I’m happy to say that I am a member of ALA’s 2018 Class of Emerging Leaders, which is a prestigious and exciting thing. My teammates and I are working on a toolkit for the New Members Round Table, a group that naturally attracts the bulk of young professionals and new members of the library work force. Part of our toolkit is a sort of ALA 101, trying to break through the haze of acronyms to explain the eleven divisions and twenty-one round tables within the American Library Association.
Everyone I’ve contacted with regards to this project has been enthusiastic and eager to help if they can. The idea that new members might need some assistance in locating an ALA “home” is one with which there is no disagreement.
But that’s where things start to crumble.
For an organization serving a profession so inextricably linked to technology and its rapid changes, ALA’s websites are surprisingly problematic. They are difficult to navigate, inconsistently structured from subgroup to subgroup, and often provide only minimal information. Some appear not to have been substantially updated in months, if not years. For one group I tried to contact, the single visible means of doing so led to a defunct email address.
I am reaching out to the divisions and round tables to inquire about the resources they already have for new and prospective members, to try and compile what currently exists and see where there may be gaps. And oh, are there ever gaps.
I am shocked by how many responses indicate that little to no energy is given to attracting and retaining new members. At ALA conferences, I hear grumblings about drops in membership, less involvement from young professionals, and so forth. If you put no effort into explaining what you do, who you represent, and how membership could be mutually beneficial, why would young professionals dedicate portions of their frankly inadequate salaries, limited professional development support, and vacation time to involvement? It’s a build-it-and-they-will-come mentality that frankly baffles me.
I’m not saying that millennials are special snowflakes that need to be courted. I’m saying we’re underpaid, overworked, and unimpressed by an organization that presents itself in such a clunky way. Many of my peers fail to see value in ALA membership.
Wake up, ALA. A generational shift is happening right now. Boomers are retiring. You need us. I know that change in such a large organization usually happens slowly, but if ALA is to evolve into the professional powerhouse for the 21st century that we need it to be, it needs to get to work.
Get your websites up to date. Make the navigation and content categories consistent. Write the descriptions of what each group does and who it serves in clear language, rather than buzzword-laden formality.
My peers and those entering the library work force every day have energy and ideas, if only you would meet us halfway by showing a little enthusiasm for our presence. And I know that you can – I myself have met with nothing but welcomes and invitations to play a part in some efforts to enact some of these very changes. The divisions and round tables need to promote themselves. Make it easy to contact someone with questions about involvement, membership, and cross-group efforts.
Get on this. You can do better.