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Professional association memberships – the greater good

If you’re just joining in, here’s the intro, plus parts two and three.

“It’s easier than ever to create engaged groups of people without a significant financial or time expenditure.” – Jacob Munford



The theme I’m calling “the greater good” was more of a driver than I had expected, honestly. Combining “lobbyists” and “advocacy” explains a surprising number of people’s willingness to pay dues. Similarly often, people cited a desire to support the profession / a sense of duty / a belief in the association’s mission / wishing to participate in the field. (My hypothesis had been that this view was passé. Obviously, I was wrong, for a significant segment of people.) A couple of people said they’re willing to pay to help conferences and other face-to-face events happen, which I see as distinct from “I pay in years when I attend conferences.” Several people pointed out that the work of the association(s) couldn’t be done by individual libraries or less organized groups, at least not as well, so they see value in that. And, although it’s not entirely on-theme, of course there were people who said they just wanted the line on their resumes; I lump it in, because it’s part of the expectation, by more traditional-leaning employers, that librarians will pay professional membership dues “because we’re supposed to.”

Several people cited “greater good”-related reasons for not joining, as well: distrust, ineffectiveness, and a lack of alignment with personal values came up, especially for ALA. (Insert my rant about an association for libraries instead of an association for librarians.) The lack of trust is hard to fight, in ALA’s case, because such a large organization can make every possible effort to be transparent and still remain incomprehensible, due to its complexity.

I honestly think failing to accredit SCSU may have helped build trust in ALA, in a weird kind of way, because the droves of people graduating from library schools into a pretty terrible job market (at least for a new librarian) seem largely in agreement about one thing: ALA hasn’t done right by recent, current, and future library students. ALA marketing materials consistently paint a sunnier picture than graduates face, and there really seem to be too many schools pumping out too many graduates, all with ALA’s blessing. In that light, one fewer school seems like a move in the right direction. And, sure, I understand that there’s a system of actively bad incentives at work, rather than true malice, but that’s still probably not a good excuse. Certainly, many people actively reject that excuse—and all of ALA, along with it.

Interestingly, several people expressed pretty serious frustration about the expectation of professional association involvement I alluded to above. Some systems are unwilling to promote librarians who do not have ALA experience—and I’m not just talking about academic libraries, here. One librarian was told that he wasn’t “a professional” unless he joined his state association. This is really bad rhetoric, especially coming from the association and its representatives, and I think we should avoid it. It’s especially worth avoiding, because several people said professional association involvement didn’t interest them, because they do not need it to be fully engaged with their profession, or even, in fact, to become library-famous. (That’s my term; the commenters phrased it better.) This rings true to me, despite my own membership in various organizations; I can think of several people whom I know not through association or committee work, but online-only, and I do not respect them any less for it. So, while encouragement and support from administration would be welcome, pressure (especially pressure in the form of “there’s a social contract, and it costs $100+ to fulfill it,” and double-especially if it comes from a higher-paid person, further along in their career) just makes people feel distaste for professional associations and, it seems from comments, prevents them from joining.

I think other membership committee members will find it heartening that there are still people who pay dues because they “should.” And I agree, it’s nice, because these folks don’t have to be sold on joining. But I hesitate to take this as unequivocally great news, since there are some strong advocates against “greater good”-based participation in associations, and they seem to be younger, on average, which may mark a frightening trend. Also, the continuing rise of social media and online conferences/unconferences, as well as projects like EveryLibrary might emerge as a threat to much of the “greater good”-based funding of at least the ALA, if not other library organizations, as people find other, more direct/less expensive ways to be effective professionals working for the good of libraries (and librarians).

The whole series:

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