A few months ago, my California Library Association dues lapsed. When I went to renew, I saw the price and thought again about whether or not I’d renew. I had just renewed my ALA membership and added 3 divisions – PLA, ALSC, and LLAMA, and had also just renewed my ethnic caucus membership to APALA. Let me tell you, the price tag, especially for a bottom of the ladder librarian, was not small. Ultimately, I made the decision to not renew CLA. Why did I decide that? Mostly because I didn’t see the benefit to me. I didn’t know what I got out of my membership that was valuable enough to add to my ALA membership. I wasn’t active in CLA and hadn’t planned on becoming active since I already felt pretty busy with ALA and APALA activities. And I was at peace with it.
Until I was sitting at midwinter and having discussions about what it means to be an ALA Member. There was a dues increase proposal (based on the CPI — More information can be found online soon) and we were trying to figure out if we should pass it or not. Would a lot of people drop their memberships? Would a lot of people be discouraged from joining? The question of “What does ALA Give to its Members” came up. One Councilor pointed out that its not the American LIBRARIANS Association, but the American LIBRARY Association, so really, we should be asking the question instead, What does ALA give to Libraries and is it worth the cost of individual support in addition to institutional support?
Within my own institution, I am one of a handful of people who are an ALA member. Most people can’t afford it and don’t feel its worth the issues of American Libraries every few months. While I agree that a few magazines aren’t worth a $130+ price-tag, what made me different?
I think some of the differences are:
1. I’m active within ALA – I’m on the Committee for Diversity and a Councilor-at-Large. I’m on these committees because I feel like I’m contributing to the profession as a whole and nationwide. I feel like a strong part of the library community when I’m participating in ALA.
2. I believe in what ALA does. Ultimately ALA is there to be a voice for libraries and an advocate for libraries. Whether or not they always accomplish this, I believe in the idea of ALA. I’m not as concerned about what it does for ME, but what it does for Libraries, which, by extension, affects me and my life and ultimately, society as a whole.
Sometimes, though, the broader idea isn’t enough. Talking with a colleague at Midwinter, we discussed different libraries, their directors, and their levels of participation in associations. My colleague noted that a director she knew didn’t participate in ALA really at all, participated in her state association a decent amount, and was very active in community organizations such as the Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, and others. Her concern was making the library and her career very community oriented. I think that this director is a little less worried about libraries as a whole than their individual library/community.
I also think that participation in associations is a very individual choice. What do you want to get out of it? What does your community get out of it? Do you want your community to be an example nationally or do you want to keep your community in your community? And, individually, are you looking for like-minded librarians?
Many librarians I know join Ethnic Caucuses because they can’t find people who look like them in their library community. They can’t connect to other librarians so they use associations to fill in that social gap to make the profession a community rather than a solitary existence. The same goes for other groups like ALA Think Tank, Round Tables, and even Divisions. You’re looking for people who want to have the conversations you want to have with you, and if you’re not interested in those conversations then you really wouldn’t find value in ALA.
Not that everyone who wants to have those conversations can join, though. While ALA is cheaper than many other professional organizations, we as librarians (especially school and public librarians) get paid much less than other masters degree-holding professionals. And depending on your life circumstances, you may not be able to afford it. And that makes me sad, because I believe that everyone who wants to be included in the conversation should be, irregardless of their financial status and ALA card-holding status. I feel privileged to be able to have the opportunity to participate in these conversations and bring the voice of those who may not be able to participate even though they want to to ALA as a Councilor-at-Large.
As for my state association, I’m strongly re-considering my lapse in membership (due to the idea of support to California libraries)… But probably once I get promoted with a bigger paycheck to compensate.