This is the first of two posts about the American Library Association. The next post – scheduled for next week – will discuss the costs of membership in the organization.
The first thing I need to admit: I’m not the best of ALA members. Well, it’s not that I’m bad…it’s just that I’m sometimes not a member.
My ALA Track Record
I started out my career 12 years ago with so much idealism that I’m pretty sure I made the other veteran librarians sick. I felt like you *had* to belong to ALA to be a good librarian. I don’t anymore. There are many ways to contribute in your own community, in your state and region, or even with your own initiatives that can all fall outside of ALA.
I then moved to being a member of ALA for one year and then not renewing the next. One year on…one year off. Repeat cycle. On the “on” years, I might attend a conference.
Then the institution I was working at re-did its evaluation process for librarians, placing a greater emphasis on “service to the profession” (something I was not opposed to by the way–it’s a good thing). So then it was back into ALA for several years where I did some committee work and tried to find places where I belonged inside the myriad divisions, roundtables, etc…–which I wasn’t always successful at doing.
Now at my current job, professional service is encouraged, but not required. We have 6 full-time librarians. This year, besides me, only one other librarian belongs to ALA–but we all do the encouraged “service to the profession” stuff. The last few years I’ve done more with my state association, so I’ve gone back to being the “occasional” ALA member.
The Hard Part
I’m not exactly sure what would get me to be a continuous member. Cheaper membership? Well, that’s a given…but I know that’s not happening. I’ll talk more about that in my next post. Side note: Where are these seemingly “mythical” libraries that pay for their employees’ memberships? Never worked at one.
It’s not that I don’t like ALA. They work on big and important initiatives and they have a dedicated and hardworking staff. However, sometimes I feel like there is this disconnect: it is the American LIBRARY Association after all, and not the American LIBRARIAN Association. Disagree if you’d like.
And yep…You get what you put into your membership: I’m not serving on committees now. And I know I don’t have the patience for deliberative bodies like ALA Council (vitally important, just not my cup o’ noodles).
My only connection is through the twice weekly email newsletters and notifications about expensive workshops my library cannot afford. Heck, I don’t even need to be a member to follow association news–I can track it on Twitter. I can also get helpful open-access articles (like C&RL News, etc) for free. During conferences, you can follow posts on Twitter (check out the #alamw15 hashtag) – as one of the #alaleftbehind.
So with 50,000 members, most of whom don’t serve on committees or even attend conferences, I guess my question is: What’s keeping them as members? Is it general goodwill?
My ALA membership will be coming up for renewal. It will probably be an “off” year for me. Maybe even several years. I’ll re-up at some point. I hate to think I have a deficit of goodwill–but that alone won’t make me renew my membership. And I’m not jaded about the profession either: I enjoy my current job. It’s both creative and technical, collaborative and independent, with a lot of variety. I guess I just feel like I don’t have a need to belong to ALA. Is that bad? I dunno. But I still feel like a heel.