The Edmonton chapter of the PLG voted unanimously to disaffiliate from the PLG and to transition into a new, separate organization. This decision was not taken lightly and was the result of several months’ worth of discussion, both internally and with the PLG Coordinating Committee. Our grievances are elucidated in the motion that was passed at our monthly general meeting held on June 28, 2016 (see http://plgedmonton.ca/plg-edmonton-votes-to-dissolve/)
. However, perhaps more context is required to understand why we took such an action.
The Coordinating Committee (CC) is the body tasked with governing the organization as a whole and is composed of at-large members and members of the Progressive Librarian editorial board. The editorial positions are not elected and the at-large positions are supposed to be held to two-year terms with replacements elected by the PLG membership. However, no such election has been held during the entire existence of the Edmonton chapter, which was founded in 2010.
The CC claims that no one stands for elections, which may be true but does not speak well of the democratic health of the organization as a whole. The result is a CC consisting of unelected editorial members and at-large members who are free to remain on the board for as long as they like with absolutely no accountability to the PLG membership. The CC does not provide reports or financial statements to membership, cannot be recalled, and makes decisions that affect the entire organization without any oversight mechanism. Thus, we feel justified in calling the CC undemocratic.
As a chapter of the PLG, the Edmonton group was entitled to keep 50% of its members’ dues, which was $20 US per year. In November of 2015, the CC not only raised the dues to $25 US but also claimed 100% of dues, even from members of local chapters. This decision was made without meaningful consultation of the entire membership. The CC did send an email to us and we responded with our concerns but the decision had already been made. When we expressed dismay at the fact that the 50-50 dues split with chapters was being abandoned, we were told that we were free to charge whatever we wanted for local dues. Thus, dues went from $20 US a year with $10 of that remaining in our coffers to $35 US a year if we wanted to retain $10 for our coffers. In addition, the exchange rate between US and Canadian dollars made the price even more expensive. These sums are quite low compared to other associations in the profession, but it is the total disregard for chapters’ rights to local dues and for accountability and transparency regarding the PLG’s finances that led us to consider leaving the organization.
We also engaged in discussions with the CC regarding the management of the Progressive Librarian journal. We knew that this was a large expense for the PLG and also made it known that delivery of the journal to our members was erratic. As a solution to these problems, we offered to manage and host the Progressive Librarian as an open access e-journal. Our offer was turned down. It was even suggested by a member of the CC that offering the journal as an online publication would not be progressive.
We know that concerns regarding the governance of the PLG have arisen before. In fact, former member Rory Litwin provides a history of such concerns up until 2008 in this blog post: http://libraryjuicepress.com/blog/?p=469
. We reached the decision that the PLG is plagued with systemic governance problems that had been ignored for years and which the CC were either incapable of or indifferent to fixing. These were our primary concerns and we saw no solution other than to disaffiliate.
Over the past several years we’ve also seen the Canadian context of information work evolve with many problematic changes. Some of the more notable incidents include the cancellation of the NADP (National Archival Development Program), the LAC Code of Conduct, closure and consolidation of federal libraries, closure of public libraries in Newfoundland and Labrador, rising workplace tensions (e.g. librarians strike at the University of Western Ontario) and an overall rise in precarious employment. While opposition and action against these changes has come from a variety of groups, including ourselves, we feel that there is a notable gap in terms of having a Canadian organization that can play a leading role in addressing these issues.
We have left the PLG over differences regarding governance, not over ideological differences. We respect the work that the PLG has done over the course of its 25+ year history and thank the members of the wider organization for providing the community in which we have operated for the past six years. We will now endeavour to create a new organization but hope to maintain camaraderie with the PLG.