I loved hearing about my family’s history from my older relatives as I grew up, so it seemed only natural that I eventually inherited the role of family historian. Through the years, I’ve accumulated not only facts and stories about my family, but also many photographs and artifacts. I tend to get nostalgic and sentimental every time I look at these items, and I want to hold onto everything. As my house gets more crowded, I have a hard time knowing what to keep and when to let go. Fortunately, Al‑Anon’s own history has provided me with some guidance.

The Al‑Anon fellowship faced similar questions to mine as its library of Conference Approved Literature (CAL) expanded from a half-dozen book titles and several dozen pamphlets in the late 1970s to more than triple those numbers by the late 1990s. It was time for a long, hard look at whether our literature was effectively serving our members. In 1997, with the participation of all 67 Areas of the World Service Conference Structure, the Literature Committee initiated a “searching and fearless” inventory of all CAL.

Hundreds of members from each Area shared opinions on which literature was and wasn’t helpful. Based on that input, the Literature Committee made recommendations regarding which pieces should remain the same, which needed revision, and which should no longer be printed. To help, a specific procedure for the discontinuance of CAL was included as part of the process for developing CAL.

There can be many reasons behind the decision to discontinue a book or pamphlet. Often it occurs because the fellowship considers the piece to be no longer timely, responsive to identified needs, or reflective of the current membership. Like the process for developing CAL, this procedure is a group conscience decision, involving the input of many members. This decision is not made lightly, and the procedure ensures this. Discontinuance of a piece of literature does not revoke its status as CAL. We have no process to “de-CAL” a piece—it will always remain archived as part of our CAL history. The procedure merely provides guidance on whether a piece needs to remain in print.

Discontinuance of a Conference-approved book requires that the book has had at least a three-to-five-year initial introductory period; that the membership has expressed minimal interest; that the topics in the book are or will be adequately covered in other CAL if needed; and that the Literature Committee has recommended discontinuance. If the above criteria have been fulfilled, the Board of Trustees may grant approval to discontinue the book, provided that it notifies all World Service Conference members of its intent to discontinue it at least one year prior to the action. The procedure for discontinuance of a CAL pamphlet requires that the Literature Committee recommends discontinuance and that the Executive Committee carries a motion to discontinue the pamphlet.

Members are sometimes confused as to whether discontinued pieces can be used at meetings, but there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Depending on the group, the piece they are considering, and other circumstances, the answer might be different for each group, which is why it remains up to the autonomy of the group, through its informed group conscience.

Reading from discontinued literature can provide tremendous insight from our early members about what our program was like at the time the material was written. At the same time, it’s possible that not everyone at the meeting will be able to see it from a historical perspective. Although our spiritual principles have remained the same over the years, society and the words we use have not. Nor has the membership itself, which is increasingly more diverse than it was when it was primarily made up of the wives of recovering members of A.A.

It is important for the group to consider whether or not the discontinued piece presents our program in the best light and if it could give the wrong impression to newcomers. Building interest in a piece that is no longer available could also create confusion, frustration, and a lack of unity. That’s why when considering the use of discontinued literature at a meeting, the past experience of our members encourages us to “talk to each other” through an informed group conscience that can carefully consider all reasons for and against using the piece before reading it at a meeting. Then we trust that, according to Tradition Two, our group conscience is an expression of a loving Power greater than ourselves.

On a personal level, I’m learning to apply our fellowship’s procedure when I am deciding what to do with family artifacts. I conduct an inventory and gather input from family members and my Higher Power before I determine what to let go of and what to keep.

By Tom C., Associate Director—Literature

The Forum, June 2019