Why join a library association?

Hello Readers,

If you’ve been reading this blog you are now aware of the many different forms of librarianship and the overall skills required for each specialty. Just as there are a plethora of focuses in librarianship, there are also library associations which coincide with them all over the world. This month, I’m here to help you examine the pros and cons of joining one of these associations. 

In North America alone, not only are there state-specific library associations, there are also field-specific ones. Some examples include the American Theological Library Association (ATLA), Association of Research Libraries (ARL), and the Medical Library Association. (A comprehensive list of library associations the world over can be found here.)

Whether you’re a polished professional, new to the field, or still a LIS student, it is definitely worth your time to consider joining a professional association. Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages? That is up to you to decide.

Pros of joining a library association: 

  • A sense of community – membership to professional associations offers the distinct advantage of regional/global connectivity with your peers and a steady stream of support. The American Library Association (ALA) is the largest of its kind in North America, with various subdivisions catering to various concentrations. As of 2016, ALA has 60,301 active members and offers a discussion board with different “communities” known as ALA Connect.
  • Discounts galore – most library associations offer discounted rates to its members for conferences, continuing education workshops, webinars, and promotional materials.
  • Professional publications – Many of the larger associations, such as School Library Association (SLA), include a publication of some kind in their membership, which helps professionals and students stay “in the loop” regarding library science news, community news, seminars, and annual conferences.
  • Networking opportunities 
  • Access to online courses, webinars, virtual conferences (some are free!)
  • Scholarships and grants – most associations offer at least one annual scholarship or grant opportunity to LIS students.
  • Resume bolstering – Although I haven’t engaged in the hiring process, I can say that my personal experience in interviews is that hiring librarians do seem to take note when candidates list membership to national and regional library associations. I am unsure if membership solidifies a commitment to the field or if those hiring appreciate the fact that my potential attendance at upcoming conferences would be discounted (I joke).
  • Sometimes membership costs are salary-based – this seems quite fair, as membership should be affordable based on what you’re making.

Cons of joining a library association:

  • Membership costs  – some library associations can be cost-prohibitive with annual membership dues. The initial cost of joining an association is generally much higher than renewal fees, though some librarians question if it is worth the cost of membership at all. For example, professional annual dues for membership to ALA is a steep $137. On the other hand, there are different membership options, with a sizable discount for a student membership – $36/year with the option to apply for joint memberships to both ALA and your state-sponsored association.
  • Conference/webinar/seminar costs – Yes, as a member of a library association you will get a discount on registration fees for various professional meetings, but is the discount really that remarkable? Advanced registration for an upcoming YALSA Symposium in Pittsburgh, PA will run you $249 if you’re a YALSA member; non-members are charged $359 for the same registration. That’s a $110 difference, close to the cost of an annual professional membership. That sounds economical, but only if you’re definitely planning on attending a conference like this one.
  • Additional costs – many of the national library associations charge a basic membership fee (the aforementioned $137). ALA, for example, gives you basic membership at a flat rate and membership to one other division (i.e. YALSA). But do you dabble in multiple concentrations within the field of library science – maybe you’re a school media specialist and a part-time public librarian, for example? Additional divisions and roundtables are extra ($15-20 per additional roundtable; up to $60 per division)
  • Little return – some may argue if you work for a smaller library or are only part-time, you won’t get sent to conferences or reimbursed for webinars.

If you’re still on the fence and have never belonged to a library association, it is worth exploring for a year – you could always not renew if you find yourself dissatisfied.