Meh on ALA?

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.

I took this photo at ALA Midwinter in Dallas - 2012.

I took this photo at ALA Midwinter in Dallas – 2012.

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.


8 thoughts on “Meh on ALA?

  1. Thanks for posting this. I have recently been trying to decide whether or not to become an ALA member. I never was before as my job was in archives not libraries so I never felt driven to do it. Recently however, I got a job at a university library and now as a “library professional” I feel like I should become a member. I also feel like I can’t really spend the money on that right now. So it is kind of up in the air. I am not sure if this post will help me decide, but it is nice to know that I am not the only one!

  2. I recognise those feelings! Have you thought about trying a different association in one of your ‘off’ years? There are loads to choose from depending on your context. I’ve recently switched to SLA and am impressed so far, friendly, welcoming, more manageable size so easier to find a place within it.

  3. This is my first year as a media coordinator and I joined the ALA one because our county mandates it in order to participate in middle school battle of the books and two because I was all excited to learn about the media position and go to the conference. I have to say that other than the NCSLMA conference that was in October I really haven’t utilized any of the perks of being a part of the ALA. I really don’t have time in the day to look through the website either. I wonder if they lowered the price if more people would be members. I definitely think that it wasn’t worth the money. What do you like better about SLA?! I would love to hear more about that Sarah.

    • Conference is smaller, 2-3k attendees, it’s very strong on subject specialisms (I’m in Sci-Tech and Eng as well as academic division). They have loads of webinars on relevant topics. Nearly all committee meetings seem to be by conference call and allow members to dial in – invaluable for me because travel is difficult. I did make it to conference last year and it was the most welcoming and useful I’ve ever attended!

  4. “Where are these seemingly “mythical” libraries that pay for their employees’ memberships? Never worked at one.”

    Weird. I’ve never worked for a library that didn’t pay for my professional memberships. I suppose if I did, I would think carefully about whether I wanted to keep up with them, too.

  5. Pingback: Mr. Library Dude | ALA: The Membership Cost is Too Damn High?

  6. Hey! I am a new student of the library profession. Would like to say it’s really cool that you are speaking bluntly about your experience, can’t stand sugar-coating.

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