Friday, December 16, 2005

ALA and membership

My ALA membership is one of those things that I don't really think about, that is, until I get the renewal notice. This year I thought about it a bit more since I can no longer claim the student price, which means the rate went up. If I add to that the fact of their recent talk of further raising dues, then I really have to think about it. Add further that it seems the ALA dues, memberships, and possible speaker boycotts (because ALA apparently can't even have the decency not to charge someone they actually invite to speak) have been surfacing on the biblioblogosphere, and this poor fellow who flies under the radar really, really gets to thinking about what exactly the dues do for him.

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.
This leads me back to where I started. What does ALA do for me and why should I pay for it? The answer, I am not sure, and I probably won't keep paying. I can read some of the journals here or get the articles through fulltext databases or ILL. The conferences are just a nice thought. Heck, as an Instruction Librarian I would love to do something like the Immersion Programs, but even that is pretty expensive, even the regional one, which is in Houston this year (registration alone is a bit over a grand, ouch). The online workshops like the ones from RUSA? Well, depends on what you may find available. Also to keep in mind, unlike DIY Librarian, my organization does not pay for my membership. I do. Point is that if I want to get my professional development, odds are it will be through my keeping up with the literature, through my writing, through some networking, and the ocassional chance to do something local. So unless ALA pulls a major rabbit out of their hat next year, odds are good I am dropping them. At this point, I am really just thinking about it. I do want to continue growing as a librarian and educator, but I don't necessarily see ALA as part of the equation. And so it goes, under the radar.


walt said...

I won't attempt to convince you to stick with ALA; that's a complicated issue (even for me, and I've been a member for 30 years).

Since you're in Texas, I'll say this about TLA's conferences:


Go. Enjoy. I've been there twice (speaking both times), attended the whole conference each time, thoroughly enjoyed it, and would return in a minute under the right circumstances. It's one of the great ones (as well as being the third largest library conference around, after only ALA Annual and Midwinter).

If the rest of TLA is anything like the conferences, I'd probably be a member if I was in Texas.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Walt: Thanks for stopping by. Still willing to listen to reason, and if you stuck it out for 30 years, there must be a reason. Either that, or a lot of faith, and I can see that as well. At this point, I am on a wait and see. Ok, so I am not expecting rabbits out of hats, but for one, I am hoping the new leader will be better. For a little peon like me starting out, the expenses can add up fast, so there is that concern. I have been mostly to small conferences, which can add up, but usually the "damage" is a bit less. But there are the other complicated things that at least make me go "huh?" As for the local, I will definitely take the advice, and I will let readers know about it. Best, and keep on blogging.

Carleen said...

These are really interesting thoughts to think about for an almost graduating library student like myself. I've only been an ALA member for a year and recently went to my first conference in Chicago this past summer. I definitely have my problems with ALA, but I believe I will continue my membership for as long as I can afford it and here's my reason why: Although I always find the library blogsphere to be tremendously helpful and enlightening, it also often seems a little heavy on the subjects of university libraries, library technology and information science. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, of course, but I am more interested in public librarianship, young adult librarianship and international librarianship. Such blogs are rather scarce so I feel I need to maintain a connection with ALA in order to keep up with that particular area of librarianship (I feel more dependent on my membership to YALSA then I do to ALA, though). So, I guess ALA has it's benifits depending on what area of librarianship your're interested in.

vonjobi said...

"What does ALA do for me and why should I pay for it?"

now you've gotten me thinking. before reading your post, it was really just interesting to see what librarians were ranting about on the other side of the world. but now i've remembered that i AM a member of a local association, that i AM an officer of my alumni association. what exactly do i get out of the dues i pay for the first? in the case of the second, what do we give our members in return for the dues they pay?

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Carleen: Hello there. Always good to hear from library students. Chicago was the year I moved out of Indiana, so that was about as close as I would have been to an ALA conference. Initially, you mentioned that the biblioblogosphere is a bit heavy on academic, LIS, and technology voices. I found that a little ironic, and no, I do not mean this to be personal. Allow me to clarify. When you said that about university libraries, I recalled that the buzz in the biblioblogosphere was that there was a lack of voices from academic librarians. I think I saw postings wondering where one might find the "official" voice of academic librarianship. This was a few months ago or so, and shortly after, ACRL implemented its ACRLog. I am not advocating any conspiracy theories here, but the timing was, shall we say, interesting?

As for the technology aspects, I will agree that the biblioblogosphere at times gets very heavy in that area. Often, once one person picks up on something or writes about their latest accomplishment, everyone else seems to follow. This is a healthy reflection of the conversations that happen in the medium. However, it also means that for people like me those are the days we know that the hypertechno literate (not my term by the way, though wish I had coined it) crowd takes over. On those days, I just quickly scan those blogs on the reader and skip them otherwise. That is the nice thing about blogging. Things move along. If there is a buzz, it passes after a while. As for the LIS stuff, that is just the nature of the profession. Again, some days it makes the place more readable than others.

I think to find new voices, looking over some people's blogrolls may be a good idea. That is how I found a lot of people that I read now. One public librarian example, which you may read already, is The Feel-Good Librarian. Since I am an academic librarian, I may not be the best person to ask. I have one or two people on my rolls that are public librarians. However, I find that locating them is not as easy. Also, a few of them tend to blog anonymously. Apparently local politics and working for a city/municipality/county means issues like retaliation for blogging can be a big problem. Thank you for stopping by, and if you do find some good public librarian blogs out there, do drop me a line. I am always looking for new reading. Best, and keep on blogging.

Von: Nice of you to drop by once more. Greetings. On your comment, I get the impression people find that they get more out of a local association than some big national conglomerate. Size is a key element. In my case, when I was a teacher back in Indiana, the reason that I found the Indiana Teachers of Writing (ITW) so valuable was the practical nature of the organization and its size. It was small enough that a new member actually had a chance to get to know everybody and even had a good chance to get involved without having to take out a second mortgage or having the credit card explode like the Death Star (the Death Star image is not mine. I saw someone else actually make that observation, but I can't recall who. It is quite effective visually). When I mean getting to know everybody, this meant everybody from the newest teacher to the veterans to the officers, who themselves were practicing teachers. No full time bureaucrats here. When I went to their conferences, it was my peers presenting. Sure, they had an author to give a keynote and usually a lunch speech, but the core was on the practical presentations. In terms of my professional development, those were the good old days.

In contrast, ALA is just a distant concept. They put out some nice journals, and they have conferences in fancy places usually far away. Politically, they fight some good causes, such as literacy and intellectual freedom, but unfortunately, they also pick some fights for causes that are out of our professional scope (to put it mildly). So, what do the dues I pay them do for me? Pretty much an expensive subscription set, and a membership that is a necessary evil. I mean, to keep your vitae looking good, you have to have some professional affiliations. To be honest, if an alternate professional organization with roots in practical issues for librarians surfaced, that treated its presenters better, and actually concentrated on professional issues, I would probably become a charter member.

Alumni association you say? As in college or university alumn? I have never paid for any of those. Those are mostly for the rich college graduates to network and get a glossy magazine from the college bragging about their achievements in order to raise more money. I am sure I am going to tick off some devoted alumni association member out there, but oh well. I have three different degrees (one undergraduate, two graduate), so I could be a member of three different alumni associations, and so far, none of them seem to be worth my money. I have other things I can spend my limited hard earned cash on. I don't know if the situation is like that in your corner of the world. Would love to hear your impressions sometime. In the meantime, best and keep on blogging.

Carleen said...

Hey Angel, thanks for responding to my comment. It's always so nice when people do that. I think the reason I said that the biblioblogshpere always seemed heavier on the academic librarian side is because the public library blogs I have come across don't seem to attract as much conversation as the academic blogs do (Tame the Web, of course, is a good one). But this is just my experience. I should probably scope out blog rolls a little more, as you suggested. I do wish I could find more Young Adult Librarian bloggers. So far the only ones I've found are Teen Librarian, and Emily's Musings.

vonjobi said...

the philippine librarians' association, inc. (PLAI), is pretty much out there. we hardly ever feel its presence. ALA, at the very least, gets its name in the papers even if its members don't quite always supports its advocacies. PLAI, on the other hand, doesn't quite seem to get anything done aside from the annual conference that not many librarians attend.

the alumni association that i was referring to was the one for my LIS alma mater. i wish we could do more but between all the things i have to do and all the the things the other officers have to do, we don't really get much done. i don't know...

btw, looks like your writing is catching people's attention. keep on blogging!

happy new year!!!

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Carleen: Hey, you are welcome. That Blogger sends comments over to one of my e-mails is a very nice feature. I can see the comment, and then jump over to the blog to see the post again and get the context. As for Tame the Web, awesome public librarian is all I can say. I "listen" to some public librarian voices through the REFORMA listserv (I am a member) for one. It seems a lot of the membership comes from public libraries. I am not aware of any of them having blogs. It does not mean they don't have any, just they may not mention them or put them on their signature lines when they post to the listserv. I had not seen the two links you provided, but I am adding them to my rolls to look at soon. Hope you had a happy holiday season. Happy New Year! Best.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Von: Welcome back. I suspected it may have been your LIS program you referred to, but since librarians have such wide educational experiences, I figured it safer to wait and see. Thanks for clarifying. Yes, ALA does have that going for it: its clout and ability to get the attention of the press. And do fight some good causes, I would not take that away from them, but then they also do some things which make me wonder who exactly are they representing. I have not been in Texas long enough to have attended a state conference, but when I do, I will try to post some impressions here.

Thanks for the encouragement. Happy New Year! Best, and keep on blogging as well.