To Join ALA, or not to Join ALA?

This post is the result of a response to a comment my friend John – who is not a member of ALA – wrote on my post from last April, Should We create a National Library Association?, asking whether American Libraries need a public advocacy group, dedicated to raising public awareness of the importance of libraries in a democracy, and to putting the Fear of No Libraries into library users/voters (much as the NRA does with gun owners).

In responding to John, I realized that I hadn’t revisited this idea here, though I have been thinking about it a lot.

Over the last year, I set out to learn more about what ALA was already doing about public advocacy, what they could do, and what they’re realistically likely to do.

I attended the ALA’s National Library Legislative Day in DC last May, and learned about the federal issues – like Broadband and E-Rate the Patriot Act – that they are really active in trying to change. While I was there I also got the chance to talk to other librarians active in the Virginia Library Association (the then president works at NoVA), who shared my frustrations. We discussed starting at a more local level, but of course we have all been too busy since then to follow up. I plan to attend again this year, in part because of the new Federal Library Legislative and Advocacy Network, which aims to “better share federal legislative and advocacy information with state chapters.” We still really need to work on communicating with library users about these issues, but it’s a step in the right direction.

I also hereby swear that I WILL write the blog post I planned last year – both for myself and the Library’s blog – about all the federal bills that affect libraries.

I also attended the ALA annual conference in June, where I saw some serious calls to action among individual librarians (Michael Porter and Library Renewal in particular), but it was clear that focusing on these issues is a full time job that no one is being paid to do (although Michael is trying).

Since the summer, I’ve also seen some movement in the outward structure of ALA, towards helping individual libraries develop tools to help themselves with library advocacy – see Michael and David Lee King’s new American Libraries column Outside/In. Unfortunately, I always want progress to come NOW, and the calls to action generally seem to be aimed at people who are thinking several steps behind wherever I am today.

So although I do see the ALA as the most likely body to make the kinds of advocacy efforts we need, I currently lean towards the belief that they’ll have to be pushed by many individuals. Which is why I have joined the ALA, and PLA, because I figure that if I’m going to complain and push ALA to do better, I should be a member of the organiation.

Are you a member of ALA? Some other library organization? If you’re not a member, what would they have to do to convince you to join?

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