I’ve been thinking about this for a number of years, and after two years of COVID cancellations followed by the in person experience I’m still wondering what are the people at ALA thinking?
Just over a year ago, this post about ACRL’s conference appeared: Service Ceiling: The High Cost of Professional Development for Academic Librarians. I am a school librarian, not an academic librarian, but yes, this resonates. How can ALA continue to expect people to volunteer for committees and do the work of the organization of there isn’t a mandate that all meetings be available remotely over some link (Zoom, Skype, GMeet, Teams, whatever)? Council was, and that’s a great change. But my ISS meeting was not made available to anyone not at conference, and my LIRT meeting was cancelled due to too few people actually attending.
There have been some changes in organization, but not enough. The cost of joining divisions and ALA frequently forces members to choose, and so many of the divisions are large enough to feel impenetrable by newbies. And then there’s the question of which division is the best “fit” – YALSA did a huge push years ago to get school librarians to join, but now they’re back to focusing on public libraries and youth programming. AASL’s focus is less on reading/programming/”fun stuff” than it is on pedagogy and standards (which are word salad and incomprehensible to outsiders). There’s a huge overlap between what AASL and ACRL do, but where there could be many, many joint committees and presentation there are virtually none. Same with AASL, YALSA and ALSC. I know librarians who choose ALSC or YALSA because of the book awards, and would love to be part of RUSA but that feels more public library oriented.
I could go on and on. I won’t, though. My point is, between the cost and the sheer size, ALA doesn’t quite work for a lot of the members. And if you’re in a state with a really strong association (Texas, anyone?), it may not feel necessary to join the national organization. Oh, and Connect? It’s progressively worse with each iteration. Shutting down the elists was one of the worst decisions ALA made.
If I had unlimited authority, I’d merge several of the divisions, separating out books/reader’s advisory, programming/patron experience, technology, pedagogy/instruction and administration. I’d mandate that all meetings have a strong virtual presence, so everyone can feel part of the group. I’d get rid of Connect and find another way for members to communicate (seriously, days when I don’t get a digest from Connect far outnumber those when I do, while before I’d get several emails a day from the groups/divisions to which I belong). I’d keep the divisional conferences, but I’d make them satellite-based, so those in one or another region could more easily travel and share, and network, while still sharing keynotes and other “large group” sessions.
Maybe as the younger, more techncapable and innovative generation takes over we’ll see more movement to make ALA relevant to all, and accessible to all.