Notes from the Chair Fall 2015

WESS Newsletter

Fall 2015, Vol. 39, No. 1

The big organizational news is that a merger between WESS and SEES, the Slavic and Eastern European Studies Section with which WESS has already been collaborating in various ways in recent years, is close to becoming a reality. The question of a merger with SEES will still need to be approved by the entire WESS membership; a vote on that question will take place at some point in 2016, probably in the spring. But unless the overwhelming support for the idea among those who answered the poll given to the membership last spring is not indicative of the prevailing sentiment among the membership, WESS will within a couple of years be part of a new, bigger organization covering all of Europe. In anticipation of the proposed merger’s being approved by both memberships, the current leaders are in discussion with ACRL about the steps they will need to take in order to make the merger official.

What led to the merger is SEES’s diminished membership numbers, which have been below the 400 threshold required for a section to retain section status. After a certain number of years with fewer than 400 members, an ACRL section may dissolve entirely, or devolve into an interest or discussion group. An interest or discussion cannot do big things like hold conference programs and would amount to a real demotion. Faced with this prospect, SEES’s other main option has been to seek to unite with WESS, and some may remember that the possibility of a formal union of the two sections had been explored a few years back, but did not advance beyond the discussion stage. Now the clock has run out on SEES and it has had to choose its course. WESS membership has been more robust, holding steadily at roughly 430 members in recent years, but that is still not so far above the threshold for the numbers not to be a little of a worry. So, as far as WESS is concerned, the immediate advantage of the prospective merger will be to raise the membership numbers of the resulting organization to a level safely above the cut-off for section status for a long time to come. But that of course is a merely pragmatic outcome. The real benefit should be the exposure to new ideas and perspectives a merger with SEES will bring. My guess is that whatever your areas of specialization and interest, the less tangible but deeper gain will be the chance to mingle with colleagues with different responsibilities and knowledge bases — an intellectual enrichment, then.

At the same time, I do not think a whole lot will change for you if you are a WESSie who has been well served by the conference program, the social activities, the particular discussion groups that bear on your areas of professional interest, and the opportunities for professional involvement that our section provides. WESS can accommodate SEES without risk to its mission, I think: the good stuff will remain, and there will be other stuff in addition: more discussion groups, more interactions, some expanded activities, on top of what WESS already offers its members. In the poll distributed last spring, respondents largely opposed the bigger, three-way merger of WESS, SEES, and AAMES (the African, Asian, and Middle Eastern Studies section) that had been proposed by the SEES leadership. This would have led to an organization so broad – a global international studies consortium in effect — as to have thinned the cohesion that has been WESS’s raison d’être and the source of its effectiveness. But members were receptive to the idea of combining with SEES; many pointed out a decent number of our members already belong to both sections. What the members who responded to the poll seemed to be saying was that an all-Europe section could be a good thing, while an all-planetary one clearly wouldn’t be. Europe in the wider sense constitutes a geographical, historical, and cultural unit, so that one organization devoted to the whole of it seems like a good middle ground: from WESS’s standpoint, the new organization will represent expansion but not diffusion. At the WESS executive meeting, the proposal was made that if the merger is approved by both constituencies, there should be a trial period during which the members of both organizations would have the chance to make sure that the merger is going well.

In June, members of the respective WESS and SEES executive councils held an informal meeting in San Francisco to begin to discuss what needs to be done in order to meld the activities of the two sections together, something for which there is no precedent in the ACRL. Since the two sections are aligned philosophically, the meeting mainly had to do with procedures. As I have mentioned, WESS and SEES have been collaborating for some time, on both the conference program and the administration of the Coutts-Nijhoff research grant (now sponsored by de Gruyter). (In the case of the former this has had the distinct practical advantage of allowing the program to receive pecuniary support from two ACRL sections. If the two sections combine, that support will be lost, but it would have been lost anyway had SEES given up its section status – it will be the task of the fund-raising committee to find new ways to make up this deficit in the future.)

At the meeting of the WESS Executive Council at this year’s annual conference, other aspects of a potential merger were taken up. It was agreed that the respective websites, each of which has its own architecture, emphases, and hosting arrangements, would probably remain separate for the time being, although a common portal would be desirable. On the other hand, it was the consensus that the newspapers could be combined without loss to either and with the possible benefit of cross-fertilization for both, in addition to the symbolic value, a bit like that of a common currency, of having a single outlet for the whole augmented organization. This would encourage members chiefly allied with one or the other wing of the new organization to learn about activities to which they might not otherwise have paid heed. Of course, such changes and the nuts and bolts of implementing them will have to be worked out by the relevant committees of both sections in tandem.

The timetable would be as follows: an official vote by the members of both sections next year; then, assuming the merger is approved, a year for both sections to work on their plans for the transition, with a formal submission of the completed plan to the ACRL in the spring of 2017; and finally, assuming ACRL’s approval, the official completion of the merger in September of 2017. At that point WESS, dropping its W and gaining half a continent, would become ESS (unless someone has a better proposal). In the meantime, WESS members can look forward to fresh collaborations and synergies with our new colleagues.

See you in Boston!

Jeff Staiger, PhD., MLIS.
Librarian for English, French, Italian, and Classics
Knight Library
University of Oregon