Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Problem with the American Library Association

Ah, ALA.  Our mighty parent organization.  The American Library Association.  The organization which we're all suppose to belong to, with its millions of umbrella organizations (YALSA, AASL, etc.) and its practically unusable website.

The first day of the ALA 2014 annual conference in lovely (sarcasm) Las Vegas showed to us a serious flaw in the ALA system.  Fine, it showed us one particular flaw in the ALA system.  This problem is cost.  If you are a librarian working in the field, it cost $100 to join ALA.  It then costs an additional $50 per umbrella organization you may want to join.

If you are a member of ALA, it then cost you $235 for a full registration to the annual conference assuming you get in during the Early Bird Special.  It will then cost additional money if you want to go to the pre-conference or any special events being held.  For a non-member who isn't a student it will cost $325 for a full registration (with the early bird special).  Is it any wonder that some of us buy a $35 Exhibits Only pass?

ALA use to offer a $75 Exhibits Supreme pass that got you into the exhibit hall, the President's Program speakers, and the Auditorium Speaker Series.  That is no longer an option.  You can either get a full registration or an Exhibits Only, and this year, the Exhibits Only pass did not get you in Friday night, just Saturday-Monday.

Now, if you work for a large public library, or an academic institution, this all possibly doesn't matter to you because your library is going to pay your way.  They pay for your ALA membership, your conference registration, maybe even your flight, your hotel, food costs and everything!  That is pretty sweet if your library does that.  But if you work for a small public library without a lot of funding or a school library it is highly unlikely anyone is paying your way.  That means all those costs to be part of your overseeing organization are coming out of your pocket.

ALA is always saying how much they want young people to get more involved.  Maybe we would.  If we could afford it.  You know who had the Exhibit Only badges at the conference this year?  Young people.  People in their 20s and 30s.  The ones in their first or second jobs, with thousands of dollars of student loan debt, working their way up the library ladder.  Sorry ALA, but it's really hard to participate in your organization when you don't give us options.  You know what a lot of young people don't have?  Hundreds of dollars to spend on conferences.  You know what we'd like to do?  Get professional development like everyone else in our field.

I met some other youngish librarians who both worked in academic institutions who were lucky enough to be sent by their libraries.  They were horrified that my fellow school librarians and I were paying our own way.

This is what I want - options.  I want ALA to provide options for joining their organization.  I want there not just to be a student discount option, but also discounts depending on what kind of institution you are working for and what your budget is.  I want there to be options when registering for a conference.  I understand that people who pay more should get more at the conference, but if that's the case, give me an option between $35 and $235.  Help us out.  We want to go.  We really do.  And we don't just want to go to the exhibit hall and get free books (as awesome as that is).  We want to go to speakers and panels and discussions and learn things and share ideas.  Help us out!

And wake up.  This all makes you seem terribly out of touch.

And hire a professional to redo the website.  It's embarrassing.


  1. I wish that ALA membership was on a sliding scale based on salary rather than on number of years you are a member. My state organization bases the membership cost on salary which is really nice.

    I have never been to ALA but I have attended PLA twice. Both times my library helped to pay for it but I have to pay for my own ALA and PLA membership. This past time I went because it was in Indianapolis which is in driving distance so I saved the cost of a plane ticket.

    Did you feel that ALA conference was worth the cost? With PLA I have learned a few things and got to see some amazing authors but I don't know if that is worth the cost of registration. I have to ask myself if I would gain just as much from free or less expensive library resources like webinars that don't require travel or membership fees.

    1. I have been to the annual conference the last five years. I've enjoyed it every time. I love the opportunity to get a sneak peek at upcoming books for the year, and I've attended some really wonderful sessions. You can probably attend some wonderful sessions at a much more local and less expensive conference, however! A big perk of ALA is the opportunity to network with so many librarians from all over the country and hear stories of success and failures from outside your district or state. It's a tough call, especially when funding is tight. Maybe there's a grant you can apply for so you can experience it once and see if it's right for you?

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    1. Talk about a rant!

      I think it's pretty clear that I'm writing my own personal opinion and using anecdotal examples from the ALA conference. I am fully aware it takes a lot of money to run an organization the size of ALA, and that it also takes a lot of money to put on conferences the size of ALA annual. Nor am I shocked at librarians salaries, having been working in the field for a number of years.

      I am writing in hopes of starting a discussion. Since we work in a low-paying field, the cost of joining the largest professional library organization in the United States in prohibitive for many, as is attending the conferences. If there were more options to join, perhaps ALA would actually gain members and attendees.

      Oh look, you have a blog too where you can also write your personal opinions! I return your whee.

    2. ALA/ACRL dues are expensive compared to some other professional organizations - this is a fact. When I tell other professionals how much I pay for membership, they are SHOCKED. Here are some other society's membership fees:

      ALA: $133
      ACRL: $58 (on top of the $133)
      Geological Society of America: $75
      American Political Science Association: $98-320 (they have a sliding scale, $320 is if you make over $200,000 a year)
      AAAS: $99
      ASEES: $55-200 (sliding scale, $200 is if you make over $125,000)
      AAUP: $48-243 (sliding scale, the highest price is if you make over $120,000)
      AAUW: $49

      I pay my own membership fees to ALA and ACRL, although my employer does contribute to travel costs for attending and presenting at conferences. Also, I am extremely involved with ALA and ACRL, but even I sometimes wonder if I'm getting much value for my membership dollars. Additionally, there is a trend of declining membership and conference attendance, and this is something that ALA/ACRL is worried about. It's important that all of us talk about why we do and don't attend conferences/join professional organizations so that the organizations themselves can adjust to make a home for those who are interested but unable to afford the current opportunities.

    3. Thank you for the data! Very interesting to see things side-by-side. I love the idea of a sliding scale based on salary.

      This definitely needs to be a larger conversation. Any ideas on how to let the higher ups of ALA know there are people who want to talk about this?

  3. While you are discussing the hardships of being involved with ALA, I would like to weigh in on the related unreasonable expectations related to committee work. ALA leaders are frustrated by the limited number of members involved in committee work, yet they mandate attendance for committee members at both MidWinter and Annual conference. That is a hardship. Being a volunteer for ALA is an extremely expensive activity.

    When I attend ALA meetings, in addition to paying my own dues, I have to pay all of my travel and conference expenses. I also have to take personal days and at times days without pay in order to attend. Days without pay impact both my current income and my retirement. Mine is a single income household. Again, this is a hardship. In the winter, they send us to locations are are likely to have weather-related travel issues. I can't afford to be stuck in Chicago an extra day or two or three. It would be an immediate financial disaster with long-term financial repercussions.

    At a time when virtual participation is ubiquitous, ALA does not embrace the obvious. If I could do virtual committee work , would I still come to Annual conference? Yes. In fact, I might be more likely to attend conference. This year, one of the committees I serve on sent out a list with over ten meetings I was expected to attend during conference. With a second committee that met four times compounded by travel time between venues, during four days of conference, I was only able to attend one individual session and one of the general meetings. I essentially paid dearly to work for the association without bringing home the benefits of professional development that I work to make available for other members. As I missed session after session last week while sitting in meetings, I came to the conclusion, that quitting committees and just attending conference would be a better choice.

    ALA, it is time to examine how you operate and the cost and return on investments for your members/volunteers.

    1. Thank you for the insider perspective. This is an aspect I had not considered before, and another way ALA does not seem to realize the difficulties it puts its members in, not just financially, but professionally. At the very least, allowing committee members to attend meetings virtually! I wonder if other educational organizations, or organizations of a similar size offer benefits or stipends for serving on committees? Clearly I need to do some research.

  4. Just happened on your blog! I am a parent with a 9-year-old daughter who's into reading (we're just listening to Wildwood by Colin Melloy and loving it, despite the insane vocabulary). Please keep reviewing books, especially books with interesting female protagonists (who are not GIRL protagonists in the marked way). But also, I just went to the ALA website out of curiosity after reading this post. That's the worst-designed website I've seen in a long time -- information structure, organization, and graphic design. OUCH.

    Keep on doing what you're doing!


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