There was some sad ALA-related news this week. Karen Schneider, a passionate supporter of ALA, has had to quit ALA Council as a result of the funding cuts at her place of work, Librarians’ Internet Index. I’m sure this was a difficult decision for Karen, but a very understandable one in light of the fact that she may soon be facing money problems of her own as a result of the situation at work. It is darn expensive to go to ALA Midwinter and Annual and I think Karen had to go to the LITA stuff too since she is a LITA representative. Money not withstanding, it is a big committment of time, and when one is scrambling to find alternative support for their organization and staff, they may not have the mental energy to focus on ALA. One would think that this would be easy to understand. Of course you have to put your own well-being and the well-being of your staff and family over the ALA! No one should have to even think should I pay my mortgage this month or go to Midwinter? I wish Karen the best in this difficult time.
So I looked to see what the reaction to Karen’s resignation was on the ALA Council List. And while most of it was about expressing disappointment at losing her and making valid points about the cost of being a member of Council, there was one comment that reminded me again of that “cult of martyrism” that is seen in almost every helping profession. This comment came from Mark Rosenzweig:
I know from just among my closest friends on Council (and therefore presume there are many others as well) that there are people who actually FORGO other things in life (strange though it may seem to others perhaps) to be on Council, to serve their profession and thereby further serve that which the profession represents and does in society. It’s a question of priorities and this decision (and decision it is) is a calculation of those priorities and a choice of what’s important and what isn’t… I paid my way (or most of it) all these years of being active in ALA , I’ve gone when I’ve been out of work or when I was making peanuts, because participating in ALA is one of the things that make being a librarian meaningful. I know people who virtually scrape the bread together to come to conferences, who almost hitchhike there, who stay in youth hostels, who share cheap rooms with 3 other people, who eat out at Arby’s, because it’s important to them (and most of THEM are not even Councilors or officers). Never mind those who have an obligation because they ran for office.
I really hope that this is just Mark Rosenzweig being Mark Rosenzweig and not a symptom of how sick our profession is. I am willing to stay late at work to help my patrons and will do anything I can to serve them better. I am willing to speak for free at conferences and help any of the dozens and dozens of people who have e-mailed me with questions about wikis. I write (my book and my blog) in an effort to make people question things and to help them make informed decisions. I contribute to the profession. But to me, it’s more about helping people than helping an organization that possibly might, by extension, help the profession. I like that more direct kind of contribution (hey, I’m a former social worker!). Which does not mean that serving the profession through ALA is no less or more valuable. However, in neither situation, should people have to sacrifice their own well-being. Those who enjoy martyring themselves on the cross of the ALA are reaping their own benefit; the self-satisfaction that comes from being fanatically committed to a cause. They can look down on most other members of ALA and say, look how superior we are to those of you who put “creature comforts” ahead of your committment to ALA. Reading things on the ALA Council List often makes me realize how distant I feel from ALA, especially when there are fanatics who argue that their way of serving the profession is the only correct one.
I say, serve the profession in the way that is right for you and only to the extent where you can still live a life that you’re happy with. We are more than librarians. We’re friends, spouses, partners, parents, daughters and sons. We have a responsibility to that part of our lives too.