If its broken (part three)
Posted by lpearle on 9 December 2007
Karen Schneider recently posted three great posts on how ALA’s committee/meeting structure is broken. I was thinking about those as I read Jay Bansbach’s e-mail to AASL Affiliate Assembly members, asking them to schedule time during Midwinter to attend not only the Affiliate Assembly but also the Affiliate Assembly Discussion Group.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with either – I’ve been to both and gotten a great deal from them. My concern is part of a discussion we had last year, regarding AASL membership. One perennial question/concern is about Increasing the Membership. It’s $40 to join a division in ALA, and many of the school librarians want to join AASL and YALSA and ALSC. Some may also want to join LITA or ACRL. That $40 (on top of ALA membership) starts to mount up. So then there’s the proposal that ALA make it easier in some way by allowing people to join multiple divisions, perhaps with a discount for membership in more than one. ALA’s management (both paid staff and Council) haven’t really responded positively to that.
Here’s my take on it: membership ain’t everything. I even said that at Affiliate Assembly last year. Who cares if we have 8,000 or 16,000 or 50,000 AASL members? Big whoop. What we should care far more about is gaining active members: people who are willing to give up time and money to come to conferences, to write for publication, to present and share their best practices, to get involved with running the division. The leadership is aging, and there are precious few young’uns ready to step in and lead.
It doesn’t help when the parent organization makes it so impossible for younger members to participate from afar. If I were young, newly married or newly parented, perhaps starting out in terms of position and pay scale, I could perhaps afford membership. If my school paid for it, I could maybe attend a conference (but might not be able to go far because of family). Yet I’m trying to be involved and network with peers, etc.. What are my options? In ALA, few. I can be a virtual member of a committee, but that comes with few rights and privileges. If I’m not willing to sacrifice, I don’t get to play with the grown-ups. How fair is that? How inclusive? Not very.
That’s a good way to drive away members.
Then you get divisions, like AASL, trying to drive up membership numbers (in part because we’re the bastard stepchildren of ALA), but failing to think about how that plays out except in terms of sheer numbers. Where are the plans to get more people involved? Where is the lobbying to get ALA to adopt less restrictive meeting guidelines? Where is the agitating to get official wikis and nings going so that people can participate from home in their pjs?
I’m on a couple of committees, and I’ve served on others in the past. I can tell you from personal experience that two meetings a year, and a couple of e-mails doesn’t cut it. In June, I was asked to serve on a committee this year. Last week was the first time I heard from our Chair. Yes, I’m busy with work-related stuff, but hey! I’m willing to spend a few hours on other things. Why didn’t I get an immediate “welcome to the club” e-mail? Sadly, that’s the norm on the committees on which I’ve served: the term starts immediately following ALA’s annual conference, but there’s nothing – not a peep – from the Chair or others until close to Midwinter. Six months in which I could be working for the committee, getting involved, learning and sharing with the other members so that when we get to Midwinter, we’re ready to really produce something. Now, not all committees are like that, and those are the committees on which I’d rather serve. I suspect I’m not alone in that feeling. And if I were new to ALA, or AASL, I’d be feeling a bit put-off by the lack of communication.
So here’s my challenge to Committee Chairs and AASL’s Affiliate Assembly: let’s talk about ways to increase visibility and participation, and let’s start working on practical steps that we can take to get the young’uns involved and sitting at the grown-ups table.