Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The question that says everything

I got into a conversation yesterday about the ALCTS Strategic Plan. Adopted in 2015, the Plan is set to be updated during the 2017/2018 year. There is much about this Plan that I wouldn't change, but I want to point out a couple of points in the plan that I think reflect the tension, broadly, between professional associations for library workers and the members they are seeking to recruit and retain.

So let's start with the points:
IIC: Reach out to under-represented and under-involved groups (support staff and students) to encourage their participation in webinars and online meetings.
IIIC: Recruit new members, particularly students and faculty in iSchools and library programs, and public and special librarians.
IIID: Identify and address requirements for the financial sustainability of ALCTS, particularly fundraising.

So, here's the tension: ALCTS, like many professional organizations for library workers, wants to recruit and retain new members, presumably in order to help grow the next generation of Collections and Technical Services leaders. But it also needs be sustainable, financially speaking.

So let's crunch some numbers. All of this comes form ALA's personal membership page, by the way, if you want to see how this translates for the ALA division with which you affiliate yourself most closely.

For a student, membership in ALA and ALCTS is $51.
ALA membership: $36
ALCTS membership: $15
It is worth noting that ALA limits student membership fee rates to 5 years.

When you transition out of that student pricing tier, your pricing increases to one of two price points at the Association level.
Regular membership: $137
Non-salaried/Unemployed/Underemployed/Making less than $30k annually: $49

At the division-level, ALCTS charges a "regular" rate of $65 and doesn't offer a lower price tier for people who receive the lower rate at the association level.

So you could pay either $114 or $202 to be a member of both ALA and ALCTS, depending on what rate you pay at the Association level.

I should stop here and say that I don't mean to pick on ALCTS. I just used them for this exercise because they're my home within ALA.

Now that we've crunched those numbers, let's think honestly about how wanting to recruit and retain new members and how wanting to remain financially sustainable are in tension with one another.

Students and early career librarians often struggle financially because of student debt, unpaid internships, and low wages for library workers. Finding the extra room in one's budget to pay the fees to be active in professional association work simply isn't an option for a lot of our future library leaders. Our professional associations have so much to offer students and early career librarians by way of volunteer opportunities, programming, and mentorship. And while the restrictions for in-person attendance at ALA Midwinter and Annual have been loosened quite significantly, you still have to pay both an Association-level and Division-level membership fee in order to be active in committee work.

Professional associations for library workers have bills to pay, so it is a challenge to consider changing a fee structure because of its potential impact on financial sustainability. But our professional association leaders have to think about the lived experiences of the people we intend to recruit and retain as members. Without both consideration for how the current environment impacts the capacity for students and early career librarians to pay to belong to any given association and an intention to respond, professional associations won't remain financially sustainable in the long run because they'll lose a generation of members.

I know that the people engaged in leadership of professional association for library workers care deeply about the future of librarianship and about recruiting and retaining the next generation of professional association leadership. But until we take seriously the financial burden that association membership places upon students and early career librarians, we can't move forward.

Stay positive,

1 comment:

Anna said...

I've been feeling the tension in NASIG between making sure our stuff is affordable, but also competing with for-profit conferences that have much greater resources to offer a better experience for attendees. Sure, we could do all that, but we'd have to double our registration fees at this point.

Regular membership fees jumped from $25/yr to $75/yr well over 10 years ago, and haven't moved since (we also lost a lot of members in that transition). We have lower rates for paraprofessionals, but maybe need to consider something for early career librarians. It's still quite a bit less than ALA memberships, so there's that. Conference registration fees for members have moved from $375 to $385 in that same time period. We talk about increasing them, but again, want to remain affordable. So we make cuts elsewhere.

Sponsorships vary year to year, and we haven't been able to rely on them to offset member and registration fees. Also, I feel kinda icky about asking vendors (who are also members) to pay sponsorship fees when I wouldn't do the same to libraries.

I haven't found the answer yet, except to make NASIG so awesome everyone wants to be a member and attend the conferences, and then we wouldn't need to increase fees.