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.
> this is just Mark Rosenzweig being Mark Rosenzweig
I have a seven-letter word in mind that describes what Mark Rosenzweig is being. However it doesn’t surprise me, as every single email of his that I have read to the Council list has been a bitter, spittle-flecked rant, usually about how much he hates K.G. Schneider.
Let’s leave ALA to the likes of Councilor Rosenweig, shall we?
>Let’s leave ALA to the likes of Councilor Rosenweig, shall we?
Nah! Let’s not. There are some of us willing to be involved with ALA and Council in the hopes of exerting influence and contributing to meaningful organizational change. Frustrating to be sure, but it’s one of the ways I can contribute. I envy those who are able to be independent and/or have the support of their institutions to do really nifty outreach outside of traditional channels. A friend pointed out to me that ALA is sometimes one of the few ways for many in the profession to be actively involved and to connect with others. My early involvement in ALA was invaluable and directly responsible for my considerable network of library friends and colleagues. It’s not all evil.
Rochelle, nobody’s said it’s all evil. Not even me, and I’ve probably come closest.
What I’ve said is, ALA is inefficient, ineffective, and on a couple of vital issues entirely wrongheaded, and as good people, we have RUN OUT OF WAYS TO CHANGE THAT from within.
I repeat my call. Leave ALA until ALA comes to the table with a serious plan for reform, a plan that should definitely include kicking Rosenzweig out on his three-letter-word. (Or four-letter, whichever spelling you prefer.)
Jessamyn, thank you for your gracious post; it means a lot to me right now. You definitely “get” what my position is.
Even I, a confessed ALA political junky, am often driven mad, mad, mad by ALA. But do we all agree we need an association, to start with? If we do, then do we start a new one or change the one we have?
I’ll blog more on this myself; I’m doing homework today and am not letting myself blog til I’m done!
I guess the question is which “we” we’re talking about, Karen. I hadn’t considered it before, but if a big division (thank you, Lisa; my mistake) were to rear up on its hind legs and say “we’ll do better without ALA than with it!” we might actually get somewhere.
I think my top candidate for said hind-legs-rearing would be LITA. Of course, LITA on its own would face a tough challenge from ASIST (which is where a good many techie ex-ALAers, self included, have gone), but LITA + ASIST has intriguing possibilities.
[…] Meredith has a post that I just read today titled: Martyrdom and ALA, which in addition to being a good post has some very interesting comments. Dorothea comments What I’ve said is, ALA is inefficient, ineffective, and on a couple of vital issues entirely wrongheaded, and as good people, we have RUN OUT OF WAYS TO CHANGE THAT from within. […]
Dorthea (and others)–Sorry about being a bit cranky and over-the-top in my previous comment, but I do still stand by my main point that ALA has been and continues to be an invaluable networking source for many. If I thought that there was a chance that a mass pull-out would effect deep, meaningful change, I’d consider participating. At this point, I don’t see it happening. I think the upcoming election may tell us a lot as ALA asks members to approve a dues increase.
Rochelle, I agree with you that the ALA is a great place for networking, especially before all of these online communities were built on the Web. Without a blog, I can’t imagine having met all the cool folks (you included) that I’ve gotten to know over the past year. I would much rather vote “no” on a dues increase than leave the organization altogether, but I have a feeling the dues increase will pass. I just want to see some movement in the right direction over the next year.
Mark Rosenzweig’s post brings up another point, which is the often insufficient funds within a library for ALA membership, professional development and travel to conferences. It’s expensive enough that my library discouraged me from joining (I joined as a personal member and paid for it myself) on the grounds that it wasn’t worth it for me, as long as one person in the library was a member. It’s great that conferences are all over the place, I don’t think that paying our own way to out of state conferences is the answer for many of us.
This is a place where ALA could help. Does it offer scholarships to attend conferences? Usually there’s a hotel deal, but would it be possible to get deals at several different local hotels, ranging from youth hostels to the Merriot? If ALA was willing to give and offer need based scholarships or fee reductions, that might bring conferences within reach of many students and libraries who currently can’t attend at all.
ALA doesn’t offer much in the way of conference support, and it’s my understanding that there simply isn’t budget for it. One thing I can think of is for students–it’s a Student to Staff Liaison program for which ALA pays for conference registration for one student from each LIS school to work the conference. The other thing is something I benefitted from–people who work on Cognotes, the conference newspaper, get their registration comped. But, you’re asked to commit to attending both Midwinter and Annual. (For anyone with writing/reporting skills, this is an excellent way to immerse yourself in the organization). NMRT offers a conference scholarship every year, and I imagine other units have conference support offered on a competetitve basis.
I understand the frustration of dealing with ALA and the ensuing bureaucracy. Please understand that if we do not fight to make ALA relevant to its members it will fail. As an ALA committee chair I have spoken to my members about the challenges they face in attending every ALA conference as a committee membership requisite. What ever happened to the idea of holding virtual meetings, why do we have to physically attend every conference? Networking aside how many of us find the conferences relevant? As an academic librarian I have to be involved in association work and I do value the work that I have done as a result. The question if this work can be accomplished outside of conferences (as it usually is) why do we have to physically relocate to meet?
Membership meetings are rarely attended by conference attendees and the fact that the quorum requirement has been recently changed hasn’t resulted in more effective representation. Council members are our representatives and I thank every one of them for taking on that task. If we don’t want our voices heard than we are heading down the wrong road in dismissing their relevance to the process of members having any input into the association. Realistically we need to choose what type of association we need and want. Do we want an association that simply acts as a professional development tool or do we want an association that speaks to our ideals and values. If you don’t support the Library Bill of Rights or believe in the Code of Ethics why did you join ALA?