personal favorite response that was categorized as “Other” was that “filling out this survey” was what needed to happen for that person to vote in the next election. If only the other 501 respondents made it so easy.

The final batch of categories to cover are those to refer to “process”: “fix login issues,” “less/more/different reminders,” “simpler voting process,” and “paper ballots.” The latter is another thread that has been going since question one, though here a few “paper ballot” respondents clarified that they prefer ballots or voters’ guides printed out, but are okay with voting online. The difference in this group is between respondents who do not trust online voting inherently and those who, for various reasons, prefer to make their decisions offline but are okay with expressing those decisions using the online system. Some of the frustration of the “paper ballot” group was similar to those that could not vote because of “login issues” which is described under bureaucratic issues above in question two.

“Simpler voting process” is several suggestions rolled into one category: some respondents felt that the emails explaining how to vote were unclear, while others felt that the ballot was too long and should have been broken down into chunks so as to be managed easier, a few respondents suggested that the voting be open from one day to a week to even longer. Rarely were opinions about process explained in detail, probably due to size of the input field. A few sentences to a paragraph or two was the general length of responses – not long enough to indulge in deep discussion about how long to keep voting open. In general, the reminders were also a point of contention for a few non-voters. Sending more to aid in remembering or sending fewer to add immediacy were proposed, but like the other opinions about process, explanations did not run very long. A third suggestions, of sending reminder using different social media was brought up – this is an idea that was anticipated by Patrick Sweeney and a few others, the efficacy of which could not be measured in this survey.


Bearing in mind that the American Library Association and its election committee cannot control the country’s economy, clear a few hours in librarian’s schedules, or, on its own, get unemployed librarians fulfilling work, there are still enough items gleaned from our results that those responsible for future elections should strongly consider. Readers may draw myriad conclusions based on the results as outlined above, as well as their own perusal of the 502 responses, but what follow are my recommendations as they stand after spending many hours reading, categorizing, and analyzing the survey’s results:

Election Committee: Create an easily accessible (read: a link from the ALA main page) election home page that contains a voters’ guide that is available both in HTML and downloadable as a .pdf, links to candidate’s home pages, short videos explaining what each positions does, instructions explaining the voting process, and a “Contact Us” area for those are having trouble logging in or finding the voting email. A little link to a survey asking “How was your voting experience?” wouldn’t hurt either. After you’ve created the page, get the word out about it far and wide. If nobody knows about it, nobody will use it.

Candidates: Actively campaign! Non-voters WANT to know who you are and what you’re going to do. Put up a simple WordPress site, throw a few essays on there that tell voters more about you than your CV does. Go in person or online wherever ALA members are and engage people in discussion. ALA can only do so much to get your name out there, the onus is on you to show why you and the position you hope to fill matters.

ALA: Do whatever it takes, but please do not put so many candidates on the ballot. Are members really expected to go through forty candidates in choosing the Councilors on top of the other positions they’re voting for? It’s a lot to ask even for dedicated members. As respondents suggested, stagger the elections, extend term limits, “streamline” the organization (I interpret that as a call to cut down the number of positions, committees, round tables, task forces, and whatever other groups ALA contains). I’m not informed enough about ALA governance to give specific recommendations about this here, but I know that some people reading this will be. All I can say is next time, less candidates for Councilors please.

(Non-)Voters: It’s been said before, and I’ll say it again…ALA is not a panacea. Most folks filling volunteer positions in the organization truly care about libraries and librarians and want to help but there is no way they can come to your library and, for example, take an hour at the reference desk or edit your libguides. ALA is a national organization that lobbies for libraries on the national-level – state orgs lobby at a state level and local advocacy groups are most effective locally. The fact is that most day-to-day library funding is done at the state or local levels, not nationally. That doesn’t mean that ALA can’t do anything to help your organization or you personally. I’m a new member of ALA and a new librarian, but the folks from ALA that I’ve encountered (pretty much exclusively online since I can’t afford conferences at this point) have been eager to do what they can. Shoot them emails with your ideas, including how to make ALA more relevant to YOU (and that includes thoughts about candidates and elections). As the survey indicates, there are many reasons why people didn’t vote. Hopefully everyone will take on the responsibility to make the path to voting a simpler one.

Finally finally finally, if you filled out the survey, a BIG thank you. Without you sharing your thoughts, no one would know that non-voters thought. Also, a BIG thank you to all of those who helped distribute this survey, I read a lot in books about the power of social media and crowdsourcing, but to see it happen beats all. Way to go, folks.

All the downloadable docs together:
Results Spreadsheet (cleaned up)(.pdf, 233KB)
Results Spreadsheet (raw)(.pdf, 240KB)
The Results w/ Appendix (.pdf, 146KB) – This post as a .pdf, for readers who love to do it offline.

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47 Responses to ALA Election Participation Survey – Results

  1. Denise Novak says:

    I just want to thank you for all the work you did in getting the survey out and then publishing those results. I’ve always felt voting was your civic duty – ALA is no exception. If you want to see change , then vote. Thanks again.

  2. Jenny Levine says:

    Seconding Denise’s thanks for putting in this effort. Can you please send me the spreadsheet?

    I can’t promise anything, but folks within ALA will definitely go through the data. Like you, I hope to contribute to improving the process. #makeithappen

    Jenny Levine
    ALA staff
    jlevine [at]

  3. Thirding the appreciation of the efforts expended :)

    Plus a comment leading to a question from your concluding comments to ALA:

    Comment: Regarding fewer candidates on the councilor-at-large ballot, there are 100 Councilors at Large (just over half of ALA Council) each serving a staggered 3 year term. We, the membership, elect 33 each year (well, 34 in year 3). Having at least 2 candidates for each seat increases the potential for representation from diverse interests and areas of ALA.

    Question: What size would “right-size” ALA Council? (yes, this is a loaded question)

    • Oleg K. says:

      I would feel uncomfortable answering your question, Aaron, not because it’s loaded but because I don’t think I have enough contextual knowledge (read: exactly what the Council does, how it represents the membership, etc.) to give you a good number. My point was that at election time, it’s not feasible for voters to give the proper attention to so many candidates. Sure, it’s easy to take Kim’s spreadsheet and sort them by location, or type of library, but is that really proper attention? According to the results, plenty of the respondents were overwhelmed by the numbers, hence the feelings of being “uninformed.” What it amounts to is that people want to vote responsibly and having such a large candidate pool makes it very difficult.

      What do you think is the right size? Do you think the Council can be made smaller without losing its effectiveness? What are other ways to reduce the number of candidates for Council on the ballot?

    • Sandy says:

      As a former ALA Councilor, I think Council is “too big” but I’m not sure where it could be made smaller once you factor in the chapter councilors, the division councilors, the interest group councilors, and the at-large councilors (and I’ve probably missed a few categories). I would be sorry to see the shrinkage come at the expense of the at-large group, but over the years I’ve seen some at-large councilors who appear to have made the Council their lifelong quest, so some term limits would be a great way to open up the field to newer, less-well-known ALA members. Just because somebody has been on Council for 20 years doesn’t mean that he or she is a better representative of the will of the organization than a person with less experience.

      • Oleg K. says:

        You wrote “I would be sorry to see the shrinkage come at the expense of the at-large group…” and yet you see the Council as “too big”. How are these two opinions to be reconciled? Do we do nothing?

        • Sandy says:

          I would reduce the at-large group by half, make the chapter council group smaller by dividing them into regions, and limit the number of divisional representatives by combining some of the smaller groupings to be represented by a common councilor.

        • Sandy says:

          This comment elaborates on my May 20th comment about reducing the size of ALA Council, and responds to Oleg’s question about how to do it. There are currently over 180 members in Council if I remember correctly, and 100 or so are at-large. If term limits were instituted, we could start by having the at-large councilors whose terms exceeded the agreed-upon limit cycle off Council as their current term expired. Other councilors could volunteer not to run again. The election cycle would have 16 or 17 slots to fill each year. Over about 6 years the number of at-large councilors would shrink to 50. Meanwhile, the chapter councilors (of whom I believe there are somewhat more than 50) could be reduced by dividing the list of chapters into “regions” by some means agreeable to the chapters, to whittle that group down to about 20 councilors. I don’t know exactly how far the number of divisional councilors could be reduced, but some of the smaller interest groups already share a councilor based on the total number of ALA members in their groups.

          • Oleg K. says:

            What kind of support do you think this sort of initiative could get from the folks who have to institute the changes? Would it fly?

        • Sandy says:

          I’m currently serving on the Committee on Organization, and given the amount of work that goes into making small changes to the organizational structure (such as changing the name of a division) I can only imagine the level of effort in making a major change to the governance, which would be one effect of shrinking the Council. Assuming that there was even buy-in to such a proposal, it would probably need to be discussed by the Executive Board, reviewed by a task force, brought forward to the Council, parceled out to various implementation committees representing the different constituencies, and on and on. Then, assuming there was agreement with those recommendations, there would be bylaws changes that would need to be approved by the ALA membership. All those steps would take at least a couple of years, with several discussions in Council at MidWinter and Annual. And I’m undoubtedly simplifying the process in this description. ALA is just a huge organization, and change is slow.

          • Oleg K. says:

            Wow. Thanks for breaking it down for me. Sounds like something that can only be pushed through with a large coalition of officers committed to a long-term process, and a larger group of members spurring them on.

  4. Susan McKinlay says:

    I was a non voter this time around thank you for posting the results of the survey. Is there a law agains candidates spamming during the voting period?

    • Oleg K. says:

      You’re welcome.

      Regarding a law against spamming, I don’t know. Are you talking about this recent election or asking just in general?

      Perhaps someone with knowledge of ALA policy on the matter can weigh in here?

      • Susan McKinlay says:

        What I meant was – it would have been nice to get a concise summary of the candidate’s views just before voting.

  5. Peter Hepburn says:

    Interesting reading, thank you for taking this on. I’ll be sharing this with the Election Committee – I think that the suggestions for the Committee are worth considering and doing.

    The suggestion that there be fewer candidates for Council is not really feasible, though. Even if Bylaws were changed (possible – they currently state that the number of nominees shall not be fewer than one-and-one-half times the anticipated number of member-at-large vacancies to be filled at the next election.”), people can petition to be on the ballot. I don’t like the idea of limiting that ability, and so the number of candidates is uncontrollable to some extent.

    I’ll post the same comments to the FB page. Thanks again for tackling this.

    • Oleg K. says:

      Hi Peter,

      Thanks for sticking around and taking in the proceedings. It makes it a whole lot more worthwhile to do this sort of thing if the people who are going to actually be doing the work are around to think about the suggestions.

      Re: less candidates — I don’t like the idea of limiting nominees either, but the fact remains that going through so many of them (and giving each candidate equal time) is rather difficult and, more pertinent to the our results here, time-consuming. Perhaps limiting the time members have to petition can be shortened? Hard to say since most of the candidates are eager to get involved and nobody wants to hamper that.

      On the other side, my personal opinion is that folks should have to take some time to do research and make their decisions, but what’s a fair amount to take out of personal/work hours? I mean, eventually you just throw your hands in the air and submit the ballot with only half the names selected and then well-meaning candidates lose by a handful of votes…Perhaps by the hands that were thrown in the air.

  6. Mary Ghikas says:

    Thanks for this work, Oleg — and thanks to everyone who’s responded. We’ve already begun discussing ways to improve the election process — based on the conversation that’s been going on through blogs and Twitter — and will absolutely review the survey results and see what else we might do.

    • Oleg K. says:

      Hi Mary, it’s great to hear that there is already talk of improvement. I’ll be watching with keen interest how the election process proceeds into next year. 20% turnout is not terrible, but I think we all agree that 40% would be better.

  7. Personofnointerest says:

    My response is in the “raw” file but deleted from the “cleaned” one. I don’t know why. I renewed my membership after the point at which you could no longer vote. There are a few other responses that indicated this was the one specific reason and they are likewise removed from the “cleaned” version. Why? Does it not fit the narrative of apathy? Jenny, please use the “raw” version in your analysis for ALA.

    • Oleg K. says:

      “I renewed my membership after the point at which you could no longer vote. ”

      Your response was edited out because you were not part of the sample population for this survey. The sample population consists of:
      1) ALA Members who are,
      2) eligible to vote in this election,
      3) but did not.

      You were not eligible to vote, therefore your answer was excluded from the survey. That is not to say that your opinion isn’t valid or interesting, that is why I released the raw results as well as the cleaned up ones. However, in order to have a representative sample of non-voters, I could only include people who could actually vote, but didn’t.

      Even in the “raw” results this may fit into the narrative of apathy (if there is one), however, there is no indication that other folks whose responses were edited out were apathetic. I don’t have an exact number, but probably close to half of the 20 or so were excluded because they voted.

      Hope that clarifies why your response was excluded from the “clean” version.

  8. Tara Morissette says:

    Thanks for working on this project. It makes me want to vote.

  9. Susan Massey says:

    I really like Oleg’s idea about a voter’s guide on the ALA website. I think his survey takes the pulse of our profession in hard economic times. The last thing we need is more ALA e-mail or candidate social networking to keep up with when we’re already pressed for time in our jobs. Thanks, Oleg, for being our voice.

    • Oleg K. says:

      Susan, my sense is that a voters’ guide should be base criteria for what the election landing page should have.

      As far as contacting voters through other methods (email, social networking, etc.), it treads a fine line. How will people know about the voters’ guide if no one reaches out to them? There are many library-world bubbles that people live in, the key to spreading election news and candidate’s campaigning is to gently nudge as many of those bubbles as possible. Gently being the operative word.

  10. Thank you for taking the time to put this together….. As one of the Council candidates who lost, I am encouraged that folks like you are serious in the election process and understand that we all want to serve in whatever way we can…… I’ll keep trying!!!
    God Bless

    • Oleg K. says:

      Get your name out there and the votes will follow. I looked at your site and you’ve been busy with libraries and all kinds of other good stuff for a long time, let the voters know that!

  11. Richard Moore says:

    I voted. And I thank you for your service. I am a retired school librarian, so I shared a list of councilor candidates who were school librarians with my state listserv. I also used Will Manley’s old trick and shared a list of candidates who mentioned the word “book.” Finally, I asked a friend, who is on council, for her recommendations — and shared her list.

    One item I didn’t see mentioned after skimming above, was the ALA dedication to non-alphabetized lists. While this may reduce some imagined problem with people who vote only from the top, it is a real pain for those of us who want to find an individual in the list.

    • Oleg K. says:


      I like your way of weeding the candidates…I think Will Manley’s way is a fine place to start as it will balance out all of the people searching for “web 2.0,” “social media,” and “digital.”

      As for non-alphabetized lists, the future presence of spreadsheets like Kim’s, that can be sorted by row should take care of that problem (as well as make it easier to ferret out type of library).

  12. Ginger says:

    A suggestion on dealing with the long list of Councillor candidates — add some ability to narrow it down. If the Councillor’s ballot allowed me to pull up a subset of candidates in my division or from my state/region or in reference/techserv/youth services, I could find people I know or with whom I probably share interests quickly. A searchable pdf with their statements would also be helpful.

    • Oleg K. says:

      Also an online spreadsheet like the one Kim Leeder made (linked above) which can be opened in any up-to-date browser (sorry Netscape Navigator users) makes sorting (and printing, I think) a cinch. A .pdf is my second choice though.

      • Andromeda says:

        There were a lot of people who made candidate lists serving some sort of purpose (e.g. all the Emerging Leaders running, or people’s personal endorsements). These were extremely useful as ways of filtering the large list of candidates — but I only knew about them because I happened to be in their extended social networks, and I’m sure I missed many other useful lists because I wasn’t on the right listserv or I don’t read the right blog or whatever. I’d love to see some sort of central place (e.g. a Connect community, advertised in AL Direct and elsewhere?) where people could post these lists and endorsements. (With a clear disclaimer, of course, that ALA took no position on them — but perhaps also with a few wonkish community maintainers who aggressively sought content to post there, so as to represent as wide a range of viewpoints as possible.)

        I think one of the big lessons of the modern internet is “when you have too much information, you need good filtering mechanisms”; endorsements and interest-based lists are good filtering systems, if they are easy enough to find.

        (…So OK; I guess I’m volunteering to co-maintain that community next year, if it can be set up. Oleg, you in? Who else? Mary, Jenny — would you be? or would you have good suggestions for people outside my social circle who would be exposed to different information?)

        • Oleg K. says:

          I think your suggestion is a great one to bring up to the Election Committee when/if they’ll be putting together a functional election landing page for next year. In a perfect world, people would just be able to upload (and/or post) their lists for the whole ALA community to peek at.

          If anything, I can def. help moderate.

  13. Hello,

    I just was to add to the thanks. What a great set of data. I hope it gets far within ALA. I have sent it to all the Committee and Interest Group chairs in my division.

    Personally, I would love to see the candidates campaign. I wanted to know more about each person beyond their statement and accumulation of committee experience. I want to see their dedication to serve and enthusiasm. I want to interact with them and ask questions. When voting, I searched for people online to see what they are doing and thinking about in the present and this grew to be very tedious. I know that not all candidates have the preference or ability to be present online, but I think this is really important as a way to reach ALA members that don’t travel to conferences. Maybe the proposed election site could contain a more full profile of each candidate and allow for keyword searching. If candidates could be somewhere virtually where I could ask them questions that would be really great. The onus would fall to the candidate to fill out their profile.

    I agree that setting up an election site would be beneficial. The candidate information could be posted there with perhaps more lead time so that voters could go view it without entering in to the voting process.

    • Oleg K. says:

      This whole thing started with your post so be proud.

      Your very last point is what makes a online and printable voters’ guide important. So people can review the candidates on their own schedule and be ready to vote by the time the polls open.

      I also agree that candidates should be responsible for, at least part of, their own profiles. I suppose there’s already standardized info they have to turn in when they petition to be on the ballot.

  14. Oleg,

    Truly remarkable report, which I think will be very valuable in helping ALA to change its elections to adapt to people’s needs! I especially second the recommendation for candidates to make information about themselves and their idea of the job public and available for all ALA voters to see. I’m sharing this on my diigo library, my twitter, facebook, etc. Thanks for all your hard work!

    AnnMarie Hurtado

    • Oleg K. says:

      AnnMarie! Your name sounded familiar and then I remembered, you’d done a library marketing survey not too long ago. It took me several sittings to read your whole report on my iPhone, but I did. Welcome here!

      I’m pleased you liked the Election Participation report and are sending it around. As (or more) important than filling out the survey is getting the word out about the results since that’s where the goods are. I appreciate you sharing.

  15. StevenB says:

    Perhaps it the tone of the comments – and perhaps it is what the survey respondents had in mind – but it seems to me the context of this non-voting discussion is the voting for ALA Councillors. I’ll agree that it is a challenge to vote for 30 some folks from a sizable group. It actually used to be easier to do this when the ballot was in paper (did you think to go back and compare voting percentages before it went digital and after – I’m betting fewer vote now than when it was done on paper) b/c you could easily read each candidates qualifications and statements. Online, this is a time consuming chore.

    But getting beyond Councillors, pointing to a lack of information about candidates or not having opportunities to connect with the candidates is to me another excuse for apathy or laziness (or perhaps folks are just too busy to bother). Tom Abbott and I were candidates for ACRL VP/Pres-Elect. We held a forum at midwinter to discuss the issues and allow folks to get to know us or ask their questions. Less than 50 people attended and most were ACRL board members and section officers. The forum was streamed online and available as an archive – virtually no one watched. We later held an online webcast where anyone could ask questions or hear us discuss the issues. Four ACRL members logged in to this webcast. So there were plenty of opportunities to become informed about the candidates. In addition to all of this we each wrote 1,500 word statements on our positions and shared ideas for the future of ACRL and academic librarianship. Again, lots of information about who we are and what we are thinking. Why didn’t the members take advantage of any of these opportunities? You can come to your own conclusions about that.

    • Oleg K. says:

      Hi Steven, thanks for reading the results and responding.

      While in the comments it does seem like the number of Councilors is the main context for the discussion of the results, I don’t think this necessarily so in the actual results of the survey. You wrote “perhaps” and I’m going to push back that further and say that there is little indication in the actual results that respondents felt that there were too many. In question one, less then 3% of respondents wrote it in as a reason for not voting, in question two, only some of the 22.6% of the respondents that mentioned “Candidate Issues” actually mentioned amount of candidates, likewise in question three, less then 5% of respondents mentioned having less candidates as a deciding factor in urging them to vote in the future. I mentioned it as my recommendation to ALA with the thought that it would relieve some of the time pressure and make it easier for voters to go through the materials (if the info is not readily available, it’s easier to research twenty candidates then forty) and I think that’s the origin of the threads in the comments section.

      The paper ballot issue is another one of those that was a thread throughout albeit, like less candidates, fairly small. I spend a lot of time online, but I agree that it would be easier to have the voters’ guide in print. I mentioned having it downloadable as a .pdf for the very reason that .pdf files are better-suited to printing then a ton of web pages. Perhaps ALA should provide members the option of having a general voters’ guide sent to them? Now, as far as more people voting when there were paper ballots, I’m sure the stats exist somewhere, just not with me. I did think of it, along with a bunch of other ways to make these results more meaningful, but my emphasis was on a quick turn-around time so many ideas got thrown aside. That is not to say that we can’t find that, or other things we get curious about, out now…

      This reply is getting fairly long, but I think I need to address a few things in your second paragraph before I hit “Post Comment.”

      To start, as a point of clarification, “lack of information about candidates” is not quite the same as being “uninformed about the candidates” — One refers to what’s out there while another refers to disconnect between the (non-)voter and 1) their perception of what’s out there, 2) ease of finding what’s out there, 3) understanding of what’s out there (it can be broken down differently as well, but you get my point I hope). Surely, plenty of candidates posted statements and CVs (probably not nicely-produced videos like you), but is that what voters are looking for? Is that what they consider informative? Do they have to go out of their way to find these things for each and every candidate? How do these items differentiate you from your opponent? (if your opponent is equally great, why bother voting for you?) Is your statement specific enough? Do your materials show your personality or just the facts of your work? Do you tell any stories? Is there any emotional involvement? I wrote “you” in these questions, but I’m talking generally here, except for the fact that you mention “family” in your video…The ACRL “family.” I think that’s great, but unless all ~12,000 members of ACRL know you personally, that’s a hard sell if there’s no emotional involvement. You’ve been a member of a lot of committees and have obviously put a lot of time and effort into ACRL, one can see that from reading your CV, so why did you rehash it in your video where you should have been connecting to voters?

      You’ve also put a lot of, dare I say it, emotional involvement, into ACRL. It’s obvious that you care about the organization and that’s why it’s no mystery why you’re frustrated by the voter turnout. You care. ACRL’s turnout was about steady with the 20% of the rest of the organization (ACRL was 22% actually, though only about 20.5% voted for Vice-President/President-Elect), what’s the reason? That’s what this survey intended to find out.

      There is a place for “apathy and laziness” in the results. I mean besides where it was actually written in, we must account for that in any survey of this type. Some people just didn’t want to put the effort in to do the research but claim they didn’t have time etc. etc. etc. BUT, I don’t think it’s right to read the 502 responses to the survey (or just my write-up) and then discount the majority of them as just another example of “apathy and laziness.”

    • Steve,

      I want to thank you for sharing what ACRL has been doing with candidate forums and webcasts. This is a model I am going to suggest to ALCTS. Perhaps something can be done to increase attendance, such as having these conference forums during non-conflict time or giving more visibility to these events in the conference program.

      Please don’t equate being uninformed about the candidates with laziness. I did vote and I did chase down information online about every candidate I could, but I could not go back in time to the conference and meet the people that did not put any information about themselves online (that I could find at least). My point above was to say that every candidate should have a place online so that, as members are able, they can go there and become informed. The process in place can be improved and that, I think, is why this survey is important.


  16. Pingback: (Non)participation in ALA elections « Marginalia

  17. Excellent, Oleg. I’m glad you rose to the challenge! :D

  18. Pingback: Four Out of Five Librarians Do Not Rock the Vote, Cont. « Agnostic, Maybe

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