choosing your battles and choosing your professional associations

Karen Coombs talks about a reaction she had a while back to a comment on her blog where she was considering her commitment to the Texas Library Association. I think for many busy librarians the question of how much to participate in how many professional associations is one that we have to continually revisit. There is also the related question of how long you need to try at something before you decide it’s not working and moving on to trying something else.

After I cycled off ALA Council, I decided that I wanted to step back some and spend sometime reacquainting with my local library association in Vermont, so I didn’t renew my ALA membership. I joined VLA at the conference — where I gave two talks, or I gave half of two talks — which meant that my annual fee will only pay for seven months of membership (all memberships expire on 31dec. That said, membership is cheap). I didn’t feel obligated to join since I’m not technically a librarian for my job but I felt it would be a good idea. Before I officially joined, I was still receiving the newsletter and I was on the mailing list, so I’m not sure what joining technically gets me except the ability to be elected to an office which is not something I’m seriously considering at this point. I joined a committee — the advocacy committee — but had a difficult time making the meetings that were scheduled a few weeks in advance all over the state. Most meetings at VLA seem to happen in person. My speciality is, as you know, online communications and tools so a lot of what I had to offer the committee — custom RSS feeds and news filters, custom email addresses, web site updates, blog creation, “email your legislature”, setting up little websites — were all sort of outside the range of what we were considering and no one on the committee had access to the VLA website to make changes to it. I did manage to get the Library Value Calculator up on the website, but it involved a few days of work just getting that to happen and when it was announced on the list, my name wasn’t mentioned. This is a world I am getting used to.

Meredith has written a little bit about our experiences working with VLA. Unlike in a giant organization like TLA, I know most of the members of VLA either personally or by sight. It’s a tiny state. Membership is up from the high 200′s to about 400 now which is pretty exciting. I had a great time at the conference and I introduced myself personally to the incoming president who I heard had some bold new ideas for getting the word out about the importance of libraries (making the newsletter not a perk for members only, ditching the print newsletter in favor of a digital one, using email and blogs for communicating, more online communication and tools etc). What I told her, which is true, was that I’m not blessed in the tact department but if there is a computer or technological problem that needs fixing, I’m one of the more capable library people in the state to do it. The VLA conference allowed me to meet a few more people in the state who are also capable and techie and I have a slow but inexorable plan to Make Things Work Well. I’ll check back in next year and let you know how it’s gone.