Musings, Professional organizations

Membership Has Its Privileges

A recent kerfluffle about YALSA’s new policy regarding access to the awards list has broken out – LizB, as always, has the best round-up and analysis.

My thoughts?

I understand YALSA’s wanting to reach out to people who are not currently members, and I understand that they want to increase membership. The question of how expensive ALA (and YALSA) is might be part of the issue about falling membership, it may also be due to librarians losing their jobs and finding work in other fields. That’s food for another post, though.

The problem is that this decision presumes that the people who are looking at YALSA lists are all YA librarians, and that reaching out to them about the value of membership and events is a good thing (the goal, apparently, is to create an e-mail list of all these non-members who look at the website for list information). But what about students who are looking to nominate a favorite book for BFYA or the Excellence in Non-Fiction Award (as committee member on the latter, I’m particularly interested in that!)? Or parents (or grandparents, aunts, etc.) who aren’t blessed enough to have a librarian to guide them to the best new books for them to give as gifts?

Sarah Flowers, on the YALSA blog, says:

The purpose of this change, which is not expected to be temporary, is three-fold. On the one hand, one of YALSA’s Strategic Plan goals is member recruitment. Obviously people who are already coming to our website are candidates to become members. By collecting their email addresses, we can send them information targeted to their areas of interest, and perhaps gain some new YALSA members in the process. The second purpose is to find out more about who is using the website and how, so that we can do an even better job of serving both members and non-members. The third purpose is to identify and cultivate a list of advocates for teen services. Now more than ever we need to reach beyond the library community to engage people in advocating on behalf of libraries. Advocacy and activism is another goal in YALSA’s strategic plan, and organizations such as NTEN (The Nonprofit Technology Network) identify what YALSA is doing—collecting email addresses of those who support our cause—as a best practice for not-for-profits.

In less than two weeks, we have already collected over 1,100 names and email addresses, so clearly a lot of people think that providing this information is a fair trade for what they get from YALSA’s lists. Moreover, these teachers, parents, teens and others can be tapped by YALSA to support the great work that you do. We are proud of the work that you, the members, do for YALSA in creating these lists and awards, and we want to make sure that we’re promoting them—and YALSA—effectively beyond our own membership. YALSA depends on donations, sales from products and fees from CE to support the majority of the services that we provide and the work we do. Without avenues to promote these products and services, YALSA would not have enough funding to continue the same level of service it has been providing.

Let’s go back to one of my examples: someone wanting to nominate a book, or just get an idea as to what’s new and really outstanding for teens now has to give YALSA their e-mail (and it’s going to be every time they look at the lists, not just once) and can be “tapped for potential membership and advocacy”. If this were my parents, they’d go elsewhere for their information and think far less of YALSA. Why? Because they don’t want to be members (why should they join? they’re not in the library world or in the book world, they’re simply trying to get information for their next book purchase). And advocacy or donating? Unlikely that they’d do it, however much they like books or approve of teen services.

Over on the AASL website, they’ve locked down a lot of content on the theory that “membership has its privileges” – mostly this applies to Knowledge Quest magazine. Doug Johnson discusses that here. I do understand that there are reasons for organizations to block (or, more accurately, control access to) content, in part to encourage people to join. But is this the best way? Isn’t it better to have complete access to this stuff so that people see that there’s a value to joining? Creating a barrier for non-members to get information that passively leads to advocacy (as in “if you’re looking for great new books to buy your daughter, there’s this award/list that’s really helpful”) sends people away, not brings them in.

And making this move without telling people or allowing for discussion? For an organization dedicated to open access and freedom of information and sharing of information, that just seems wrong.

7 thoughts on “Membership Has Its Privileges”

    1. I agree! That’s what I’d hoped would happen with KQ, but the Powers That Be think thought that restricting access made more sense.

      We can only hope that clearer heads prevail.

  1. I completely agree. The point of creating a best books list is to celebrate the titles selected but if the list is locked up, then that seems to defeat the purpose. Do they password the list for the Oscars? The YALSA list is one of the most public things that YALSA does, so it helps with name recognition, recognition of the mission, etc.

    In the culture of web 2.0, the “free web” and collaborative sharing, this seems like a very counterproductive move and a throwback to the past. And it seems to damage YALSA’s reputation. Does NCTE lock up any booklists it has, for example?

    And yes, I agree that I don’t think our teachers who might use the list would bother to register, nor parents. So it limits the very purpose of the list.

    How different this would be if there was a voluntary sign up on the YALSA list page asking people to sign up for “follow-up” information about the books selected-it would invite those really interested while not limiting those who are casual visitors.

    Ironically libraries are all about free access for all and serving whoever comes in the door whether they have a “card” or not.

    P.S. What is to stop a librarian from just writing the list up on his/her own blog anyway?

  2. The lists aren’t behind a paywall, but they are behind a password/sign-in. That’s how YALSA is presenting this: the information is still free, we just want to get a list of those using the lists who aren’t members so we can reach out to them/serve them better.

    I’ve asked several non-librarians/non-teachers who might want to use the lists and the idea of giving their e-mail out just to access this information makes them cringe.

    1. To pay for membership or not, this is just begging visitors to LEAVE. What is that rule of two clicks? Like Carolyn, I predict some (what feels like) underhanded sharing will be an unintended result. If YALSA tracks site visitors, they will see a definite drop. Why would we cut off our nose to spite our face? One step forward; two steps back. Sigh.

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