Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Thoughts on ALA Annual-Any Benefit in Membership?

After spending the weekend at ALA's Annual Conference in Chicago I have mixed feelings on my continued membership in ALA. It was nice to attend the conference as an attendee instead of an employee and I enjoyed the ease of attending a conference so close to home. However I am torn on the benefits of membership in ALA and don't think I will be renewing my $98.00 membership dues as the end of this month.

Here are a few of my thoughts on ALA membership:

1. In the years I have been a member of ALA I have received very little educational, career or personal benefit from membership.
2. I find ALA to be out of touch with younger and newer-to-the-profession librarians and very slow in bridging the gap between us and the organization.
3. The ALA website, event planner and other technologies are often out of date, slow and not easily accessible.
4. I've seen many of my peers in the field speak at ILA and NSLS events which were more relative to my work than seeing them on a panel in an overcrowded conference room at an ALA conference.
5. Cost, seriously the cost of joining ALA is expensive and if a member is interested in also joining one of the ALA divisions like PLA or YALSA there is an additional cost for each unit. Very few librarians can afford yearly ALA membership dues running into the hundreds of dollars.

Here is what worked for me at the ALA Annual Conference:

1. The choice of McCormick Place West as the conference center. The train system to and from Chicago is excellent and takes you into the heart of the City. A cab ride to McCormick from the main train station is about $14, cheaper than parking and manageable if sharing a cab with a colleague. I chose to drive in on 2 days and the parking was excellently located, underneath the main conference floor and a bargain for the City of Chicago at $19 for the day.
2. The exhibit hall was wide open, well lit and not freezing. The exhibitors were friendly and author signings appeared to be well managed.
3. All but a couple of the programs I wanted to attend were on site at McCormick which meant no waiting for the bus system ALA provides between the conference center and the conference hotels.
4. The special events I attended were the highlight of the conference. Both the YALSA Fashion Show and Happy Hour (at the Westin River North Hotel)and the ALA Scholarship Bash (at the Art Institute) were excellent events, well attended and lots of fun!
5. Good signage throughout the conference center and programs started on-time. Plus I was able to find a seat in all but 1 of the programs.

Here is what didn't work for me at the ALA Annual Conference:
1. The cost. Expensive for a full conference registration. If I attend another ALA Annual Conference again I absolutely will not pay for the entire conference only exhibits and a few special events.
2. Food options. Yes it's a conference center but $12.00 for a salad bar, come on. $6.50 for a cup of soup! $9.75 for a sandwich! Ya and only 1 Starbucks to handle thousands of people. If conference centers can't get businesses like Subway and other affordable food vendors in they are doomed.
3. The librarians there only for the free stuff. I know to expect this but really the grabbing and stuffing of their free tote bags with every imaginable piece of crap is nauseating. How many posters, bookmarks, pens and suckers do you need! And then as they try to squeeze by you in an overcrowded room they smack everyone's ankles with their jammed bags. Sigh.
4. Lack of networking opportunities. Sure there were some but I never found one without a cost associated with attendance.
5. Redundancy of programs. I attended 2 programs on Web 2.0, the only difference appeared to be in the catchy title of the program. I learned nothing new and walked away with no ideas or solutions for my library.

In the library field we've heard so much in the past few years about the future of libraries and the printed book but I think the real threat in the profession is to the relevancy of professional organizations like ALA that aren't adapting as quickly to the needs of members as librarians and libraries are adapting to the needs of their patrons.

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