ALA Council: Back in Boston, Council Covers Diverse Agenda

American Libraries, March 2005 | Go to article overview

ALA Council: Back in Boston, Council Covers Diverse Agenda


Boston Public Library President and ALA Councilor Bernie Margolis opened the first of ALA Council's three Midwinter Meeting sessions, held January 16, 18, and 19, by welcoming the body back to the city after an absence of 64 years. "This is the place where libraries began in this country," he proudly noted. "The oldest academic library at Harvard, the oldest [public] library at the Boston Public Library--and the original home of the American Library Association."

Margolis's remarks were followed by a note of sadness as Council rose to pay tribute to the victims of the tsunami disaster in southeast Asia and to fellow Councilor and Freedom to Read Foundation President Gordon Conable, who died unexpectedly as he was preparing to come to Midwinter (AL, Feb., p. 14-16).

The foundation's report (CD#22) was presented by John W. Berry, who announced that the group had established a fund in Conable's name (see p. 52). Berry highlighted the FTRF's work in two areas: lawsuits opposing the USA Patriot Act and litigation challenging laws that criminalize distribution or display of material deemed "harmful to minors."

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Revenues "a whole lot better" ALA Treasurer Teri Switzer reported (CD#13, 13.1) that the Association's figures "look much better this year than they did last year." Assets increased by 6.4% in 2004, due largely to the performance of the long-term investment fund, and liabilities declined by 2%. Revenues increased nearly 18% while expenses rose only 9%, resulting in a net revenue figure of $962,000--"A whole lot better than the negative $2 million reported last year," Switzer noted.

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Switzer said that ALA Publishing saw its second-highest profit margin since 1999 and dues revenues have continued to increase in the past two years, although at a slower rate than in the prior three years. However, conference profit margins are slipping, in large part due to the soaring costs of equipment rental.

Switzer closed by noting concerns and challenges to the Association's finances: Library funding is still tenuous; benefits, particularly healthcare, are driving up labor costs; and technological demands are having a huge impact on budgets. Although there's been a long reluctance to view ALA as a business, Switzer maintained that "We are a business, and we are a big business," which requires us to study how we are conducting that business and determine whether we need to do things differently.

The Budget Analysis and Review Committee reported (CD#33) that the FY 2005 budget contains no major new initiatives and no staffing increases, although it covers the phase-in of electronic balloting, the purchase of a new building for ALA's Washington Office, the development of a new strategic plan, and continued e-commerce enhancements.

BARC Chair Patricia Smith noted that revenues from conferences have been virtually flat over the past 10 years, ranging from $1.5 million in 1995 to $1.25 million in 2004. BARC recommends that consideration be given to a very gradual increase in registration fees, with the possibility of higher fees in popular cities like San Francisco and New York that also entail higher costs for the Association.

In his report (CD#16.0), Senior Endowment Trustee Rick Schwieterman called 2004 "a very good year" for the Association's long-term investment fund, which grew by $4.1 million--a 13% increase.

Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels updated Council on the development of revised guidelines for ALA partnerships and sponsorships (CD#35), prompted by objections raised over the Association's collaboration with Walgreens to promote the government's controversial Medicare drug-discount cards. After discussing the matter at its fall meeting, the Executive Board called for a multiple-stage review process (AL, Dec. 2004, p. 58). Fiels said the guidelines should examine whether the potential partner is a "good corporate citizen"; that's done now, he maintained, but the process needs to be codified. …

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ALA Council: Back in Boston, Council Covers Diverse Agenda
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