August Topic of the Month – Volunteering for Professional Associations

This year, the ALIA National Advisory Congress will be focusing on the issue of Volunteers in Professional Associations. Held (mostly) in September, these regional meetings are an opportunity for members to voice their opinion directly to an ALIA board director on matters of ALIA Policy. If you’ve got something to say as an ALIA member, then this is your chance.

Of course, this can be daunting for many of us – especially newgrads in a room full of library industry veterans, so to get us all warmed up, I’ve decided that this will be our New Graduates Group Topic of the Month for August. Hopefully, by the end of the month, we’ll have a good perspective of the issue, and can go along to the NAC with a swag full of contentious statements to make!

So, on to the topic…

Like many associations, ALIA relies heavily on volunteers to operate successfully. Volunteers contribute many hours to running ALIA groups, plan and deliver conferences and PD events, work on the various advisory committees, contribute to publications, and represent the library association from time to time. They are not paid for their time, but clearly there are, in their mind, incentives to get involved.

There are clear advantages to using volunteers – the cost of running an association is substantially reduced, considering the sheer number of volunteers multiplied by the number of hours they put in. Furthermore, volunteers contribute to the raising of revenue for the association, through charges at group-run ALIA events, as well as attendance fees from delegates at volunteer-organised conferences.

However, at the same time, there are downsides to using volunteers. Essentially, when somebody volunteers their time, there’s no obligation for a consistency in the standard of their contribution. If their own work or personal life gets too hectic, then volunteer work falls down on the list of priorities. Furthermore, if there are no active volunteers in a certain region, then it’s the members in that area who are deprived of the benefits that members in other regions gain from having active volunteers.

So – some questions to prompt discussion:

Should we rely so heavily on volunteers? Whilst volunteers certainly *enrich* the professional community, are there roles that are currently taken up by volunteers that should perhaps be taken up by paid employees of ALIA in order to maintain standards of quality? Do you prefer attending events run by your peers, rather than events that are run by ALIA employees?

For those volunteers out there, why do you volunteer? Is it out of a genuine passion for the industry? Do you see it as something that will boost your career? Is there a certain prestige or peer-recognition that you’re trying to attain? Are you bored and need something stimulating to keep you going?

What would it take for you to volunteer? Do you want to volunteer and don’t know how? Do you see it as taking up too much time? Do you see it as being too much work for one person? (hint: work in pairs / small teams!) Are there other reasons you wouldn’t get involved in volunteering for your association?

I’ll put in my 2 cents’ worth further on in the month, but I’d love to hear everybody else’s views first!


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