Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Participation blues, or how many more have to be lost?

I just started looking at the posts in my aggregator, and I found Meredith's Farkas's post on "Alternative ways to participate" about why she won't be at Midwinter. I have not read the rest of the librarian bloggers on my aggregator yet, but I am predicting this will get picked up by a few of the A-listers, and it will possibly become a meme. After all, it is that time of the year when posts about the ALA big conference, be it Annual or Midwinter, start surfacing as the prohibitive costs of participation hit reality for a lot of people. Ms. Farkas writes about her potential expenses:

" So basically, my options are, spend $475 on the plane, $400 on a hotel, $160 for registration and more on cabs and meals to go to a few meetings; save $300 but spend two days on a train; or not go (yes, I’m sure there are other options that involve hostel stays and hitchhiking, but honestly, I’m just not willing to be that miserable to get to Midwinter)."

I know I would feel like a jerk if I told my better half something like that. Heck, I would not even tell her because I would not even consider it. My previous workplace really did not fund such travel; they had a fixed amount, and when you burned it, you burned it. It would not even cover enough for expenses to TLA (Texas Library Association, my state), so anything national was pretty much out of the question. It still would be out of the question. My new workplace is not that much better financially. I will likely go to TLA next April, but much of it will probably be on my dime, as it has been before. I may not get much funding from work this time around either, though my director here seems willing to do magic so to speak to send us (she herself is active), but still, I would feel kind of shy asking knowing things are tight. That's just me though. Those of my professional brethren who work in places where funding a conference is pocket change have no such worries (and those out there in such places know who you are, don't even try to weasel out).

I am not saying this to be mean. I stopped caring about the national library organization quite a while ago. Even though I may renew this year, I did let it lapse last year. Only reason for me to consider it is mostly for the publications, since we don't get them here at work. I don't care about American Libraries. It's more the journals from ACRL and things like that. We'll see, since that is a chunk of moolah too. I am saying it because I am seeing this phenomenon every six months or so. And it usually boils down to this: Participating in ALA is cost prohibitive; it is pretty much limited to the few who can afford it; it would be nice if they did more things virtually. You'd think after a while someone in the organization would notice and pay attention. And by paying attention, I mean to actually acknowledge that there is a problem and actually do something about it other than get defensive or make excuses for the organization. Like Ms. Farkas, "most of us don’t buy into the 'ask not what ALA can do for you, ask what you can do for ALA' line." Given what many already pay, yes, I think we can be and should be asking what can you do for us. Personally, it just pains me to see people who are extremely talented, gifted even, have to make hard choices about participating and giving back to the profession because their professional organization, which can certainly use their talents, makes it next to impossible for them to give their service.

In the end, this is what spoke to me about Ms. Farkas's writing this time:

"So my generation is alternatively skeptical of what the ALA can offer us and passionate about working to improve the profession. If participation continues to mean making the kind of sacrifices it does now, the ALA is going to lose my generation, save those whose libraries fund their participation in ALA or who have to participate in ALA to get tenure. Not that they won’t still do great things for the profession; they’ll just do it outside of ALA."

They already lost me. Not that I am a big loss (or a loss of any kind, haha). But can they really afford to lose the talented ones? How many do they have to lose? Is there a magical number? Is there a point where ALA will say, "shit, we really have to get our act together, or we are facing extinction?" I am passionate about my profession. I always tell people who ask that if I had known about this gig sooner, I would have gotten my MLS sooner. I believe at some point it will be my time to give back to the profession as others have before me. But it will probably be down a different road.

P.S. The comments on Ms. Farkas's blog entry are worth a look as well.

(Update Note): Turns out she caught a lucky break and went after all.

No comments: