ALA: The Membership Cost is Too Damn High?

Note: This is the second part of a two-part post about the American Library Association.


TL;DR: ALA membership is not expensive when compared with professional organizations of similar earning occupations, but that doesn’t mean it’s not personally expensive for you and me.

Remember that guy running for governor of New York? His whole shtick was the “rent is too damn high!” Not gonna disagree with that. Sometimes I think the same thing about membership in ALA and its various divisions and round tables.

So are the membership costs in ALA too high?

Well…I think it depends on your own personal situation, finances, and cost of living in your area.1 Personally, I have a limit in what I will pay for a professional membership. And nope…you can’t guilt me in to paying more. I’ve also never worked at a library that has covered the cost of an ALA membership–it’s always been money out of my own pocket.

1. Do not tell people that membership is not expensive: You do not know their financial situation or personal interests.

What I’m willing to pay
My limit is $150. Personally, I think that’s a nice chunk of change of my hard earned money. You may think me a cheapskate (go ahead…I’m OK with it), but I would rather put my money elsewhere. Currently, I’m just able to stay at my limit with these bare-bones choices:

alaSlide1Side note: Like a lot of librarians, I also belong to my state library association: the Wisconsin Library Association. Membership is salary-based and I pay almost as much as I do for my ALA membership. The state association is important to me because they offer great conferences that are just the right size, plus the ability to network with colleagues in my geographic area.

How much I could be paying
I’m an academic reference & instruction librarian. If I actually look at the ALA divisions and round tables I would want to belong too, then I would see my membership skyrocket from $150 to $270 per year.

alaSlide2So as a result, I’ve stuck to ALA membership and LIRT because it was cheaper and I liked the work that LIRT does.

Now I know this is where people argue that they wish they could only be members of the divisions of ALA (e.g., Association of College & Research Libraries, Public Library Association, etc.), but I recognize the fact that “bigALA” helps support these divisions and keeps costs down for the divisions.

Cost comparison with other professional organizations
So although ALA may feel “expensive” for me, I wanted to know if its membership fees were high compared to the professional organizations of other similar earning occupations that require a master’s degree.

I went to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook and used the entry for “librarians.” The median salary is $55,370 (2012 data). Now I know there are problems with median salary: You may be early career v. late career or in a region with a low-cost of living v. high-cost of living…but it’s a starting point, so that’s what I’m using.

Then I went to the OOH Occupation Finder and limited my search to careers that: 1) require a master’s degree and 2) have a median salary ranging from approximately $40,000 to $65,000 (2012 data).

These are the careers I looked at:


1. It is likely that “historians” and “anthropologists & archaeologists” may be in positions that require or prefer a doctoral degree.
2. An initial search using the OOH Occupation Finder included the jobs of “archivist” and “curator” in my target list. I have omitted these from my study due to similarities with librarianship. In addition, the jobs of “postsecondary teachers–arts, drama, music” and “postsecondary teachers-nursing” were also included. I have removed these as many full-time positions will require or prefer a doctoral degree, although some may hold a master’s as a terminal degree.

The cost of professional organizations for other careers

So what do people in these careers pay for membership in their professional organizations? Let’s take a look:


1. Membership type is for a full membership (commonly referred to as an individual, personal, or regular membership)–not student rate, early career rate, or retiree rate. Some organizations calculate the membership rate based on salary. These are noted below. For each of these instances, I used the median salary of librarians ($55,370) to calculate the rate.
2. Must also pay to belong to state division. Source: American Association for Marriage & Family Therapy.
3. Listed rate is for professionals with a master’s degree and higher. Source: National Association of Social Workers.
4. Survey researchers likely belong to the discipline-specific organization related to the research they conduct. For this analysis, I have chosen to use the American Association for Public Opinion Research as a representative organization.
5. Membership rate based on salary. $90 is for a salary range of $30,000-$59,999. Source: American Association for Public Opinion Research.
6. I chose the National Council for Public History to represent historians that do not necessarily work as professors. There are many organizations for historians, depending on specialty. The American Association of State and Local History offers a membership rate similar to NCPH. A specialty field, like the American Historical Association has a membership rate based on salary. For an income between $45,000-$70,000, the rate is $118.
7. Source: National Council on Public History.
8. Source: American School Counselor Association.
9. Source: American Library Association. Rate is for 3rd and later years of membership.
10. Source: National Society of Genetic Counselors.
11. Membership rate based on salary. $204 is for a salary range of $50,000-$74,999. Must also pay to belong to at least one section. Source: American Anthropological Association.
12. There are many educational/teaching organizations. For this analysis, I have chosen to use the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development as a representative organization.
13. Various membership levels. Joining as a “premium” member gives you a $100 voucher for conferences & professional development. I have chosen to use the basic membership rate of $39 for my analysis below. Source: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
14. Source: American Academy of Orthotists & Prosthetists.
15. Membership rate based on salary. In addition, chapter (state) dues are mandatory for membership. Source: American Planning Association.
16. A $20 discount is given to members who chose to receive online-only access to the association journal. Also, a salary of less than $45,000 pays $95 for membership. Source: American Public Health Association.

The ALA base membership rate is $135. That puts it more expensive than 4 of the comparable organizations, but cheaper than 7 of these organizations. The average rate for membership across these organizations comes to around $173, while the median is $195.

How about if you add a divisional membership to your ALA total? Let’s pick from two: adding ACRL membership costs an additional $60, while PLA membership adds $70 (Source: ALA: Join, Renew or Rejoin). So you’re looking at either $195 (ALA + ACRL) or $205 (ALA + PLA) which doesn’t really change ALA’s position in terms of affordability when compared with the other organizations–although it may definitely change your affordability.

In looking at the other organizations, I liked some of their models. For example, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development offers varying levels of membership that range from $39 to $239. Their “premium” level of membership includes a $100 voucher for their professional development opportunities and conferences–a great bonus for joining at the premium rate.

Several of the organizations (American Association for Public Opinion Research, American Anthropological Association, and the American Planning Association) have membership rates based on salary–which I tend to support, depending on how fees are calculated. Most set a fee based on a salary range. My state library association, although not comparable to the organizations analyzed, does it differently: It calculates the membership fee at $3 per $1000 of wages, with minimum of $50 and a maximum of $250–at this rate, the median U.S. librarian salary of $55,370 would pay $166–pricy, in my opinion, for a state organization.

Many organizations, ALA included, have reduced rates for early-career members. At ALA, the reduced rate for a personal membership is $68 for the 1st year and $102 for the 2nd year. Starting with the 3rd year, you move to the full rate.

I know the economy has been tough and that ALA’s finances have taken a hit. But it’s also been tough on us librarians. Take a look at ALA’s membership statistics:

  • 2014: 55,316 members
  • 2013: 56,756
  • 2012: 57,540
  • 2011: 58,996
  • 2010: 61,198
  • 2009: 61,379
  • 2008: 64,884

Notice the consistent drop from 2008 through 2014? That’s a loss of over 9,500 members. How much is related to the cost of membership–or was it just the general economic slump; people cutting back? That’s what I’d like to know.

While the membership costs may not be high when compared with other professional organizations, it’s personally expensive for a lot of us. You may be willing to set aside money for ALA membership–then good for you! (…and I’m not being snippy here…I’m *glad* that you are doing it!).

For the rest of us? It’s a tough decision. I think most us want to be active in the profession, but affordability is often a stumbling block. We also want to see what services we get in return for the membership. Some of us will muddle along: join one year, skip the next–or maybe concentrate efforts at the state level instead. So where does that leave the big tent that is ALA?





12 thoughts on “ALA: The Membership Cost is Too Damn High?

  1. I was unaware that ALA offered a discount for early career members. Thank you for mentioning that!
    I currently belong to my state organization, NCLA (North Carolina). Their membership fee is also based on salary, which I appreciate. They also offer one free roundtable with the membership fee. I also joined another at $5. I think their prices are very fair. Still, that about does it for me for library organization expenditures for the year. I’m in my first year as a Reference & Instruction Librarian (part-time) and I’m sure I could benefit from ALA and especially ACRL. Even at the reduced rate, I’m still not able to afford ALA and certainly not ACRL on top of it. I’ll just have to get the most out of NCLA!

  2. Timely post! I’ll be dropping my ALA membership when it runs out in June 2015. My old job paid for my memebership and my new job doesn’t. Its just too expensive for me to afford, with our family living on one income.

  3. Thanks for doing the math. I’ve felt that ALA membership is expensive. It was affordable when I was a student and when I was working part-time. But there’s a big jump between part-time membership fees and full-time membership fees! I was really surprised and opted not to renew my membership. I am a member of our regional association (ACRL NEC) which is very affordable and holds an excellent one day conference every spring that I regularly attend, as well as special interest group professional development opportunities that I find invaluable. I think that for the minimum $135 membership I want more bang for my buck from ALA than I get beyond the reduced rate in attending the mid-winter meeting and annual conference (which my library can’t afford to send me to in the first place). Perhaps another level of membership would make it possible for those of us who make well under the median salary but still want to support ALA and everything they do?

  4. Wonderful analysis, but I think you’re missing the bigger question of “What do you get by being a member of these different organizations? Are the benefits (e.g. networking, conferences, etc.) worth the price of membership?” I wouldn’t mind paying $250 a year if I knew I was getting access to exceptional tools, resources, and networking opportunities as a result. Unless you go to an ALA conference or participate in one of their courses (both of which cost extra), then it might not be worth it.

  5. Thanks for posting this. I’ll admit that I’m one of the people who wish that I could pay just to be a member of ACRL. My student loans combined with a car payment and general life expenses makes joining ALA too expensive. I’ve found that belonging to a state or regional library association is more beneficial in terms of providing professional development and networking opportunities.

  6. Yes, all this. I was laid off almost four months ago & haven’t found a new job yet. I’ve got the renewal notices for ALA & SAA sitting on my desk. I want to renew my memberships, but can’t really justify it in my current budget.

  7. I like your analysis! You are right, knowing what you ‘get’ for the cost is crucial. Being a student, I enjoy the nice student rate, but I am considering that it will change soon. And hoping my entry salary will make it possible to continue! you got an analysis of what you DO get for the money?!

    • Thanks…the “what do you get for the money?” — that the hard part, isn’t it? 🙂 I think it just comes down to personal views–for me, that’s a membership that isn’t too expensive, but provides perks like free online webinars, etc… in case I can’t attend in-person conferences.

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  9. With me, it’s not so much the cost of membership as how the ALA spends its money. Compared to other professional organizations, I don’t see ALA lobbyists accomplishing much. The political climate is terrible for many libraries. Budgets are slashed. School libraries are ceasing to exist. And where is the ALA? Publishing another Bill of Rights or Strongly Worded Statement. The State Farm “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet” (My boyfriend is a French model!) commercial did more for library promotion than anything the ALA puts out.

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