Conference season!

All the cool kids may have been at CIL or PLA last week, but this week I’m at the APLIC-I conference. Since I’m the conference organizer and also a speaker, I don’t have much time to blog the conference, but it’s a great small conference (which is the reason I agreed to organize and not necessarily a result of my organizing) and I will post some of my reactions when I get back.

“Us” vs. “Them”

The Shifted Librarian is outraged that ALA makes its speakers pay for their conference registration if they are members. In her post, she consistently refers to ALA as “them”. Clearly, some associations have lost touch with their membership if their members think of the associations as “them” instead of “us”. I will admit that I always thought of ALA as “them” when I was a member—and perhaps that partly explains why I am no longer a member.

Maybe ALA could learn something from Penn State. I can hear the “We Are … the American Library Association!” cheers now.

SLA-IT Blogging Section Blog

After writing about the value of associations yesterday, this morning I found a message about the SLA IT Division Blogging Section’s new blog in my inbox. I had dropped my IT Division membership, but perhaps I will join again. I don’t think much has been written about blogging in special libraries compared to blogging in academic and public libraries, although I know a fair number of special librarians have personal or group blogs. We are starting to use blogs in my library (more on that soon!) and SLA itself has been using blogs as communication tools—there is the official SLA 2005 blog, the PAM blog, the Chapter Modeling Task Force blog, and even a memorial blog.

Professional associations

Yet another librarian decides not to renew his ALA membership. I don’t really know how big this trend is or how much it affects ALA, but it seems like librarians have gotten very vocal about dropping their memberships.

Is it that with blogs and wikis and other social software we no longer need professional associations to build a professional network? Is it that ALA has gotten more out of touch with its members? Or is it just that with the blogging explosion, people have a forum to share their frustrations with ALA?

I don’t belong to ALA, but I do belong to SLA and APLIC-I, and I find them very valuable. I am also fortunate enough to have an employer who is willing to pay my dues and most of my conference expenses. If I had to foot the bill, I am sure that I would look even more closely at the value of my memberships.

There are not many librarians in my particular field (population research), so I value APLIC-I for putting me in contact with those librarians. I get advice, news from the field, and a fantastic resource-sharing network. I’ve had the opportunity to write for the newsletter, present at a conference, and participate in leadership and conference planning. The conference brings together about 40 people who have similar work environments, and is very productive. Both the membership and the conference fees are cheap by ALA or SLA standards. If I worked in a less specialized environment, I might get the same value from a regional or state library association.

I value SLA for putting me in contact with the librarians in my local chapter. Even though I work in a large university, I am not part of the library system and might not meet these colleagues otherwise. I also value my subject division for programs at the conference, and the conference for giving me access to speakers with national recognition. Both the chapter and the division have provided leadership opportunities. The membership and conference fees are both expensive, though, and if I had to foot the bill myself, I would think twice about it.

I belonged to ALA as a student member and during my stint as a public librarian. I found the job fair at the conference very useful as a student, mainly to get some interview experience without having to travel. I found the programs overwhelming—the highlight for me was getting a book signed by Mick Foley at a YALSA event. As a public librarian, I liked getting American Libraries and discounts on READ posters, but I knew I’d never be able to afford to go to a national conference. I got more out of attending county level meetings and workshops.

I’m curious if associations don’t mean as much for Next-Gen Librarians or whatever we are, especially those who don’t have to publish and demonstrate service to the profession in order to get tenure. We can network informally online, and we can create wikis or join Flickr groups when we need more connections. Perhaps we think of joining associations like joining clubs—something our parents did, not something we do.

Nonetheless, the popularity of conference blogging and blogger meetups gives me hope. Regardless of how we feel about any particular association, I think we need a professional association to advocate for us, so I would hate to see them fade away.