A Letter From ABA Board President Robert Sindelar

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Dear Fellow Booksellers,

The ABA Board met a few weeks ago for its summer meeting. Each of our quarterly in-person meetings has distinct agenda items that we attend to annually. From the outside, the summer meeting can seem like the most tedious of all our meetings, but in reality it is the most important meeting we have all year. Booksellers often ask me about what the board is working on and what the job of the board is. Nothing explains this better than our work each summer. I thought I’d outline some highlights below.

Annual Compliance Report (I know, the name almost puts you to sleep on its own, but stay with me — it’s worth it.)

This report is how the board evaluates how well the organization is meeting its Ends Policies (yes, another really exciting term). ABA’s Ends Policies, determined by the board, articulate what results should be accomplished, for whom, and at what priority or cost. So the compliance report is ultimately a progress report and summary of everything the ABA has done in the last 12 months.

This is a multi-page/multi-tab report that is thorough and exhaustive. Incoming board members each year are a bit overwhelmed by it. I know I was. But, for me, having read this report for five years in a row now, its exhaustive nature is exactly the point. ABA has so many programs going and so many of them touch on numerous parts of our Ends Policies, whether it’s education, advocacy, or another area, it’s incredibly important for the board to take an annual look at all of them together. It’s only this comprehensive viewing that really allows us to evaluate the organization.

The good news is that, once again, the board found the report to be extremely impressive and mostly meeting and/or exceeding the expectations of the Ends Policies.

But What Does “Mostly” Mean — and What Do We Do About It?

One of the goals for reviewing this report is to clarify to the ABA CEO if there are any areas where the Ends Policies are not being met to the board’s satisfaction. While these were minor this year, the types of discussions we have around these issues develop an important and necessary vocabulary for working with the CEO the rest of the year.

But what often ends up happening is that the things the board thinks are lacking in the Compliance Report turn out to be things that have changed in the nature of bookselling and booksellers needs in the last year or so and that are not spelled out clearly enough in the Ends Policies. Remember, the ABA CEO and staff’s job is to follow and fulfill the Ends Policies, so if the policy is not there, they can’t do it.

Annual Ends Policies Discussion

I have to admit, the first time I was at a board meeting and we discussed the Ends Policies, which inevitably ends up being a discussion about how they are worded, I could not wait for it to be over so we could get back to the “real work.”

Again, with five years’ experience now, it is very clear to me that this is the “real work.” The Ends Policies are the road map the ABA CEO and staff use to do all their work while the rest of us are running our stores. It is the board’s duty to give them a rich, powerful, and clearly detailed map so they can dig in and get important work done, as well as a map that is meaningful and inspiring to the ABA Board and ABA Membership.

This year, as noted in the BTW recap of the summer meeting, the board felt that we would have liked to see a stronger emphasis on technology in the ABA Compliance Report. But after review, we saw that we needed to clarify the role of technology in the Ends Policies in order to get this result. This work on the Ends Policies was completed last week; the updated text, specifically the first and fourth items under Section A, is now on BookWeb.

These types of changes in the Ends Policies are the catalyst for the best things that ABA has accomplished over the last 10 years. The ongoing success of Winter Institute, our strong relationships and better terms with publishers, and the upcoming implementation of Batch are all direct results of the board’s refining of the Ends Policies.

While it is way more fun to talk about who will be the keynote speaker at Winter Institute, what enhancements we’d like to see to the IndieCommerce platform, or even what books we have just read that we loved (and we do talk about all these things), it is this broader, visionary, meta-goal-oriented view that has the greatest impact.

As the president of the ABA, who is responsible for making sure we get this done each year, I have been grateful to my predecessors for their hard work and disciplined structure and I am extremely appreciative of the passion and thoughtfulness our current board brought to this discussion this year.

I hope your summers are going well both personally and at your stores.

As always, if you have any questions or comments about ABA, I am happy to hear from you.

Robert Sindelar
President, American Booksellers Association
Third Place Books
Lake Forest Park and Seattle, Washington