The Demise of CLA

Today the members of the Canadian Library Association (CLA) voted overwhelmingly to disband the organization. I’m a member of the Executive Committee of CLA that moved the motion to do this.

Canadian Library AssociationIn many ways it’s a sad day. CLA has been a voice for libraries since 1946 and for many, me included, it has been a tremendous source of professional engagement (I’ve been a member since 1976).

But CLA has declined in relevance and value. A lack of faith in the association (for a variety of reasons) lead to declining memberships and diminished revenues. The vibrant CLA of the past had become an unsustainable organization unable to meet member, and prospective member, needs. It was time for it to go.

In many other ways, however, today is a very exciting and important day because it clears the way for a new vehicle to act as the national voice of libraries: the proposed Canadian Federation of Library Associations.

Many national and regional library associations came together over that past year or more to craft a new organization. It was extremely difficult work. The resulting proposal is not CLA revised or revisited but a new start with new people and a new vision of how to proceed.

It has been easy for some to snark on the sidelines and disparage CLA. I have been impressed by those who had similar reservations about CLA but were prepared to put in the hard work to find a new solution.

The Federation model isn’t perfect. There will be substantial challenges. But the need for a national voice for libraries was broadly and vocally supported.

CLA is over. The Federation is not CLA. It’s time to move on.

My sadness about the demise of CLA is more than tempered by the excitement of a new way forward; a way that will be shaped by those who want to be involved and want to make a difference.

One of the members at the Special General Meeting where CLA was dissolved made a passionate plea for the importance of libraries in underserved communities. We as a library community have lots of work to do to address those and many other needs.

I urge you to follow the work of the Federation and to participate in it through one or more of the many library associations who form the organization. It is our voice to have or to lose.


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8 Responses to The Demise of CLA

  1. Peter Bailey says:

    Agree. A sad day, but with hope for the future. Thank you for all your hard work on behalf of all of us in the Canadian library community on this. You took a lot of criticism and hard knocks over the last year and you weathered it all with grace and good humour. ~ Peter Bailey, Library Association of Alberta

  2. Neril Strickland says:

    I have been a member of CLA since 1997 but have not always been able to participate actively. CLA has been a fantastic advocate in the library community and I am sorry to see it disappear. If the reorganization is done well, the proposed Canadian Federation of Library Associations will be an even stronger voice. I look forward to seeing how things develop over the months and years.

  3. Neil Strickland says:

    My name is Neil Strickland. I misspelled my name.

  4. William Miller says:

    Happy memories of CLA during my time at U of T Faculty of Library Science (1974-76). Sorry to hear of its demise. Bill Miller

  5. Murray McCabe says:

    Thanks for a nicely written and concise article showing that we’ve arrived to enjoy the light at the end of a very long tunnel. I look forward to the birth of a national federation that will engage more library systems through their existing memberships in lower tier associations. My thanks to those who worked hard over the years CLA presidents, staff, and member contributors to keep CLA a national voice while seeking a workable solution. Mmc

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  7. Ron Knowling says:

    Oh dear! Have I snarked from the sidelines? Oh well! No I was never a big supporter of CLA. When I was in Grad School it seemed remote to the issues which I am my colleagues were doing. This continued into the twenty-first century with CLA seeming to be the organization with the expensive membership that couldn’t do anything. The important word in the previous sentence is “seeming”. In the analog era the librarian as gatekeeper was a viable model for the provision of information and our patrons accepted that. In a digital era where information is much less easily controlled and a professional monopoly on access to information has crumbled into ash the demands on individual professionals to build out services to meet the needs of their patron base are almost (completely?) overwhelming. Any association has to start with the needs of its members and this sadly is where CLA failed to adapt to the changing information ecology of libraries and librarians. And this brings me to the new proposed “Federation”. I am generally in favor of having some sort of national organization to act as a voice for libraries and librarians. But to fill that role effectively an organization needs to have a connection to libraries and librarians. The decision to forgo individual memberships thus weakens the proposed associations ability to communicate with the community. Similarly, the proposed governance and weighted memberships diminish (voids?) the legitimacy of the new association before it exists. Maybe this is just sniping from the sidelines, but I value the idea of equality of the individual. I don’t see why wealthy organizations should get more votes while the libraries with the greatest needs go unheard or are treated as charity cases. I am probably old fashioned. I would say that the model proposed for the new federation reflects a failure of vision and confidence. Maybe, given the last two or three decades of CLA that failure is understandable, but it is not acceptable.

    • Mike Ridley says:

      I always appreciate your perspective Ron, even if I don’t fully agree with it. So thanks for the comment. I more or less agree with you regarding CLA. That’s why we decided to shut it down. The Federation is not CLA’s idea but that of the library community; it was developed by members from dozens of library associations in Canada. CLA facilitated but didn’t direct.

      Many other library associations have arisen over the past 20 years to take on the role you discuss. What remains lacking is focused and broad based influence at the national level. The Federation is poised to do this. If we give it a chance, it will have a chance.


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