Something happened yesterday that I am still trying to understand. I am not talking about the shooting in AZ. This was much less tragic in the worldly sense, but more tragic to me personally.
An open meeting was closed to me because I could not physically sit in the room, though the means necessary for me to be “present” at the meeting were available and running; it was shut down for what I think are some shoddy reasons.
A disclaimer: I was not at the physical meeting, so my knowledge of what happened after the stream was cut off is limited to the Twitter hashtag #litabd11 and other backchannel discussions.
A word to the PTB, if you do not control the conversation and allow transparency, someone else will do it for you and the results will not be in your favor. I think the backchannels bore out the truth of that reality yesterday.
Briefly: Jason Griffey set up a Ustream if the LITA Board meeting so that members not physically present in San Diego could watch the meeting. This would also have ensured that members who were currently serving elsewhere at Midwinter could have watched the discussion later. The main speaker for the section of the meeting in question was a consultant who did an analysis of how the LITA leadership works and how we can make our organization better, at least that was what I gleaned from the tweets I saw from members in the room (which sounds a topic all the membership should have access to seeing). The board voted to suspend the live stream “during this portion of the meeting” (though for the record, the stream was never set back up). Jason has the recorded section of the meting up on his Ustream channel which shows the discussion of why the stream should be turned off. The sound is a bit wonky, but gets a little better. The discussion happens about 7 minutes into the recording.
For those not familiar with ALA or the processes of its meetings: The LITA Board meeting is an open meeting at ALA which means that any member of LITA is welcome to attend and participate. LITA stands for the Library and Information Technology Association.
There were three main reasons the board and other members present gave (in the video and on Twitter) for turning off the stream:
- The board was not aware the streaming was going to happen and wanted a chance to discuss it first,
- Streaming is a form of communication and should be discussed because a stream of the board would be seen as an “official” communication mechanism of the board, and
- The information being presented by the paid consultant to LITA was copyrighted and he was paid to present to the board and not a large group (aka the entire membership).
The first reason given is valid, though knee jerk. I think (and this is speculation on my part) that Jason may have tried streaming this without warning the board to demonstrate the issue at hand, which it clearly did. The issue is that we should be streaming meetings and there is some disconnect about the why and how. People do not like to be surprised by things and will frequently reject the thing, good or bad, because the surprise factor is hard to get over. Jason got the knee jerk reaction he was looking for but unfortunately it was not in favor of streaming. The surprise could have given way to a, “What a great idea” discussion, but instead it was more like a “we want the opportunity to apply some red tape to this procedure so we’ll put it off reason” which brings us to the second reason given.
The second reason was that streaming constituted an “official” communication from the board and therefore should be vetted in some way. This argument reminds me of the discussions surrounding the LITA Blog when we first began that successful experiment. The same argument was made for not having a blog. We must get over this idea that everything that is produced should be polished to a high shine before being sent out to members. The internet is a beta platform. If you blog or tweet a meeting, people expect to see a meeting, not an “official” communication platform. If you wait around for “official” there will never be streaming of anything, including open meetings. Official communication methods from meetings, by the way, includes types notes that are out up somewhere, sometimes months after the meetings itself. This is not useful, though I think in the LITA Board’s defense their meetings minutes take less time to get the membership that want to read them. I think it is about time we got over this argument and accept the way technology works. I would expect that an association whose main purview is supposed to be about technology would inherently understand the meaning of change and flexibility in technology. Let us not forget this is an open meeting, but I will talk about that later.
The last reason given, while also valid, has some major issues as well. I do not know the exact rules about who owns copyright on material created by a consultant for ALA, whether the ALA body or the consultant is the holder of copyright for that material. For the sake of the argument, I will assume that the consultant retains copyright. If this is true, than the meeting, open or not, should not have been recorded in any fashion, including blogging and tweeting. However, there was more than one person in the room tweeting what the consultant was telling the board. Those tweets, while valuable, lacked context to some degree, as Twitter often does, so instead of a valid, whole picture of what the consultant was telling the board, we got choppy bits and pieces. In the world of the internet, streaming and Twitter are not that far apart except that one is better quality. Streaming would have given the consultant a better platform. If copyright was really an issue, a creative commons license could have protected the content of the message. After all the money we paid the consultant (I assume he did not do the work for free), should the members not be able to hear what our money paid him to do? Cindi Trainor did let us know that we could receive print copies of the consultant’s presentation if requested. I half wanted to request a copy just to put it up on the internet. I think that getting a print copy of the report is a waste of paper and postage.
My main issue with all this boils down to the fact that the LITA Board meeting is an open meeting. Open. Any member is allowed to attend and I think that should include me even though I can not physically be there. If the technology exists, and it does, for me to participate with the workings of my association, though other obligations and finances prevent me from attending, why are we not utilizing them? If the board is concerned that non-LITA folks might see the goings on of our association, then put the stream somewhere only members can access it. I would not advocate that route, however, since we all know nothing that secretive happens at board meetings. For actual secret stuff, we would have to record the conversations that go on in the halls after the meeting. Streaming meetings would open up opportunity for participation, which is what LITA is always saying it wants.
My secondary reaction is one of supreme disappointment. I love LITA, but I do not always feel that reciprocated now that I am not able to physically attend all the meetings. We are the technology group for the love of all that is holy, but we rarely act like it. Some of the tweets yesterday were arguing that the governing body should not be simply reactive to what members want and my response is “Why not?” Why can’t we experiment? Why can’t we try new things? Why does everything have to be official even when published on a platform, like streaming, Twitter, or blogs, that people know are not polished modes of communication? Why not test the newest technology (though streaming is hardly new) and show the other divisions how to do it? Isn’t that one of the things LITA is supposed to do with technology?
Lastly, and anyone with a shred on internet saavy knows this: If you do not control the message, someone else will. Yesterday, the LITA Board declined to try something new for reasons they felt were valid. As a result, other people, mainly members disenfranchised by the decision controlled the conversation via Twitter, and LITA did not come out the winner. They came out looking ignorant about the thing they are supposed to know about, technology.
I come away from this sad but unsurprised. LITA continues to be the thing I give my time and energy to in ALA because I want to make it better. I want to keep advocating for a technology association that actually is a leader in technology from inside the organization, even if I have to do so from miles away, on my blog, instead of on the live stream of the open meeting of the my board.
–Jane, this post is open for discussion