May Topic of the Month – Professional Membership

For those of you who subscribe to the New Grads Group e-list, we’ve had an ongoing discussion on the topic of association memberships.

I posed the questions: why do you choose to become (or to not be) members of your professional association? What are the benefits? What’s in it for you? Or if you think that it’s “all features, no benefits”, then what are the things that you look out for when it comes to joining a professional association?

Most responses chose to focus specifically on ALIA, and used examples of how they were either attracted to join ALIA, or had reasons not to join ALIA.

So, to summaries the reasons that people DID choose to become a member:

– Several mentioned feeling isolated in their roles, and joining ALIA to find support from outside their employer. Similarly, when working in a specialised or non-library field, the association provided opportunities to maintain that connection with the wider industry, and maintain an awareness of the “bigger picture” outside the individual workplace.
– Many mentioned the opportunities to contribute to the association and voice their concerns.
– Many also mentioned the networking opportunities, to meet like-minded professionals.
– The opportunities to work on interesting projects that they wouldn’t have had access to with their employer.
– Discounts to PD events, and especially conferences, where membership costs less than the difference in cost for attendance.
– InCite magazine
– To support the industry, and to support the profession.

On the other hand, reasons NOT to become a member were:

– A few people mentioned that it was too expensive, or that they didn’t think it was worth paying money for.
– Professional Development is already managed through the employer.
– Time commitments – Not wanting to do library things outside of work time. Can’t be bothered. Don’t want to be hassled about “getting involved”.
– They already have all of the benefits that association membership has to offer, through other channels, such as the employer, publicly available services / programs, and personal resourcefulness.
– It seemed cliquey. I thought this comment was interesting. I think part of being a good networker is the ability to “infiltrate” cliques, and make the most of what are clearly already strong social and professional networks. Which, of course, is easy for me to say, already being in the so-called “in” crowd. However, I also think that, whilst we’re a strong social group, we’re pretty welcoming of newcomers, especially in the New Graduates Group.

So, where do we stand now? What are the determining factors in individual motivations to become association members?

I think that part of it is certainly where you are in your career. The most successful newgrad events seem to be those that focus on “getting a job”, and at the time of graduation, it seems that you need to do everything in your power to get that elusive first professional job. And there is certainly a feeling that association membership can help you on the way there.

Another determining factor is who your employer is, and the nature of your work. If you’re professionally or geographically isolated, you might get involved in your association in order to maintain connections with the wider industry, and to keep perspective on the bigger picture. And your employer might not necessarily provide opportunities for you to stay on top of emerging library trends, so your association might be a great way to do this. However, you might work for a fantastic employer, who provides all of your PD needs, and keeps you “professionally satisfied”.

And as for expense – as indicated, the membership fee pays for itself if you’re going to go to association events, such as conferences. But if you have no interest in attending such things, then what exactly are you paying for, other than a card and a magazine subscription?

Personally, I feel that one of the biggest benefits of our membership is the thing that many of us have worked pretty hard for – our qualification. ALIA accredits all of the courses, and sets the standards by which a graduate can be “Eligible for professional membership of ALIA” – something that you often see on job descriptions, and thus something that many employers consider to be an essential attribute for recruitment. It also acknowledges our standing as a professional, in line with library and information professionals around the world. And this work that ALIA does in maintaining the professional standard by which we are ourselves valued, as professionals, is paid for primarily through association membership. It keeps the profession strong, and in doing so, keeps us strong as professionals.

Of course, this issue is far from over, and I’d encourage you to keep the discussion going through the comments thread here, if you wish.

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