how the next meeting went

In June, I said that I wouldn’t be voting to approve the LITA budget, due to a variety of unaddressed concerns. At Annual, Cindi Blyberg ran an awesome meeting where we put off the vote, to give our Financial Advisory Committee time to update things before the fiscal year close. And then I forgot to update the blog about the subsequent meeting!

Well, the FAC did outstanding work, pulling together a budget that I solidly believe in, on very little notice. (I owe you all beers. A lot of beers. Zoe Stewart-Marshall, Andrew Pace, Susan Sharpless Smith: please be thinking what kind of beverages you like.) We approved it in August with very little fuss. I was pleased to vote for it.

You can have a look yourself if you like: FY2015 budget [.xlsx].

You’ll notice the bottom line here is a deficit. I’m bummed about that, because I’m concerned about LITA’s health, but mostly I’m happy about it, because it’s honest. I think the lines above it are credible estimates of what we’ll end up doing in FY ’15, and I would a million times rather be honest about the challenges of that, so we can plan for them, than sweep them under the rug.

And now the FAC is off and running on the FY ’16 budget, with a timeline that should allow for much more deliberation at leisure than FY ’15 allowed. (Note to self: you owe them even more beers.) And Board is pondering how to fill the holes. Your ideas, as always, are welcome.

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how the meeting went

Last post, I said I wouldn’t be voting to approve the LITA budget. And then I left you all hanging as I went off to Vegas, and recovered from Vegas, and started my to-do list recovering from Vegas…

So, how’d it go?

Short version

Cindi Trainor Blyberg (now LITA past president) is a quiet meeting-running ninja. We have delayed the vote. I’m cautiously optimistic about how things went. We’ll see.

Longer version

We had a remarkably good meeting Saturday of Annual. A solid majority of the Board expressed views frankly and without hard feelings. We didn’t always agree, which I think is a good thing.

We’ve asked the Financial Advisory Committee to do a bit more work before our vote. The fiscal year begins September 1, so there’s a bit of a window for that work, though it’s definitely a time crunch. We’ve also asked them to do work toward a better process for FY2016 and beyond. The ALA budget calendar says boards voting at Annual but divisional budgets are put forward for review in late winter, which means your options are pretty much “rubber stamp”, “last minute panic”, or “go beyond the calendar to ensure a consultative process by Midwinter”, and really only one of these options is any good, so I think we’ll be working toward it.

I’m glad we delayed the vote to allow time for some issues to be addressed and I hope that, when we do meet next (time TBD), we’ll have something I can feel comfortable voting for.

Obviously there’s a lot of loose ends here. What exactly can we get done in time? How fluidly can ALA roll with late-breaking changes? I’ve asked a lot of people, gotten a lot of answers, and won’t know which ones are right until at least September — that’s the caution in my optimism.

Feeling fairly confident about FY2016, though. And really hoping that as I face FY2017, the last budget I’ll face in my Board term, that I’ll be saying what’s past is prologue, and the budget is a fluid and strategic tool we’re using to advance our goals and yours, howsoever they change. And be super excited to vote for it.

Why I won’t be voting to approve the LITA budget

Not every board member can be a financial wizard. Every board member, however, needs to be a financial inquisitor.

101 Board Basics: Fiduciary Responsibilities, BoardSource

I ran for LITA Board on a platform of inclusivity, transparency, and financial stewardship. That means I consider it my sacred trust to you, the members, to understand LITA’s financial status and sustainability; to advocate for directions that support its ability to serve you for years to come; and to communicate with you about the decisions I make in representing you.

The fiscal year 2015 budget [PDF] has been presented to the Board and I will not be voting to approve it this weekend. Here’s why.

Unanswered questions

First, the budget presents too many unanswered questions.

It does not attribute revenues and expenses to program lines, which makes it prohibitively difficult to tell whether our allocations support our strategic vision, and to monitor the status of our programs.

It quotes fiscal year 2013’s actual dues revenue as our expected dues revenue for fiscal year 2015, but this is not supportable in light of our decreasing membership trend; this dues revenue projection is overstated by approximately $20,000.

Its revenue for registration fees (a new line in this year’s budget) appears to be based on our fiscal year 2014 estimated dues revenue for the sum of Forum, web courses, webinars, preconferences, midwinter workshops, and regional institutes. However, we have not run regional institutes since 2007 and have no immediate plans to do so, and budget estimates for online education have consistently exceeded actual revenue by tens of thousands of dollars. This line is given as $234,200, but actual realized revenue for fiscal years 2011 through (projecting from year-to-date) 2014 has been between $180,000 and $190,000. Therefore this line overstates revenue by roughly $50,000.

The expenses are reported in a new format, with categories that cross-cut previous categories; therefore I cannot confidently judge whether they are accurate. (Over the past four years our expense lines have also been overestimates, usually working out to net operating deficits in the $20K range, but with large year-to-year variance.) I also cannot tell how much support we intend to give to our programs, and if that is in line with what we require.

I asked some of these questions about a previous draft of the budget at Midwinter. (And more; my unanswered-questions list is far too long to fit in either a blog post or a Board meeting.) I have not found that either Midwinter, or this new draft, have answered those questions.

The bottom line: this budget overstates our revenue by around $70,000 and makes the accuracy and relevance of our expenses impossible to analyze.

What budgets are for

Second, this budget is not an instrument for communicating or enacting LITA’s strategic goals.

Because it neither disaggregates revenues nor attributes expenses to program lines, we cannot communicate clearly with our committees and interest groups how their work fits into the big picture, what LITA needs of them, and how we will support them.

Because it does not change — it reflects programs we no longer run and revenues we no longer realize, and does not reallocate money or staff time to new programs — we cannot change. We know that — particularly as a technology association — we operate in a competitive landscape that is radically different than it was ten, even five, years ago. We know, from our membership declines (shared by ALA and many associations) and the thoughtful reporting of our Financial Strategies Task Force, that we must do a better job of articulating our vision and providing value.

We have no shortage of vision, but all our strategic planning is meaningless if we cannot operationalize it.

The budget is a prologue to the real story, which is how we serve you. Let’s set the scene correctly.

Where I stand

I am persuaded that, if I were to approve this budget, I would be failing in my duty of care toward the association, and (more importantly) my duty as a representative of the membership: elected by you, holding the trust of three thousand members carefully in my hands.

Duty of care is an obligation I submitted myself to when I accepted the nomination, but your trust? That doesn’t feel like obligation; that feels like reverence.

We can and must do better by you.

I will not be voting to approve this budget. I ask the rest of the Board to join me.


Update, 10 July 2014: how the meeting went.

#litabd strategic analysis for fun and profit

I’ve had the pleasure over the last few weeks of having in-depth chats with several women who are top-notch strategic thinkers and have leadership roles in business and nonprofit organizations. Total contact high.

And this has been dovetailing with my LITA Board almost-a-year retrospective thoughts. Because you know I can’t find something interesting without totally obsessing over it until I understand it frontwards backwards and sideways, right?

And in the meantime I’ve checked out a book on nonprofit financial sustainability, which turned out to have a sticker in it saying it had been placed there by an ALA program on financial literacy, which is surely a sign. The book’s giving me a specific technique for analyzing nonprofit budgets, so I’m testing it out on LITA’s.

The tool is a matrix map – basically, put all your budget lines on a chart of impact vs profitability and see what happens. This gives you four quadrants:

  • High impact, profitable (winning)
  • High impact liabilities (labors of love: worth doing if you can subsidize them)
  • Low impact, high profit (the things you do to subsidize your labors of love)
  • Low impact liabilities (why are you doing these?)

Then you represent all those activities with circles scaled to their expense.

The book also gives 7 criteria you can use for determining impact that it claims to have tested (not clear how, but I’m also not done reading) with real-world organizations. It says using more than 4 tends to be unhelpful, so pick the up-to-four that make most sense for your organization; assign each activity a 1-4 score on each criterion; and total them up for your impact estimate. (You can weight them if you like, but that’s a whole other level of complexity I didn’t get into.) I picked the 4 I think are most relevant to LITA and did a back-of-the-envelope impact analysis:

  • Mission alignment (I can compare with the mission statement)
  • Effectiveness of execution (I think this is really important but I have no way of evaluating it)
  • Scale of impact (I assigned a 4 for thousands of people reached per year, a 3 for hundreds, and so forth)
  • Community building (I totally just made this number up on instinct)

(The other criteria it suggested are depth of impact on participants; leverage (how much does it increase the impact of your other activities); and filling an important gap in your competitive space. I found these both less interesting and harder to gauge – I think they’d need a lot more data to do right. Your mileage may vary!)

Results

I made graphs! (Impact and profitability normalized so they run -1 to 1, obvs.) These are based on FY2013 year-end data (aka “the most recent completed fiscal year”) – actual as-realized expenses and revenues. Sorry about the overflow on the legend – couldn’t figure out how to fix that.

Here’s what we do:

Here’s another version without Forum (which is so much bigger of an expense than everything else that it makes them hard to see; and apparently I normalized them to different axes, whoops):

Well now, that’s interesting.

Discussion

I’d love to have some people argue with me – did I pick the wrong criteria from that set? Estimate their values wrongly? Is this entirely the wrong analytical frame? Go for it. Tell me why 🙂

I also think there’s a hugely important caveat with this entire analysis, which is that our budget docs report staff expenses as a single line item, rather than breaking them out by time spent on each activities. This is important because it means every profitability estimate is an overestimate; not one of those lines accounts for the staff time it takes to make those things happen. This is especially relevant for Forum, which looks like a net profit, but clearly takes a great deal of staff effort (it’s a huge undertaking!) and may therefore be a net loss. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing – it reaches hundreds of attendees, who by all reports I’ve heard think well of it, and it’s a great opportunity for us to showcase our members’ accomplishments and help them advance their career goals. But not accounting for staff time does cloud the strategic analysis.

What do you think?

My LITA Board service: an almost-a-year retrospective

ALA elections close tomorrow (eligible and haven’t voted? Go vote! The LITA slate is amazing). So it’s been about a year since I was elected, nine months on the Board, which is making me think retrospective-y thoughts.

(Like everyone, I’ve meant to blog more about my experience on the Board. Like everyone, I’ve found that so much of it is contact highs and crazy plans in bars, little nudges over IM, conversations that aren’t mine to share – both hard to summarize, and sometimes confidential. But for someone who was inspired to run for Board in part because of a fascination with its wrestling over the role of transparency these last few years, that’s not really good enough, is it?)

So let me look at my campaign platform and mull over how I’ve been doing. And you tell me what you want from LITA, how I can do better.

Technology is for everybody.

LITA’s made some baby steps in this direction – not all things I can claim credit for. Forum 2013 (a committee I was on) had more public library speakers than usual, and some youth services presentations, though it didn’t do as well as hoped on diversity counts. I hear Forum 2014 actually did blind review of submissions, and I’m looking forward to seeing the results of that.

A few folks have joined LITA, or rejoined after a long time away, that I’m super excited to have.

The Education committee (to which I liaise) has some children’s technology webinars in the pipeline in addition to our traditional academic-library-oriented content, and is working on broadening its topic coverage and reaching out to new speakers. You can help! Teach for LITA (I’m happy to answer questions). If you can speak to an important libtech topic we haven’t covered much, and if you’re not one of the usual suspects who’s spoken for LITA a bunch of times already, we’re especially interested in hearing from you.

Education is where I have been spending a great deal of my time – working with its leadership and LITA staff to get processes better documented, to put a better feedback loop in place so committee members can see the impact of their work, to communicate Board expectations more thoroughly to the committee, et cetera. And also personally, to understand the liaison role – I don’t want to run the committee or do its work (that’s for our awesome chairs and members); I do want to remove obstacles, and make sure they get information from other parts of LITA/ALA that they need to be fully effective. Lots of progress here; lots yet to be done.

Communication equals engagement.

Baby steps forward.

The Board’s taken on responsibility for @ALA_LITA, so it’s livelier and has a few hundred new followers; yay!

A lot of you showed up at the last online Board meeting – that was awesome! Hope it was interesting seeing how the sausage is made. Please join us in Vegas if you can!

I try to be conscientious about posting my LITA Board Connect content publicly whenever it is consistent with the open meeting policy to do so. (ALA Connect defaults to private, but can easily be set to public. You can get email notifications of, and comment on, public content, FYI.)

Been talking a lot with VP Rachel Vacek about more comprehensive steps we can take toward inclusive, vibrant communication.

Lots more to do here, though. The rest of our social media needs people to own it and make it vibrant. The Board needs to do better at regular communication to the membership – someone needs to own that, too. And that’s a thing that we need to model and set expectations for so it trickles down. The committee and interest group chairs are the first point of contact for many (actual and prospective) members, and we need to have a culture of communication that runs all the way down. We need a culture of understanding that communication isn’t just a thing you do in January and June, with people who show up physically to conferences.

I can see processes that would help here, but I don’t have the throughput to own them all.

Stewardship matters.

And this is where I’ve been spending the bulk of my time.

I’m a numbers person, right? I was a math major. And when things don’t make sense to me, I obsess about them until they do. LITA’s budget does not make sense to me.

This may well be because I don’t have experience with budgeting (and I’d love to have conversations with those of you who do). What I know is, I’ve collected every spreadsheet I can find back through FY2011 – drafts, actuals, high-level, line-item. And I’ve put them all in a master spreadsheet so I can compare them, year-on-year, category-to-category, draft-to-actual. And I’ve stared at the line items and tried to tie them to the high level stuff, and I’ve stared at the actual year-end revenue and expenses and tried to compare it to our projections for future fiscal years, pretty much until my eyes bleed. And I’ve asked an awful lot of questions of fellow Board members and the Executive Director and the Financial Strategies Task Force (its report [PDF] is illuminating). And I am just not smart enough to make these numbers make sense.

As a Board member I have a duty of care toward the association, and I believe the single most important element of that is ensuring the financial health of the association, so that it can continue to serve its thousands of members for many years to come. But I see financial year closes that show us running deficits most years, and I’m a startup girl: I know that everyone has a burn rate and a runway, and if your runway isn’t growing at least as fast as your burn rate is eating it (and ours is not), there comes a time when you are not aloft, when your wings are wreckage on the ground.

I’m a Board member and I love you, our members, all. I am not allowed to let there be wreckage.

I don’t know, yet, how to change the burn rate or runway. I’m mulling that over but I’m not a big enough picture thinker yet. What I do believe is that prior to that, the budget has to be an effective instrument for operationalizing our strategic priorities, and the Board has to be more effective at using it thus.

(Disclosure: I voted against sponsoring Emerging Leaders at the last meeting. I think this sponsorship is one of the best things we do, but I simply don’t know if we have the money to do it, and I cannot in good conscience appropriate money I am not confident we have. I chant “duty of care” to myself a lot some days.)

We on the Board, we’re not elected for our budget experience. Some of us have it, some of us don’t; some of us are numbers people, some of us aren’t. And we’re librarians; we’re not into conflict. We’re not into telling hard truths. And so over many years we’ve ended up with a culture of shirking our oversight responsibilities, of telling ourselves this runway looks good. And it shows.

We have begun to charge a Financial Advisory Committee, and we’ve found some really good people to serve on it, and I’m very optimistic about the work they’ll do. We need people specifically selected for financial expertise to help the Board perform its oversight role effectively, and to help us weigh the tradeoffs in implementing the Financial Strategies Task Force’s recommendations, or in other ideas that will from time to time arise. I think they’ll be a great help once they become a regular thing.

In the meantime, though, I have to keep on trucking with my own understanding of duty of care, my own drive to make the numbers make sense to me, to be able to look at the budget and see answers to my questions about whether our hopes can be implemented. Whether we will or won’t, in the end, have had the money to sponsor our Emerging Leaders in FY2015. Little things that make up big ones.

I myself, I wasn’t elected for budget expertise, and I’m happier with hugs and innovation and kittens than I am with hard truths. But I believe that when you elected me, part of the deal was that my own feelings and inadequacies became secondary to the good of the association. When I think of leadership I think of how I can be the person that you, that circumstances, need me to be. How can I rise to the level of the task you’ve entrusted me with.

How can I serve you better?

ITAL: A Diversity of Voices?

The latest Code4Lib journal had an editorial addressing the gender balance of c4lj authors. That sounded like fun, so I have replicated the analysis on LITA’s journal, Information Technology and Libraries. (With thanks to the LITAns who made it open access as of volume 31, issue 1 – that made this much easier!)

I did author counts back through 2007, thus covering approximately the same period as c4lj’s graphs. Over this period there were 239 (nondistinct) authors of 133 articles, communications, and tutorials. (There were also editorials, presidents’ messages, and book reviews, which I excluded.) I have not replicated c4lj’s editorial board counts.

As with all counting-based exercises, I am nervous about the exclusion or erasure of non-counted types of diversity (which are important, but not always doable with the available data) and the possibility of error in gender guessing, particularly given that the graphs impose a binary that doesn’t actually represent gender reality. (Again, a data set of author names doesn’t allow for better accuracy.) So please apply lots of grains of salt and take this as an approximation.

So…what does this mean?

It’s consistent with my subjective impression that LITA is 50/50 ish …but I don’t entirely trust that subjective impression, because I know that people tend to overestimate the percentage of women once they have any visibility at all. I don’t have data on the gender breakdown of LITA membership (do you?).

And I still don’t know how I feel about 50/50, even if true. Is it good, because it represents the culture at large? Is it bad, because librarianship is 80% female? Is it good, because it’s less male-dominated than Code4Lib or the broader technology industry? Should I be creeped out by that, on the theory that LITA is less male-dominated because it has more of a mix of hard and soft skills, and the gender ratio tracks with that ratio? (It’s not like it isn’t obvious that the more I do code and leadership and public speaking — technical things, things that put me on a stage, things that pay well — the fewer women I see around me.) Does 50/50 mean we’re doing something right, something that points toward a possible future, or does it mean we’re tangled between poles of wrong?

And while I’m asking questions, does anyone who knows statistics want to take a stab at the shift in author gender ratios over time? Circa 2009 issues went from being generally male-dominated to generally female-dominated, but I have no idea if that’s statistically meaningful.

Newtonian mechanics, and the LITA election

I’m bad at physics.

I went to an engineering school and I majored in math and I almost majored in chemistry so people thought I was supposed to be good at physics but, no. Put me in front of a free-body diagram and I react with this sort of blind scared incomprehension, forces are supposed to act on this? What could they possibly be? How on earth would I know? There’s this cargo-cult algebra of gravity and normal forces I could try to do but I never had any sense of what I should or shouldn’t write, or why. Arrows, at random.

My school required three semesters of physics so, well, that didn’t work out awesomely for me. Thursdays, the night before physics and chemistry (also required) were due, I’d get together with two friends who were good at physics but struggling in chemistry and we’d trade off strengths, dragging each other bodily through the hardest classes we’d taken to date.

A week before the final I showed up at last, embarrassed, in the professor’s office to throw myself on her mercy. (Yes, I should have done this a lot earlier, but what do you expect of a 17-year-old without a trace of study skills.) And I’m not clear what I hoped for, exactly, some kind of guidance or clarity, the guru on the mountain making the entirety of mechanics clear to me, magic, but I definitely did not expect what I got from her, which was her saying: you’re a smart student and I believe in you.

I had, let’s be clear, done nothing that semester to justify her belief. But I was seized with a guilty fire of needing to live up to it. For the next week, I took my physics textbook with me absolutely everywhere I went. I read it through meals. I reworked every single homework problem we’d done all term. I didn’t study for any of the rest of my finals (I was doing better in those classes and had some wiggle room…) I took a few hours off to go see a Shakespeare class put on a play, but I had the book with me and I read it during intermission.

And then I sat down for that final, and the first hour was okay, actually, things looked familiar, I wouldn’t say I understood them but I’d seen the problems or something very like them and I can pattern-match, and then the second hour was this awful dawning horror of meaninglessness opening up underneath and I could feel this test physically assaulting me, I was in actual bodily pain, and hour three dawned and I thought, to hell with this, I didn’t study for a solid week to be defeated by some test, and I wrote blindly and damn-the-torpedoes handcrampingly fast nonstop until the second they made me put the pencil down, and then I staggered out with the rest of my freshman class into the California May sunlight and we blinked at each other in zombielike weariness and defeat.

The class average ended up around 50%. I got about a 75. So. I killed it. Brought my average all the way up to a B-, which I assure you was not where that average had been a week before, and I cherish that B- more than anything else on my transcript.

This is a roundabout way of saying, yesterday I was notified that I won the LITA election — that you, my friends, think that I’m someone who ought to represent you on the Board for the next three years. You believe in me. And for the girl who spent her introverted depressed math-nerd high school years not having a whole lot of friends, and who graduated from library school what feels like yesterday, this is a mind-boggling statement of faith.

Like walking into that office, being told point-blank I’m more than I believe myself to be. So. Time to study. Because it matters, that I justify your belief.

I made a LITA page to make it easy for you to contact me and keep up with what I’m thinking about the association. I hope you’ll use it. It turns out I do have study skills, when I have to, but I’ll learn a lot more if you’re on the journey with me.

do you like adorable baby animals? on the internet?

When you run for LITA Board,[ref]Ballots come out Tuesday![/ref] you get a lot of questions about how to get involved in LITA. Now people could read through the LITA web site, which has a ton of info, but no one really likes reading through long web sites.[ref]Well, um. This is not true. I’ve read most of the LITA site. So not no one.[/ref]

You know what people do like? Adorable baby animals. Also? Reloading the internet in lieu of doing more productive things.

I’m there for you. Now you can satisfy your itch to reload adorable baby animal pics while learning about ways to get involved with LITA on a very short web site: http://www.babyanimalslovelita.org/.

Feeling even slightly motivated? You can make the site better! The site lets you submit your own ideas for how people can get involved with LITA. Is your interest group or committee doing something awesome you want to pimp? Did you have a really great time at a LITA thing one day, and took pictures or wrote a blog post or something? Do you want collaborators[ref]Or minions.[/ref] for your latest LITA project? You should totally advertise.

This should totally be the post where I tell you about the tech stack (Heroku! it’s so slick) and all the yaks I had to shave to get the code working (omg deploying static files in production with Django, let’s not), because I believe in knowledge capture and I want you to learn from what I did so you can replicate or hack on it and I feel really guilty if I don’t write documentation, but I have a headache and my kid is making me dinner,[ref]She’s so great. It’s pizza. She’s six! She made it mostly all by herself.[/ref] so bug me to write that post later.

LITA Listening Tour Episode 6: Bohyun Kim

As part of my campaign for LITA Board, I’m interviewing a wide range of library techonology people about their involvement with the association. Today’s interviewee is Bohyun Kim.

About Bohyun Kim

Bohyun Kim is the Digital Access Librarian at Florida International University Medical Library in Miami, FL. She has been a LITA member since 2008, chaired the Mobile Computing IG from 2010-2012, and is a member of LITA Top Tech Trends committee and LITA Web committee. She was also a 2011 American Library Association Emerging Leader sponsored by LITA and currently serves as the founding editor of ACRL TechConnect blog and on the executive board of ALA New Members Roundtable as the Outreach Director. She blogs at Library Hat and can be found at @bohyunkim on Twitter. More information is found at her website, bohyunkim.net.

The boilerplate

  1. As ever, being interviewed does not imply an endorsement of my candidacy.
  2. Thanks, Bohyun, for participating!
  3. Dear readers: who should be next?

LITA Listening Tour Episode 5: Evviva Weinraub Lajoie

As part of my campaign for LITA Board, I’m interviewing a wide range of library techonology people about their involvement with the association. Today’s interviewee is Evviva Weinraub Lajoie.

About Evviva Weinraub Lajoie

Evviva Weinraub Lajoie is the Director of Emerging Technologies & Services at Oregon State University Libraries & Press. Her team is responsible for all IT services within the library including mobile, and open source tools development. Her interests include mobile technologies, digital publishing, digital humanities, and open source development.

She has served on the LITA International Relations committee and the Research & Assessment Committee, and is currently chair of both the Heads of Library Technology IG and the Mobile IG.

You can learn more about Evviva at her departmental web site and on Google+ and Twitter (@evviva).

The boilerplate

  1. As ever, being interviewed does not imply an endorsement of my candidacy.
  2. Thanks, Evviva, for participating!
  3. Dear readers: who should be next?