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The real Robert's: The authority on parliamentary procedure
on October 1, 2011
As a lawyer and parliamentarian, when I am asked about proper procedure at a meeting, my first question is: What rules do you use? Is there an applicable statute, or bylaws or rules that the organization has adopted? Nine times out of ten, the answer is: "Robert's Rules of Order." Robert's is the most widely used parliamentary manual in the United States.
General Henry M. Robert published the original "Robert's Rules" in 1875 and 1876 and, since the copyright on that edition (and the next few editions) has long since expired, there are numerous unofficial editions on the market. The third edition, published in 1893, is still marketed in paperback by more than one publisher as the "original" Robert's Rules. With the copyright expired, even the name "Robert's" has passed into the public domain, and many imitators have slapped the name "Robert's" on books of parliamentary procedure that bear minimal relation to General Robert's work (much as many dictionaries claim the name "Webster's" without any connection to Noah Webster or the Merriam-Webster brand that carries on his work). This book is the real Robert's, composed by an editorial board appointed by General Robert's heirs (including his descendant Henry III, an eminent parliamentarian in his own right). Now in its 11th edition, published in September 2011, this book "supersedes all previous editions and is intended automatically become the parliamentary authority in organizations whose bylaws prescribe 'Robert's Rules of Order' ... or the like, without specifying a particular edition."
The 11th edition, the first new edition in 11 years, incorporates various issues that the authors have addressed informally since the 10th edition was published in 2000. For example, the chapter on disciplinary procedures has been fleshed out so that it has become a practical rather than a theoretical guide, and new provisions have been added about electronic notice and about participation in meetings by phone or by internet connection. (There are still quite a few archaisms, though: the presiding officer is still referred to as "he," while the secretary is "he or she." And the arcane and archaic motion to "reconsider and enter on the minutes" is still around.) This edition is being released in conjunction with the new (2d) edition of the shorter and more user-friendly "Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised in Brief," an authoritative abridgment that will serve as an adequate alternative for users who don't need the full 669-page version.
Robert's is not necessarily the best parliamentary manual on the market: "Modern Parliamentary Procedure" by Ray Keesey is far more logical and user-friendly, and "The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure" by Alice Sturgis (commissioned by the American Institute of Parliamentarians as a contemporary alternative to Robert's) is more readable and more rooted in modern practice. But no other book has gained as much as a toehold in Robert's dominance in the market. If you are interested in parliamentary procedure, or figuring out how most organizations work in the 21st-century United States, this Robert's is indispensable.