I Want to Know Your Thoughts on ALA. Love it? Hate it? Tell Me Why

Over the years I’ve heard complaints about ALA and reasons for not belonging many along the lines of the ones Jim Rettig mentions in his recent article Is the Association Ripe for Rebellion?

  • It costs too much.
  • It should be possible to join one of the Association’s 11 divisions without joining ALA.
  • It doesn’t care about librarians, just about libraries.
  • It spends too much time on issues that aren’t relevant to libraries.
  • It’s a mouthpiece for left-wing radicals.
  • It doesn’t do anything for me.

I’ve steered clear of ALA discussions on this blog for several reasons including the contribute/criticism approach and I tend to agree with the thoughts of Abby the Librarian (ALA is Not Your Mom), but a recent conversation with a friend got me think about the generalities of many complaints like “it doesn’t do anything for me”. I am running for ALA Council this year so this seems like an ideal time to introduce ALA discussions to this blog.

Have a thought about ALA? Love it? Hate it? I want to know. But here’s the rub (you knew there was one right?) You can’t answer in generalities. Really love ALA and all it does, tell me what and why. If you feel ALA doesn’t represent you, explain why.  If you have a complaint, propose a solution.  Think something should be different? Explain why and how we make the change. Not a member? Past member? Faithfully paid dues for 20 years even when you had to scrounge under the soft cushions for money,? Tell me why.

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51 comments for “I Want to Know Your Thoughts on ALA. Love it? Hate it? Tell Me Why

  1. Peter Hepburn
    February 23, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    Here’s what I love about ALA (and I am not saying I love EVERYTHING about ALA): the connections. I get conference funding from my library, but not enough to cover it all. I pay out of pocket to make up the rest because going to conference connects me to people outside of my library better than any other mechanism can or does. Meeting new people, seeing old friends. Heck, I’ll even toss in seeing the people I don’t care for (let’s be honest – we all have some of those) since that means I can appreciate some tension within the profession. I get better exposure to issues in librarianship through committee work and programs at conference than any other mechanism.

    Here’s what else I love about ALA: that it is firmly on the side of the GLBT community. It supports our literature, it supports our rights. ALA was a trailblazer in its support for GLBT librarians, readers, and materials, and the continued growth of the GLBTRT is a healthy sign for times ahead.

    What do I hate about ALA? I am a member of ACRL and I can never figure out why beyond the fact that I work in an academic library. The division is so weighted toward reference and instruction librarians, seeming to forget that there are many professionals working in other roles in academic and research libraries. I suspect that it’s chicken and egg, and that ACRL doesn’t offer much for the rest of us simply because so many of us dropped out of ACRL in frustration or never joined in the first place. I would encourage ACRL to provide more than just token programs at conferences for the rest of us or else just explicitly embrace only reference and instruction and leave the rest of us to find new, better homes in ALA.

    Thanks for letting me ramble, Bobbi. In all, I’m pretty happy with ALA and my membership in it.

    • February 24, 2011 at 1:41 pm

      Peter thank you for taking the time to ramble! I appreciate your thoughts and insight, especially from your perspective.

  2. February 23, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    I’m an MLIS student, graduating in less than 20 days! And I just put a post up on my blog “Should I continue my ALA Membership?” http://foundinthelib.wordpress.com

    Right now I’m trying to figure out if it is worth the money to be a member of ALA when I’m not all that involved. If I stay a member, I want to become more involved, but here are my concerns (more detail on my blog)

    ALA seems slow and reactive instead of proactive. If I got more involved, I think I’d be too frustrated with the slow-moving processes and discussions.
    So, is there another way I (we) could start changing things outside of ALA? Would it be a faster, more efficient, yet worthwhile process? I think Hack Library School (http://hacklibschool.wordpress.com) has the potential to be a fantastic example of this sort of resource for current and future LIS students. I’m excited to be a part of how it grows and where it goes.

    • February 24, 2011 at 1:44 pm

      Heidi as someone who was a little slow to get involved with ALA I would encourage you to keep your membership and make an effort to get involved either with committees or interest groups or round tables. I wouldn’t write it off before trying to work with the system and people currently in place.

  3. Gina Persichini
    February 23, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    I love parts of ALA. I think “hate” is a strong word, but there are some things that frustrate me. This could get long…

    What I love or even just like about ALA:

    * It the mechanism through I can connect with other people that do what I do. I work in a State Library. There really aren’t a lot of us compared to, say, academic libraries. So, it’s good to be able to catch up with what other state library people are doing. Further, I am the only one that does what I do at my place of work. Sometimes, I crave the connection with other people who understand it.
    * ALA provides the means to connect with others online and in person. For me, the periodic face-to-face is much needed. I recognize that some people are comfortable having an entirely online or virtual relationship with others, but I need the physical presence of others from time to time.
    * ALA gives a voice to all libraries and library staff. That means that even the smallest and most rural of libraries have a voice advocating for them. (I’m going to contradict this later, i think)
    * Through ALA I have learned from others more advanced than I am, and I have provided learning to others. This movement of knowledge, which I think happens less in a single-lane string and more in a web-like structure, is one of the greatest values of a professional organization.

    What frustrates me?
    * I get frustrated by Divisions and wonder if they divide librarians more than unite them. There are a lot of similarities in library service in academic, public, and school libraries. Why do we divide ourselves between ACRL, PLA, and AASL?
    * I get frustrated by the lack of diversity (by type of library) in resource sharing programming and discussions. Public and school libraries do A LOT of resource sharing; where is their representation in these discussions?
    * Somehow it seems like there’s this “us vs. them” thing going on as the organization grows to involve newer participants, integrate new tools, and change with the times. It’s a natural progression; I wish it didn’t have to feel like a war sometimes.
    * I am frustrated by the disconnect between chapter and ALA membership. It happens on many levels. We are all struggling with keeping up membership, paying the bills, and advocacy issues. I’m frustrated by individuals that skip their chapter & just go to ALA membership. And I’m frustrated by chapter members that do recognize or value the chapter’s connection to ALA. We need to work together better.
    * I wish there was an nationwide library promotion effort. I once saw a great commercial/PSA on television with a man and his very young daughter. At first you think he’s teaching her to read. But, no, she’s helping her dad read the mail/bills. I waited, anticipating the sponsorship…. nope.. It was paid for and sponsored by WalMart and their literacy program. Why not ALA?

    It feels wrong to end on a negative, so more I like/love:

    * ALA conferences, both MidWinter and Annual provide the opportunity to meet and work with people that inspire me, always. I never fail to come home from a conference without an I-love-my-profession feeling. Frankly, I never fail to read an AL Direct issue without that same feeling.

    • February 24, 2011 at 7:45 pm

      Gina these are some great points. Thank you for sharing them. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

    • February 27, 2011 at 9:08 am

      I have to agree with Gina (since I am in the same situation of working in a state library and being the only one who does some parts of my job).

      I also want to echo what Peter said about connections, and go somewhat further.

      One of the absolutely great things about ALA (and ALA Council) is the opportunity to meet and work with folks whose path you would not ordinarily cross. Now, Gina and I met back when I was a Chapter Councilor and public librarian. I share her chapter concerns. But my friend Janet Swan Hill and I like to tell about the fact that we met *only* through ALA Council. Where else would an academic cataloger (Janet) have the chance to work professionally with a public library director ex-reference librarian (me)? We have formed a great friendship and bond — including our overlapping terms on the ALA Executive Board which is a whole different experience.

      I was an inactive member of ALA for many years before figuring out how to become active. I just renewed and was amazed at how long it has now been.

  4. Lisa Kurt
    February 23, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    I wouldn’t say I hate ALA but for me, an academic e-resources and serials librarian- I had a hard time finding anything particularly relevant to my particular job at ALA conferences. I felt like the sessions were behind in times and even the broader scoped sessions – I just felt they were 2-3 years, sometimes 5! years, behind other conferences and literature. Sometimes the sessions are on the traditional side rather than innovative. I will say that my favorite sessions were usually LITA- they are doing some interesting things.
    ALA is what you make of it- like a lot of things in life- however I feel like in order to make it- you need to get involved like you would with any organization. Fair enough- but to do that you have to make a pretty serious monetary and time commitment. Attending both annual and midwinter means I would not only not be able to go to any other conferences…but I would also likely be paying out of pocket to attend ALA.
    In the end, for me, ALA just isn’t enough bang for my buck. I love LITA and ACRL but talk about an expensive pricetag to be a member and participate- it’s a shame really.
    That said, I am very involved with another group/conference where I only have to attend the annual conference each year and even then- there have been years where I can still easily and effectively participate on committees, serve in various capacities and not attend the conference. The opportunities for upcoming librarians is huge and so it’s a bigger bang for the buck- for me. The networking is fantastic and it’s a casual conference where I learn so much. Because this group is more casual- it means I can often attend another conference that is outside my immediate area of specialty which is great.
    ALA seems to be trying to be everything to everyone and maybe the lack of focus isn’t serving everyone as best it could? I don’t know how to change that but I decided not to renew my membership a couple years back and I haven’t been to a conference in a few years. I don’t feel like I’m missing out though.

    • February 27, 2011 at 7:39 am

      Lisa I understand what you’re saying. Thank you for taking the time to share.

  5. February 23, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    It costs too much.
    -I’d much rather finish installing cork flooring in my condo. This half cork/half smelly carpet thing is not fun.

    It should be possible to join one of the Association’s 11 divisions without joining ALA.
    -I should really be into YALSA since I’m a teen librarian but…I don’t want to drop any more $$$ into ALA than I already do with the other membership fees.

    It spends too much time on issues that aren’t relevant to libraries.
    -I feel like the world is in 2011 and sometimes ALA is like 5-7 years behind.

    It doesn’t do anything for me.
    -I tried so hard to love ALA. I was an Emerging Leader in 2010 and I LOVED the experience, but like most organizations out there, it tires me out. There are too many hoops to jump through, too much politics. The world we live in, like it or not, is full of immediate gratification. Libraries and library organizations need to understand this and act more immediately.

    • February 27, 2011 at 7:41 am

      Justin, It saddens me to hear that you are so frustrated with ALA you’re one of the new people I’ve been watching and I think will make a difference. I hope you don’t give up.

      • February 27, 2011 at 10:49 pm

        I’m glad I said something in regards to this post. I had a discussion with a few people in the library world about ALA, YALSA, and ALA Emerging Leaders and a lot was made clearer to me about the organization.

  6. Michelle
    February 23, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    I’ve been a member of ALA since library school. Heck, I was even our student chapter president. But lately I’ve been frustrated with ALA because I don’t feel like there’s anything in it for me. Maybe this is my own problem since I don’t work in a library (but in a related field with similar job duties).

    I went to Annual last year and I didn’t find one great panel. I agree with Lisa that ALA is behind. I laugh when I read articles in the ALA magazine about why libraries should use social media. I think most libraries are beyond this stage and need concrete advice on how to analyze use and improve services from it. I also don’t understand the barriers to greater virtual participation. If it’s important, then find the money and do it. Cut other things if needed.

    I also know that I should be the change I want to see. I’ve tried to get involved in committees. I’ve offered ideas and time. In the end, the committees are poorly run and my input is wasted. It seems like people are only on committees for the resume line.

    • February 27, 2011 at 7:42 am

      Michelle I’m sorry to hear about your experience on the committees. Any chance you’d consider chairing one? It sounds like we need people like you in charge.

  7. February 23, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    Likes:
    * Conference hallway meet-ups
    (Even though I usually blank on names… uh… You’re Bobbi, right?)
    * ALA Washington Office
    (they keep up with library legislation so I don’t have to – and they tell me when I *do* have to pay attention and “have a little chat” with my legislators)
    * ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom
    (a bunch of folks who work on IF stuff for which I don’t make enough time)
    * Collocation of Library Issues and Advocacy efforts:
    http://ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/index.cfm
    * Collocation of Education and Careers:
    http://ala.org/ala/educationcareers/index.cfm
    * AL Direct
    (no, really. It’s often a week behind my feeds, but I always find something I missed from somewhere unexpected)
    * There’s more, but this is getting long already…

    Stuff I want to see change:
    * Pay more attention to the demographics of the Association
    (like the Dutch Tulip market, then the Western Land market, then the stock market, then the housing market, etc. — there is a significant bubble expanding in the ALA membership statistics; this does not bode well for a few years down the road. To be crass, where are the new dues to replace the departing dues? The trend shows imminent negative growth, then what?)
    * Shorten the conference program planning time line
    (LITA did it by changing to an all-online process, why can’t ALA?)
    * More people using ALA Connect for committee work
    (eMail discussion lists are so much clunkier than ALA Connect)
    * More committee work and discussions set to “Public” visibility
    (It’s not that I don’t trust what you’re doing behind closed doors as much as it’s that I want to know what to expect and have an opportunity to comment on what you’re doing in there)
    * Better member engagement
    (Members engaging members, members engaging the association, the association engaging members, etc.)
    * Better cross-silo cross-pollenization of ideas and efforts
    (The “Library Type” divisions and the “Type of Job” Divisions have a lot of cross-over. e.g. [RUSA and ACRL] or [ALCTS and LITA] or [ALA Training and RUSA, ACRL, ALSC, PLA, YALSA, etc.] — why have so much cross-over and such minimal cross-pollenization?)
    * There’s more, but now this is really long…

    • February 27, 2011 at 7:44 am

      Aaron this is a great list. Thank you so much for taking the time to share it with us.

  8. Neil Krasnoff
    February 23, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    I was concerned about due structures and bloated bureaucracies and then they handled the CIPA legislation very poorly. It made librarians look hysterical next to a cool, rational John Ashcroft. The lobbying campaign against CIPA was fundamentally dishonest and they did not play the game well. I haven’t been a member since.

  9. Sue
    February 23, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    I don’t like ALA. It tries to be everything for everyone and as a consequence, the meetings are so watered down, the programs are unendurable. I don’t understand why it costs so much — why do we have our conventions in high season every year? Membership, airfare, hotel and conference registration last year cost more than a semester’s tuition at my employer!! I know that many schools pay for the cost of conferences for their employees, so maybe most librarians don’t “feel” the pain of the cost of belonging to ALA, but I would love to be able to opt-out of this organization. To me, it just has outgrown its usefulness.

  10. February 23, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    CIPA was really a turning point for me too. Not because I thought they did it bad necessarily, but because it meant that to be a national organization, ALA basically had to support filtering. And I just can’t support filtering.

    I have other philosophical differences with ALA including

    – The lagginess in getting association business doable remotely. The Midwinter meeting and nearly mandatory attendance at it for people doing committee work makes membership and especially participation very costly. People who could afford the membership fees [and I am speaking as literally the only Council member at the time who voted against the dues increase] could not really afford to participate. This has been taking too long. I know they are working on it, but it’s just a disconnect for me. This discussion recently about streaming is just driving the point home.
    – The lack of tech savviness among leadership. The ALA website has improved substantially but it’s still not the shining beacon of usability and accessibility that I think our association should provide. I served on the web advisory committee and felt like my suggestions were not appreciated and were definitely not implemented. Again, I know there are reasons for this, but I wanted to put my limited time into working for an organization that shared my values slightly more.
    – The fact that they are not a librarian organization they are a library organization which means seeing all sorts of stuff at conferences about various corporations and how much they’re honored and feted by the association at the same time as they are often involved in not-so-great business practices that are costing libraries a ton of money. I am thinking here of the serials crisis and RoweCom and other companies who were defaulting on their agreements with libraries at the same time as they were held up as whatever sort of corporate sponsor/donor/hero level ALA has. Again, I understand this, I do not share this values system.
    – They’re timid about advocating for libraries when the interests of libraries and vendors collide. Many times they claim that their non-profit status prohibits them from doing active lobbying about things like health care and national level elections, but I see them as afraid to take a real stand.
    – They were too little too late talking about the realities of the job market, claiming that there would be more jobs than people were actually seeing.
    – They’re just not as relevant in the library world as they’d like to be, and I find them insular and defensive about this instead of trying to fix the problem in some general way.

    I find that whenever I make these lists I am anticipating someone from ALA showing up and hassling me about these beliefs instead of saying “Hey we hear you, here are some concrete changes we’re trying to make to make the association more relevant.” So I’m heavily involved in my local library association and I find my work there much more rewarding and appreciated.

    For the record, things I love about them include the ALA-OIF, The Freedom to Read Foundation, American Libraries and AL Direct, the hallway time at conferences and many specific people who have made happy careers there, but ultimately, I’m just not a big association joiner and I didn’t find a place there where I personally felt comfortable and respected.

    • February 27, 2011 at 8:00 am

      Jessamyn this is a great list. I don’t think any of these things are going to change over night, but I do hope to be able to say we’re working on them (if I’m elected of course)

  11. Suzi W.
    February 23, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    It’s complicated. I have been an ALA member since I was a student (can it be 9 years ago?) and for the first couple of years I didn’t make enough to pay full dues. But now that I do…ouch! I really like staying up to date with what’s going on, so I really do want to get my copy of American Libraries, Public Libraries, and Children and Libraries. (ALA, PLA, ALSC). This year I had to split the cost and pay it in two installments!! (I like that you can do that, but I shouldn’t have to do that just for a membership.) I think there should be more tiering of dues.

    I love the conferences and continuing ed. I am such a conference geek. I completely agree with what an earlier commenter said:

    “ALA conferences, both MidWinter and Annual provide the opportunity to meet and work with people that inspire me, always. I never fail to come home from a conference without an I-love-my-profession feeling. Frankly, I never fail to read an AL Direct issue without that same feeling.”

    Thanks for letting us vent, Bobbi, and yes, we’ll vote for you!! Have a cupcake!! (Have two, they’re virtual, so no calories.)

  12. February 23, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    I’ve been mulling this for a while now. I am a member and am looking to get more actively involved, but I can see the points that others have put out here. To be honest, I’d like to think that many of the new, young (yes, in age) and driven librarians will join and begin to work toward reforming the organization to suit our needs and the needs of the profession. I can also see how complicated that might be. ALA is huge. Its overwhelming. Its difficult to muddle through all the membership options (Round Table? Committee? Interest Group?) and without seeing immediate payback, which we are all so used to, it could often look like its not worth it.

    But I am the eternal optimist (friends call me Micah the Longsuffering) and as long as I see potential to make progress, I plan to be as involved as I can afford (time and money). I do also fully support the DIY way of doing things, and if there can be efforts founded to do the same things that ALA does in different ways, in different spaces and through different methods, I’d be behind that also. The point is we need a way to organize and work together, and for the history of our profession, ALA has been that.

  13. February 23, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    I looked at membership in ALA a couple of years ago. My library would pay for it, and it would cost $499 per. But for me, to get anything out of it meant going to the conferences. My background is in IT, and I know the value of going to the cons to see what is up-and-coming, the networking, and of course the tips and tricks you learn from others in the profession.

    However, my state’s Public Library Association is far better at having up-to-date information & presentations at its conferences. Plus, if I’m going to put up for a larger conference, for my money I’ll do one of the ITI shows (Computers in Libraries or Internet Librarian). I realize I’m focusing more on technology, but isn’t that one of the fronts on which we fight?

    ALA’s and other conferences should keep the Social Media 101 presentations around, because there are still libraries that need that. However, there should also be presentations on advanced technology beyond just general use. Just yesterday, Bo Hyun Kim linked to her blog post that asks why there aren’t more libraries encouraging staff to do some coding on Twitter? (http://www.bohyunkim.net/blog/archives/1099)
    That’s an interesting question, and the type of thinking that ALA and other library organizations need to pursue.

    So for the lack of timeliness and lack of technological prowess, the ALA just isn’t a good fit. I’ll continue to rely on my peers in both the library (all ‘divisions’) and IT worlds for my information & training.

    • February 23, 2011 at 6:20 pm

      By the way, Thanks to the ALA for lobbying sometimes in Washington.

  14. February 23, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    Others have mentioned most of my thoughts of ALA.

    Like:
    -the ability to connect with other librarians and professionals
    -there is always a way to get involved
    -things I learn from my peers at conference meet-ups
    -my student and local chapter

    Dislike
    -expensive, especially if you’re interested in multiple divisions
    -lack of currency and technological savy (LITA excluded for the last part). I swear I went to a conference on how to teach those dag nabbit millenial students at 2010, and how awful “millenials” are, and the whole time all I could think of was A) it’s 2010 and B) I’m a millenial, and not even one on the cusp of that definition
    -I still have a hard time figuring out what exactly a committee does. It would be great to see more transparency.

    I’m not ready to scrap the organization but it’s definitely not the first place I think about when it comes to professional development

  15. February 24, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    Some great responses to my questions ->I Want to Know Your Thoughts on ALA. Love it? Hate it? Tell Me Why http://librarianbyday.net/2011/02/23/i-w

    • wsstephens
      February 24, 2011 at 12:08 pm

      So impressed by @librarianbyday’s social media campaign surrounding her ALA council bid. I am running, too, but am not nearly as clever.

      • February 24, 2011 at 12:14 pm

        @wsstephens campaign? you make it sound as if I’ve put thought into it lol. I am totally voting for you! do you have a page set up?

        • wsstephens
          February 24, 2011 at 12:47 pm

          @librarianbyday Yours is a BRILLIANT use of fb, e.g. I don’t have anything up yet, but hope to soon — maybe after the weekend

          • February 24, 2011 at 12:51 pm

            @wsstephens thanks! I already had a page for Librarian by Day so adding an event for council was easy

  16. February 24, 2011 at 8:12 am

    Like:
    +Connections with other Librarians, networking opportunities.
    +ALA Annual: best money I think I have ever spend professionally.
    +Accreditation standards of LIS programs

    Dislike:
    -The political nature of ALA. I wish ALA would narrow its focus politically. I’d rather have it be a professional organization that focuses on library issues. I don’t believe that every issue is a Library issue just because Librarians are talking about it.
    -Cost. I am a Librarian at an International School and I have to pay my dues out of pocket. As a Librarian for K-12 I am a member of 3 divisions. It adds up quickly.
    -The fighting that seems to be going on between ALSC and YALSA. There is overlap so why does it matter?
    -Hard for me to be active and involved since I live overseas.

  17. February 24, 2011 at 10:58 am

    I find the comments of interest, particularly those related to ACRL and dues. Having participated in many ACRL program planning efforts I can say that an effort is always made to be open to programs directed to those in areas other than instruction or reference. The reality is that we get little response. Not a surprise because those folks are doing things in their own silos and it is tough to get crossover activity. I think we’ll see more of that because the divisions are looking to cooperate for program time rather than compete for it. As a candidate for ACRL VP/Pres-Elect I would like to hear from those who want to share issues and concerns about ACRL and ALA. With respect to dues, at ACRLog – http://bit.ly/icq6Um – I recently suggested we examine an alternate approach to dues that is more like the state assn structure where dues are based on your salary. I would not mind paying higher dues so that a newer-to-the-profession librarian could pay less – and when they earn a higher salary they’ll pay more so others can pay less. I advocated the same structure for our conferences. I’d gladly pay more so we can have many newer, prospective members able to attend. Like Aaron says, we need to make the changes that will encourage new folks to join ALA and also be actively engaged at the local and national level.

  18. LizB
    February 24, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    @librarianbyday best thing about ALA? connections, networking, & realizing “your” library is not the library world

    • Bobbi Newman
      February 24, 2011 at 11:59 am

      test

  19. Jess
    February 24, 2011 at 11:13 am

    I’m still undecided. I’m in my last semester of library school, and have attended one annual and one midwinter. Annual was completely overwhelming, and left me without any understanding of the structure of ALA-and I even attended some of the NMRT and ALA 101 sessions! I think Midwinter was an excellent experience, but I’m still at a loss as to where to “start” in the organization. Since I am looking for a position, I’m sort of waiting to see where I end up-as an earlier poster noted, sometimes state organizations are better organized and accessible. I’m also waiting to see what my professional life might be, and see if it aligns me with a specific section or committee. The jury is still out on ALA for me-I can see myself both being extremely involved if I find an area where I “fit,” but I can also see myself exploring other avenues that keep me professionally involved and educated.

  20. Carly Wiggins
    February 24, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    I have ALA fatigue. I’ve been to conference, served on committees, voted, and written articles over the 10 years since I graduated with my MIS, but … I’m tired. I can live with the popularity contest, the dues, the incredibly slow pace, but I need ALA in exchange to do advocacy on a national and political scale that I have not seen.

  21. Elise
    February 24, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    I am not a member and don’t plan on becoming a member. The only answer I’ve gotten to “Why should I join?” is “It looks good on your resume.” I think being active in my state’s library association looks better. My state library association does things and I see changes. My employer will pay for my membership but I’d rather that money go toward some new books or supplies.

    So really, what on earth does ALA do these days?

    Why should I join?

  22. February 24, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    I have a few generalities and a few specifics: I do think membership costs too much, because aside from a magazine, I don’t feel I get anything out of it. I’m also in PLA and RUSA (which I’m in mainly for the review journal), but never go to conferences because my library can’t afford to send me, and they’re usually far too large to really get much out of them aside from freebies (so I go to regional conferences and CiL instead).

    I know ALA is a library advocate, but I honestly don’t know where that rubber meets the road. They seem to be active politically, but often issues I see them weighing in on have nothing to do with libraries. I’m not saying libraries don’t need an advocacy group, but Washington lobbying makes me uncomfortable in general, so supporting the one out of self-interest just seems hypocritical.

    Now specifics: because of something I posted on my library blog a few years ago, I was threatened with a lawsuit. I had no idea how serious it was or if I needed a lawyer, so I tried to contact the ALA for insight into this library-related issue. The person threatening the lawsuit said I needed to act within five days or else he would sue, and I expressed this deadline when I sent multiple messages and calls to ALA. Two weeks later I heard from them. I don’t know what kind of help they could have offered, but their response was absolutely useless and did not support me as a librarian in any way.

    Secondly, it really annoys me that the reviews in the ALA magazine Booklist are not available as an rss feed. Library Journal and Publishers Weekly both provide their reviews as free rss feeds, yet the ALA, which is supposed to be supporting librarians, won’t provide this vital professional tool – and we even subscribe to the print magazine.

    I’m sorry this all sounds negative, but I guess those are always the things that are most noticeable. I do like AL Direct (my only complaint there is that it, like the ALA overall, is just too massively big for me to digest, so I end up skipping most of it).

    I would highly recommend every library school student joining ALA, taking advantage of the huge discounted student rate. But after a few years when the price jumps, drop it and hopefully your library itself will have a membership to provide the journals.

  23. February 25, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    Some really great answers to -> Your Thoughts on ALA. Love it? Hate it? http://librarianbyday.net/2011/02/23/i-w… I promise to read & respond to all

    • JillFGibson
      February 25, 2011 at 2:49 pm

      @librarianbyday This is a great example of community management & engagement – thanks for posting!

  24. February 25, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    There are a lot of good comments above, and I’ll probably be repeating some of them… but if you’re looking for trends in how folks feel about ALA, I suppose it won’t hurt.

    I’m in a similar situation to Heidi’s. My student membership in ALA is about to expire at the end of the month, and I still haven’t decided whether I want to renew. Luckily ALA does offer discounted membership for the under-employed, so at least if I decide to go for another year, it’s not quite as costly. Extra divisions are out of the question, though, as are conferences, until I finally find a a full-time job that hopefully includes some professional development funding.

    I do like getting the AL Direct emails. Although I follow several blogs, it’s impossible to keep up with everything, and although the digests cover a broad range of topics, I can pretty consistently find something of personal interest. Not sure they’re worth $46 a year though.

    Last year I went to annual, since for me it was local conference, I really expected to love it. I ended up a little disappointed overall. The whole thing was overwhelming, I had trouble finding sessions that both aligned with my interests and were new to me. And as someone who’s not super comfortable in huge crowds, serendipitous networking wasn’t really the order of the day. I attended a smaller, regional conference earlier in the year and felt it was much easier to find sessions I could learn from and meet other professionals. And the local conference was much less expensive!

    I think overall I like the idea of a national organization like ALA more than I like the organization itself. It frustrates me when ALA seems focused on random political issues instead of advocating directly for libraries and librarians. As a recent grad, I’m not sure what the ALA accreditation of my degree means, since the degree requirements vary so much form school to school. I think ALA has at least finally realized they should stop telling new librarians that a huge wave of retirements is coming, but after nine months and counting on the job market, I’m still a tiny bit sour about that one.

    Although I’m giving you a lot of negatives, I really do admire the efforts of people like you who are trying to do something to change the organization.

  25. Rosario Garza
    February 25, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    I have been a continuous member of ALA since 1974 (yes, I was a babe in arms when I joined)! Most of that time I’ve paid the ALA and any division dues myself. At times it has been frustrating — trying to get changes made is like trying to turn a huge ship around. But I’ve stuck with it because of what I do get out of it: networking in a way that is not available to me at the state or regional level. It is not necessarily about the programs because often the programs are 2-3 years behind the curve (don’t get me started on the convoluted program proposal labryinth). But ALA conferences give me an opportunity to meet with my colleagues from across the country and from other countries. Even in this time of social networking, those face-to-face meetings are important and useful.

    I happen to be on Council right now. For me it has been an exercise in learning to be patient. I find it annoying and a complete waste of my time when a Councilor gets up and starts talking about verb tenses in a resolution being considered. I’ll complete my term and go back to being “just a member.” I’ll find other ways to contribute to the organization. There are subtle ways to foment rebellion. I don’t have to do it from within Council!

    To those students and new graduates I would say: if you can afford it, stick with it. In the long run, the professional connections will be worth it!

  26. February 27, 2011 at 9:01 am

    Here’s another example of what I think ALA should be doing, but doesn’t seem to show any interest: the recent HaperCollins/Overdrive announcement about changing the way ebooks will circulate.

    The new proposal is bad for libraries and our patrons, and the ALA should be way out in front of it, marshaling libraries to speak with one voice (and hugely large purchasing power) and lobbying vendors to come to a mutually-beneficial arrangement in which both vendors’ and libraries’ needs are met.

    This is a significant and immediate issue for libraries and librarians, and I know many are passionate about it – but all of us acting individually won’t accomplish much. The ALA already has the infrastructure in place to organize our represent our interest, and I surely would like to see them perform this role.

    • February 27, 2011 at 9:13 am

      Brian I’m not ready to count them out on this one. The news broke on Friday. I’m willing to give them Monday to respond. Its much easier for me to spout off my 2 cents as an individual, an organization does take some time.

      • February 28, 2011 at 1:25 am

        That’s true – I’ll even give them the entire week. But I really hope their response is something like, “hey publishers/vendors, how about we organize a meeting between you and this group of librarians here, so we can all hash out a structure that works for everyone,” and not, “let’s send this issue to a committee, then a subcommittee, and perhaps in two months we’ll have a draft resolution proclaiming we do not like this.”

        I know large organizations move slowly, but…
        …no matter how slowly you move, if you’re not moving the right direction, you’ll never get there
        …some situations require quick reaction – maybe the ALA needs a “ninja” division that is agile enough to respond appropriately when necessary

        And really, if it becomes necessary, it would be nice if the ALA could organize a boycott of publishers/vendors with business practices that are detrimental to libraries and patrons – and also suggest alternate sources for these materials so libraries can still satisfy patron demand.

        I know all my comments are sounding negative, but I really am trying to proactively think of ways the ALA can help patrons in my library.

  27. Beverly Choltco-Devlin
    February 27, 2011 at 9:04 am

    I feel that our membership in ALA is crucial to the extent that ALA can and has functioned in the very important arena of being our voice for monumental legal issues.

    I disagree to a certain extent with the posters above regarding CIPA…ALA went to the mat against CIPA – as far as they COULD go. The fact that the legal case did not go in our favor eventually was not ALA’s fault (though it should have if the Supreme Court was doing its job and ruled on the least restrictive avenue) .

    I do not think ALA’s presentations were “hysterical”- they were characterized that way because the arguments were passionate. Even if they were dispassionate, Ashcroft would have said they were hysterical because of the stereotype that we are largely an organization of women….no matter how ALA’s case was presented, it would have lost. I found the whole process to be completely sexist to be honest. We should not have to lose our humanity and our passion to not be listened to.

    Strategically, I don’t think it would have made one bit of difference if we got up there and argued as if we were zombies. Their minds were made up long before it got to the Supreme Court. The political climate was starting to shift even back then. Never once did I feel that ALA was supporting filtering. The CIPA case caused me to lose my faith in our entire political and justice system.

    My big concern about the CIPA battle was that once that was over ALA did not have enough money to fight the even more insidious Patriot Act.

    On a personal level, I do like to attend the ALA conferences when I can to get the pulse on national issues. We so often get wrapped up in our local ones. Of course, on a personal level, I love to hear nationally known authors speak. We can rarely afford to go now though.

    I also appreciate the studies which ALA funds which allow us to have some hard data to take to legislators. And I appreciate their professional books.

    I also get a lot from the publications that each of the Sections I belong to produces.

    I do membership is too costly for most librarians especially since many of us also belong to our state organizations. I believe there should be a huge discount if you belong to both. Many of my colleagues are making barely more than minimum wage and are working two and three different library jobs to make ends meet. Even $100 is a burden.

    I do agree that ALA tends to focus (and wastes much in the way of limited resources) on social issues that have nothing to do with libraries or librarianship.

    • Beverly Choltco-Devlin
      February 27, 2011 at 10:25 am

      Oops….grammatical errors:
      Third paragraph should have read:
      We should not have to lose our humanity and our passion to be listened to.

      Second to last paragraph should have read:
      I do THINK…..

      Not enough coffee yet.

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