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?





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.