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David Vess (non-member)'s picture

Ways to use Connect to conduct meetings (simply conduct business)

Hi Jenny (and anyone)

I'm shopping for ideas on how to approach virtual meetings in connect.

Part of me thinks we should just dump the idea of 'meetings' and be mindful of:  how we direct people's attention; how/when we present items for discussion; etc.  I think all of ALA could use access to training about holding meetings, virtual or otherwise.

I wanted to schedule a monthly meeting place holder for the glbtrt board.  Turns out we only have 3 times per week that 6 of 11 people can commit to.   A monthly conference call is not an option.  [after thinking about this, isn't this the key?  It's what we do in preparing for meetings and designating responsibilities that's really important.]I'm thinking of suggesting something else:

  • pilot having a designated, asynchronous meeting time in our board space in Connect
    • the chair/secretary/board maintains a parking lot of items list in a connect document
      • group works out what an item has to have to be/ have in order to be on the list
        • must have an owner(s) to oversee conversation
        • must have all background info supplied a week before meeting period begins
        • etc.
      • sort the list based on importance / time sensitivity
    • each item becomes a forum topic, inside of a monthly meeting discussion 
    • number of items for meeting period are based on potential complexity
      • Meeting Discussions - 2012 August
        • Topic 1
        • Topic 2
      • Meeting Discussions - 2012 September
        • Topic 1
      • etc.
      • etc.
    • meeting time frame is a week - sunday to sunday (maybe this needs to be a 2-week time period?)
      • people have time to talk during that week in the forums
      • people can call for motions that week, and I can set them up as polls (our secretary can after he's used to connect)

What I don't want to do is misuse Connect.  If this goes wrong, it won't help our lobbying efforts around Connect.I'm open to any any any changes suggestions to this!  I'm more than happy to document what I do here in the next year as chair of glbtrt.  Maybe others have better ideas.  I'm sure they do.

Robert Banks's picture


This sounds like a good idea.  Your limitations of people not being available is a very common problem for groups and we have had to just proceed without them in a syncronous meeting.  This provides a framework for them to participate as their schedule allows and therefore be truly active members of the meeting.

I have no authority here, but, I personally, would love for you to try this and keep us all informed as you progress.  This could end up being a model for most committees and boards to follow for those "between conference" needs. 

With the compressed conference, getting policy issues to council based on the live meetings at conference is becoming a challenge for many groups.  Work like this would help take some pressure off of those face-to-face meetings. 

I like this idea.  I hope you try it.


Rob Banks


Jenny Levine (staff)'s picture

I'll second Rob's encouragement to try this model, and I hope you'll report back here periodically. If there are additional tools or tweaks we can make in Connect to help, let me know.

Also, we tried to make Connect flexible enough that there's really no way to "misuse" it. Our goal was to provide a suite of tools that any group could use however it wants in whatever ways work best for it. I know some groups concentrate heavily on using the text-based chat and archiving the transcripts, while others focus on the file repository or asynchronous discussions. So if using a certain tool a certain way turns out to work for your group, go for it.

Internally at ALA, there are a few groups who use Connect for virtual work. One example is the "Web Editorial Board," which recently changed its name to the "Web Working Group." The members of WEB had agreed upon a process where anyone in the group could post a proposal, which would be followed by two weeks of discussion and then an online voting period of one week. If someone didn't vote, it was considered the same as abstaining. It seemed to work pretty well and helped some important items move forward in-between or after our face-to-face meetings.

Because I'm a member of LITA, I follow the LITA Board so I know they're also working through issues around organizing and using the tools in Connect to get normal business done. For example, I've been very interested in the public thread "Board 'loose ends'" so you might talk to them, too.


James Rettig's picture

I am aware of two groups that hold asynchronouc online meetings.  One is NMRT; you might want to ask about NMRT's practices and experiences.  Another is CALA, an ALA affiliate.  As an affiliate CALA is not bound by ALA policy.

Two policies that apply here are in http://www.ala.org/aboutala/governance/policymanual/updatedpolicymanual/section1/7conferences#7.4:

7.4.1 Meeting

A meeting is an official assembly, for any length of time following a designated starting time, of the members of any board, committee, taskforce, commission, etc., during which the members do not separate except for a recess and in which the assembly has the capacity to formalize decisions. Conference calls, Internet chat sessions (and their equivalents), and in-person meetings are recognized as meeting subject to the open meetings policy (ALA Policy 7.4.4). (Asynchronous electronic discussions by electronic mail or other asynchronous communication methods do not constitute meetings because they are not an official assembly with a designated starting time.)

7.4.4 Open Meetings

All meetings of the American Library Association and its units are open to all members and to members of the press. Registration requirements apply. Closed meetings may be held only for the discussion of matters affecting the privacy of individuals or institutions.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Part of the reason that Council adopted the policy to define what a meeting is was to fend off criticism in the early days of email when it was not the ubiquitous tool it is today that members were holding meetings via email to elude the open meetings policy.  It was adopted as a permissive measure.

Technology changes over time and perhaps access to Connect, as a tool available to all ALA members, accommodates the spirit of the open meetings policy, even when business is discussed asynchronously.

Maybe some group in ALA has developed a way to honor the open meetings policy online and enable members who do not belong to the group conducting a meeting to observe, perhaps even participate.

Governments such as counties and municipalities that operate under open government and sunshine laws have struggled with this issue--how to use the technology in a way that allows citizens to observe but not step outside the law.  Perhaps the answer in Connect is to

ALA's Bylaws, Article VII, Sec. 8 http://www.ala.org/aboutala/governance/constitution/bylaws#voting states: "Votes in the Executive Board, Council, committees, and task forces may be taken by mail, electronic system, or conference call, provided that all members are canvassed simultaneously.  A majority vote, provided a quorum has participated, shall be required for passage of any measure voted on by these means.  Each of these bodies shall have the authority to set a time limit within which the votes of its members shall be recorded, but if no such time limit is set, no vote shall be counted unless received within 30 days from the day the text of the matter voted upon was properly mailed or distributed to those entitled to vote on the matter involved."

Perhaps the way to observe the spirit of the open meetings policy is to make sure that EVERY Connect comment is marked public so any ALA member can read them and follow a thread.

The question may be, since asynchronous communication does not constitute a meeting, can a group that has held on open asynchronous discussion conclude a discussion and "the text of the matter [to be] voted upon was properly mailed or distributed to those entitled to vote on the matter involved" take action through such a vote?  Or to rephrase the question, since an asynchronous discussion is not a meeting, can that group take a vote after such a discussion?

I hope this doesn't complicate matters.

Jim Rettig




Jim Rettig

Retired Academic Library Administrator

Happily living in Williamsburg, Virgina


David Vess (non-member)'s picture

Hi Jim,
Yes this does make me want to give up and crawl under my desk but I think we can all figure this out.  Larry Romans as warned me about this issue in fact but I'm thankful you've laid it out so well here.

Important Qualification: I have yet to propose any of this to my board.  I don't speak for them.  I'm going to try to sell some kind of asynchronous meeting model to them since only half of us could ever have a conference call (based on an availability questionnaire I sent them).  They may not support this.  That's their call to make of course.

My goal is to make all our work public.  It is on our board email list and it should be in our Connect space. 

Regarding the rules.  I think if we (all ala groups) conducted asynchronous meetings in Connect, it would be the first time these meetings were really 'open.'  I've never felt my ala meetings were accessible to membership at 8am (or anytime) in a hotel conference room in city X.

I shouldn't take some thing as a given.   I do expect our Connect exchanges to be set to "public."  Another example is that the meeting plan will have directions about announcing coming meetings.  At the beginning of a meeting period, an announcement would go out on our member email list.  The announcement could follow a template such as: meeting period duration, topics, links to the discussion boards on each topic, links to topic background packet, etc.  Additionally, I hear Connect will eventually have a way to 'promote' things from ancillary spaces to a main space.  So, an additional way to publicize the meeting would be to promote each topic discussion board to the main glbtrt space (after the meeting agenda is set, a week before the meeting period begins). 

I'll look into what other groups are doing.  The LITA board is also attempting to use connect for such business. 

Great question you've posed about the validity of voting, since the discussions do not constitute meetings. If the policy was adopted to assure transparency, it seems that using Connect with some basic guidelines results in incredibly open meetings.

More Info:

I see that LITA Board members are also talking about a number of issues swirling around using connect for meetings and voting.

  1. State of a Connect items: open or closed?
  2. Procedure for managing official motions and votes in Connect
  3. Follow-up and follow-through of Connect threads that die out.
  4. Specific tools in Connect
  5. Other topics
    1. more on the open meeting policy
    2. meeting reports/minutes
    3. closed meetings
    4. issues around ALA's legal framework 


Aaron Dobbs's picture

I'm bringing Jim's comment back for framing my reply:

"The question may be, since asynchronous communication does not constitute a meeting, can a group that has held on open asynchronous discussion conclude a discussion and "the text of the matter [to be] voted upon was properly mailed or distributed to those entitled to vote on the matter involved" take action through such a vote?  Or to rephrase the question, since an asynchronous discussion is not a meeting, can that group take a vote after such a discussion?"

I see the policies which define a 'meeting' as a synchronous/simultaneous canvassing of at least a quorum of a defined group as something which needs reasonable modification.

NMRT held meetings through email lists when I was active there in 2002-2005. The duration of the meeting was defined at the outset, everyone was expected to read through all the messages on the agenda topics and post a reply about having read them and any comments, and responses to reponses if applicable.

LITA is wrestling with similar issues, but instead of an iterative approach their desire (at least between 2009 and 2011) seemed to be developing a consenus before actually trying to do it.

I'm fully supportive if the NMRT model of try it, see what works, and then document how to do it (better) for the next time.

ALA Connect makes it much easier to do "open" (email list archives are not always available).

I would define an asynchronous meeting as an ALA Connect thread with an official start time and an official end time with anywhere from a week to a month duration. The expectation would be active discusison participation from all members of a committee/unit/group with the "leader" of the group providing a summary (in online doc form) of what happened one or two days after the meeting ended... and a group vote on the accuracy of the meeting summary for consensus and recording purposes.

It would, I think, be within COO's purview (which other group might be better suited?) to recommend a change like this to the bylaws/policy manual - which would then get discussed and voted at Council (and then by the membership if approved and it is a bylaws change)

The policy manual, to me, is more of a guide than a straitjacket. It should reflect current practice and we should be willing to update it as communicatiuons channels and mechanisms advance to provide new options for engagement.


"Always remember everyone is working to make the organization better in their own way."
-Eli Mina, ALA Parliamentarian

David Vess (non-member)'s picture

Hi all

I’m now cycling off as the past-chair of GLBTRT and I thought I should report on what happened with our meetings. 

I agree with Aaron's thoughts on policy being more of a guide but I choose not to take on for a few reasons.  I decided to not pursue asynchronous meetings for our board because of the policy that Jim pointed out and general unease some board members had with using ALA Connect.  Instead, I used Connect for all our meeting materials with the hope that people will get used to it.  I’ve also lobbied the board to embrace Connect as a tool that comes with the board member job.  My view is that we are obligated to capture our work in a single place where it will be available to all permanently—that place is in the board’s ALA Connect space.

We experimented with hosting meetings on Adobe Connect for quite awhile.  It was great for everyone to be able to view the same material on the screen.  An added bonus was that we got a few member-visitors in those meetings.  I think they’re less intimidating to attend than a conference call.  In the end, we didn’t continue with Adobe Connect.  A few board members were never able to get their mics configured so they could only participate in the chat room.  I could usually help one person get his mic configured, but it would always require that attention before each meeting.  In the spring of 2014 we all agreed to abandon Adobe Connect and use a free conference call service.  I’ve saved the tip sheet I displayed in the screen sharing area at the start of each meeting.  I would also link to it from the agenda in ALA Connect.  Adobe Connect Meeting Tip Sheet [word doc]

To help comply with meeting policy, we’ve agreed to always hold our conference calls on the second Friday of every month 10 to 11am CST.  Having a consistent time helps board members plan their schedules and it also gives membership an easy way to remember when their board is meeting.  We send reminders of this meeting to membership.  We also send a complete agenda to the membership email list and to the board 10 days before the meeting.  The agenda always has the conference call number and code at the top.  This approach, along with a few things like maintaining a future agenda item list, has helped us move forward on a number of things.  This is an example agenda/minutes document from one of our conference calls.

I admit to using this post to promote ALA Connect a bit but I figured it was a good place to share success with monthly meetings and the role Connect plays in that.  It can't do all the work for you but it really helps when you have a meeting planning system in place.