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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!

NGG Topic of the Month Wrap -up – New Graduates Group

Thanks to those who responded to this month’s Topic of the Month about the New Graduates Group. They were each different, but at the same time there were commonalities between them. Be assured that the ideas generated will be seriously considered by the Committee to help us continue to/improve how we meet the needs and support New Graduates and students in the profession. It was good to hear though that we are already doing a pretty good job. Continue reading

Topic of the Month – July

The ALIA New Graduate Group Committee often gets asked what it is we do, or from the other side, we also find ourselves asking members what they would like to see us do. I thought it would be good to open up this discussion to the general e-list, as we are always looking for new ideas for events, or new ways of doing things, and after all, we are YOUR group. So:

What do you like/dislike about the New Graduates Group and our events? Are we an important network for you?

What would you like to see us do, or do more of, that we may not do currently?

If you are a LIS student, or attended NGG events as a student, have we/how could we meet your needs?

Do you think we should continue to be a separate ALIA group? Or should we merge with state groups (i.e there would be New Grad. representatives on these committees)?

Looking forward to hearing your responses.

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.