By Meredith Farkas | March 2, 2006
A little over two months ago I wrote about the issues I have with the ALA. This was in light of Jenny’s complaints about the ALA charging her registration for PLA when she was flying to Boston just to speak at the conference. For me, it was pretty much the straw that broke the camel’s back. A few months before I had reluctantly paid my ALA dues — which my employer does not cover. I didn’t even know why I was doing it. I guess I wanted to hold onto a glimmer of hope that ALA could get better. Between Michael Gorman, speakergate, and a whole host of other issues, I have pretty much lost hope. Two months ago I vowed not to speak at an ALA conference until speakers are better appreciated for their contributions (and not just those who are A-list bloggers/celebrities). And now I’ve pretty much decided that I no longer want to be a member. I just don’t feel like it represents me, and I don’t want to continue to support politics as usual. I especially don’t want to pay more (in light of the dues increase) to support politics as usual.
My registration won’t be up for renewal until next Fall, so there’s still time to change my mind. In my last post about ALA, I talked a lot about what’s wrong with ALA, but I didn’t really say what ALA could do to make me want to stay a member of the organization. So, ALA, here is a list of some things you could do to keep me around. I’m not saying you need to do all of them; heck, in some cases even one of these things would be enough to keep me around. The thing is, I want to believe that ALA can get better. I want to be a member of a professional association that I feel passionate about, not one that I feel completely disconnected from.
1. Officially and publicly recognize that there is not currently a shortage of librarians in entry-level positions — nor will there be in the near future — and put money towards the establishment of residency programs in libraries that prepare new librarians for management positions in the future (and to give them a job!). At least that would be a good use for the revenue from the dues increase! Heck, I’d just be happy if you publicized the fact that there is not currently and will not soon be a shortage of librarians.
2. Reach out more to new librarians in the profession. And I don’t just mean by having the New Member Roundtable or by talking to a couple of bloggers.
3. Start appreciating your speakers. You don’t have a conference without them, so don’t insult them by forcing them to pay to speak at your conference. The attitude that it is an honor to speak at an ALA conference is ridiculous. When I talk to people, I do it because I want to impart information that might be helpful to them. I can do that for free on my blog or at an online conference. If I do it at a conference I have to travel to, I certainly don’t want to have to pay for the priviledge of doing so (other than regular travel costs).
4. Start using some of the social tools your patrons are using. Disseminate news via RSS feeds. Have your council members, President, and others get blogs to communicate with their constitutents. Start the ALA 2006 New Orleans wiki for goodness sake! I’m happy to create another one, but how cool would it be if it came from the ALA? But if you do any of this, do not put it behind the membership wall or no one will bother to look at it. Why does this sort of stuff need to be hidden? Information wants to be free, you know. If you’re going to do it, do it right!
5. Raise the accreditation standards for library schools. The standards should be extremely rigorous and every library school should be required to integrate certain core competencies into the curriculum. And by core competencies, I mean that certain technology skills should be taught to library school students so that they might actually have a chance of finding a job when they get out of school. And these technology skills should be integrated into the curriculum. I hate when library schools teach technology totally separate from the library stuff as if technology has no place in libraries. When teaching Web design, it might be helpful to talk about LIBRARY Web sites, no? Every student at every library school should have to create an electronic portfolio (designed for the Web themselves). I came out of library school with a lot of gaping holes in my education. The classes that should have covered these things didn’t. It should be more about teaching certain competencies than teaching certain classes.
6. Become more transparent and human. I know, it sounds very Library 2.0, but if I had some better idea what really goes on at ALA and why it needs as much money as it does to serve its membership, I might have a better feeling about it. To me, it just feels like a big scary faceless monster with big slightly less scary faceless tentacles coming out from it. I want to see what’s behind the curtain.
7. Start sending me literature and e-mails for the things I’m actually a member of. Last year I was a member of RUSA, NMRT, PLA, and ACRL. This year I’m a member of NMRT and LITA. However, I have continued to get magazines and e-mails from some of the sections I’m no longer a member of and I have never heard from the ones I am a member of (or does LITA not have any print publications anymore? — the Web site certainly is not helpful). An e-mail today is the first I’ve ever heard from LITA, and I changed my membership many months ago. This is just one example of a myriad of clerical snafus that go on in ALA. I’ve heard horror stories. With all the money the members pay, you could at least stop sending us the stuff we don’t want and start sending us the stuff we actually paid for. Update: Michael Golrick explained why this was the case and I do understand it. While they could do a better job, I do understand the difficulties of keeping up with members who may change their affiliation every year. In my case it was just because I didn’t have any idea what sort of library I’d be working in until this year. This wasn’t exactly the biggest point on my list.
8. Get a Web site that doesn’t suck. I could go into more detail, but it could take days and I have a book to write.
9. Start having more free online educational opportunities for members. The cost of those ACRL online workshops is absurd. If OPAL and SirsiDynix and the Blended Librarian folks can have cool speakers talk for free, why can’t you? Sure, it’s great that ACRL and EDUCAUSE are having an online conference, but it ain’t free. Look, I’m planning a FREE online conference so I know it really isn’t that difficult or that expensive to do. If you all start offering free educational opportunities online, I’d volunteer to speak as I’m sure would many other bloggers with subject expertise. It could benefit so many librarians who simply don’t have the money to travel or pay for overpriced online conferences.
10. Just about everything mentioned here by readers of Leslie Burger’s blog.
Update11. I would love for every new member to receive a publication entitled “ALA for New Members.” This would explain a lot of what ALA is, how it is structured, and would describe each of the component parts of ALA. The goal would be to demystify all this for new members. When I joined, I didn’t even know to join NMRT because I didn’t know what it was. I’ve been a member for the past two years though. Since the Web site is so confusing and so much of it is out-of-date, it would be great to create a publication (updated each year) that explains all this and makes ALA more transparent! Three and a half years after joining, I’m still confused about how ALA and the divisions and council and all of it work.
I’m writing this, not because I want to lambaste the ALA, but because I really actually want them to do these things. Seriously! I don’t want to not be an ALA member, but it would be stupid to go on supporting an organization I don’t feel represents me. I’ve still got almost half a year until I will need to decide, and by then Leslie Burger will be president and will begin undoing some of the harm Michael Gorman caused. So please, give me a reason to stay, ok?
Update: For those of you who are considering not renewing your membership or are just feeling alienated by ALA, what could they do to make you want to still be a member?