Readers may know that I was a public school teacher in a previous incarnation. Part of that did involve paying the dues to whatever professional organization(s) were relevant. The school expected it for one, though they never helped pay for it. Back then, I was a member of NCTE and Indiana Teachers of Writing. Now, the national membership I mostly had for the publications. There was pretty much no way I could afford to go to one of their conferences (on site or online). As for the state organization, now that was definitely useful. The conferences were small, and more importantly, the content was practical stuff I could take to my classroom right away the next Monday. They did publish a journal, but that was a bit erratic on the delivery; something I wish they would improve on. I got to network with a wonderful group of teachers, and in time, I went to their site of the National Writing Project, one of the best professional development activities I have ever done. The fact I can now call myself an NWP Teacher Consultant is one of my badges of pride. Dues were fairly affordable too. Overall, well worth it.
When I went to college for my MA in English, I joined the Modern Language Association (MLA). Again, mostly because it was expected. Now there was a membership I really had no use for (at least NCTE had some practical things). The only thing good about MLA, besides the handbook, was those reports they did on the condition of employment in the humanities. And I say they were good in the sense they helped to convince me to go to library school and forget about a doctorate. As soon as I could, that was dropped. The only literary studies membership I keep these days is SFRA (Science Fiction Research Association), which can be a bit pricey, but they do have a nice journals package, and once in a while they have a conference in a place I can go to. I presented at their conference some years back. However, our library gets two of their journals, so I am rethinking that one even though I do have a strong interest. I may submit a paper at some point; however, they are one of the very few places where you can present without having to be a member.
Since I am no longer in Indiana, and I don't teach writing (well, not for pay anyways), NCTE and ITW got dropped. So, I added ALA when I got to library school. Since it was a student rate, I did pitch in a bit extra to get an extra division or two (or whatever the heck you call the subgroups). For instance, I added GODORT at the time (the GovDocs Roundtable), since I did flirt with becoming a GovDocs librarian, and I actually find the field interesting. However, other than the publications, and a nice small line on the vitae under affiliations, ALA really did not do much for me back then, and it sure as heck is not doing much now. I should make the distinction. The ALA student chapter was pretty good in terms of the various activities for library school students, but the national was pretty much, and still is, something distant. So, when I started seeing the posts from people dropping the membership, it got me wondering.
The prompt came from the Krafty Librarian, who hosted the 17th Carnival of the Infosciences. I read the carnival faithfully, even if it takes me a couple of days to get to it. The Krafty Librarian picked up a post from the DIY Librarian on professional associations. DIY had picked up on a posting by Jason the Zenformation Professional about not renewing the ALA membership. That was a lot of reading on what was a topic I did not even think about. That is one of the wonders of blogging, the jumping from one blog to the next trailing a train of thought. The DIY Librarian asks some interesting questions:
"Is it that with blogs and wikis and other social software we no longer need professional associations to build a professional network? Is it that ALA has gotten more out of touch with its members? Or is it just that with the blogging explosion, people have a forum to share their frustrations with ALA?"I was intrigued by the first question. I have not been blogging long, and I am barely getting to explore other social software (after all, work and life trump blogging). Yet I get the impression that these tools do have the potential to help build great networks of professionals as well as provide a variety of opportunities for virtual learning and interactions. When it comes to my blogging helping me network, only time will tell if it actually works or not. As for the other tools, same thing. Yet the fact that many of these tools are free and very easy to access means that they are things I can explore at my pace and with minimal expense, other than the time I put into them. I have "met" some very intelligent and capable professionals through my writing, so definitely that is a plus that I hope expands over time. As more and more librarians get blogs or use other social tools, the networks should be able to grow further. Which leads me to the observation DIY LIbrarian makes about associations maybe not having as much meaning to Gen-X'ers. She is pondering that question, and I admit I ponder it as well. Will associations fade as DIY wonders? Well, a big one like ALA will not likely fade anytime soon. They have their defects, but their clout pretty much assures them presence for a long time. Whether an organization like ALA remains relevant to the profession, that is a different question. DIY mentions that membership may not be as significant for those of us who don't have to publish (i.e. staff rather than faculty folks). I don't have to publish, but I do write and know I will eventually work towards publishing something. That I do because I am a writer, not because anyone holds a tenure clock over my head. As for the service part, it would be nice. That I would like to work on not just to pad the resume and list for evaluation time, but because service is something that is part of my nature. To that end, I am giving thought to joining the state association here in Texas. The fact that next year's conference is in Houston means I can go with minimal expense. A couple of my colleagues have been to their conference, and they seem to get something from it. I am hoping they will provide some guidance next year. For me, odds are any involvement other than online would be in-state. Now that I have had a first year to settle in, some form of service is in my mind. At this moment, I am keeping an open mind. If the conference in Houston seems good, I will probably try to stay involved. The advantage of something in-state is I can always drive there (the Gypsy Librarian loves a good road trip), and chances are good MPOW might spring for the car. I will let readers know how this goes.
Back to the post and the readings, I mentioned that DIY picks up on the Zenformation Professional. One of the reasons Jason quickly decided not to renew was the politicizing of conferences. I will have to admit that some of that does turn me off. While I will say I lean to the progressive side of things (as if readers did not know that already), I do think ALA should focus on the core missions of libraries, librarians, literacy, information sciences, intellectual freedom, and education. In other words, they should stick to issues that affect the profession and those we serve. Other things that Jason points out include:
- The technophobia espoused by some in ALA. In my case, hearing the ALA President on his latest antiblogger spiel or any other of his rants makes me feel ashamed to say the least that we share the same organization. I am by no means a technolibrarian, more like a techsavvy (or at least aware) one willing to learn. I don't take servers apart by 10:00am, and I don't code in my sleep. What I do have is a healthy respect for those who do because they make my job of educating others and serving my patrons possible. Those folks are the supply train to my vanguard. What I also have is the willingness to explore, take a chance, experiment. Are the powers that be at ALA so out of touch with such concepts?
- Jason mentions the internal power struggles between the different types of librarians. I will let his words speak here: "Academic -vs.- public-vs.- special librarians? Who really gives a shit, really? Most of the time, the differences end up being minor and territorial, which misses the big picture. I'm not concerned with preserving some librarian caste-system. I'm interested in maintaining collections and making them available to users across the board." If we can't see ourselves, all of us, as in the same profession, then we really are up the creek.
- His fourth point was an interesting one. It did not occur to me until I read Jason's post. He writes, "The ALA has no tangible power to control the quality of librarian and staff education, training, professional practices, etc. There are no enforceable standards for professional ethics to ensure that librarians are actually doing their jobs and abiding by the ALA Code of Ethics or the Library Bill of Rights." Interesting indeed. Medical doctors have the American Medical Association and their various specialization boards. Commit malpractice, and besides getting sued, you likely get censored or punished by the organization somehow. Lawyers have the American Bar Association. Again, they do something wrong, they can get disbarred.Heck, even school teachers can lose their teaching credential for malfeasance. What exactly ensures that we as professional librarians do our jobs and live by the Code of Ethics or the Library Bill of Rights other than our good conscience? No one is going to denounce me to ALA if don't. Not that anyone need worry. I happen to take such documents seriously. But it is an interesting question. I am not necessarily for licensing librarians, since I saw enough b.s. on licensing in getting my teaching credential. However, who knows, maybe we need to at least look into it.