Focusing On Members’ Perceptions Of ACRL

Academic librarians have no lack of suggestions for ways in which ACRL could improve, and ACRL wants to hear what its members have to say. To facilitate the process of learning from its members, ACRL occasionally organizes member focus groups. The latest round of focus groups was held in Baltimore at the ACRL 13th National Conference. Among the goals was an effort to determine the needs and perceptions of new and seasoned members. Four different focus groups were held: (1) experienced members; (2) scholarship winners; (3) Academic Library Trends and Statistics survey users and; (4) new members. In all 32 members participated in these focus groups. In this post I’ll summarize some of the key themes that emerged from the various groups. This comes from a 36 page report on the focus group meetings.

Continuing professional development is highly valued by ACRL members. Members want more offerings between national conferences, particulary education that helps to eliminate the gap between was is learned in library school and what the workplace requires. There is a desire for more virtual programming. I was surprised that participants indicated they didn’t know ACRL offered a virtual component to the national conference. I would say that the virtual conference was well publicized. Some participants suggested that ACRL should develop a credentialing program for members.

In the area of communication with members, focus group participants said that “ACRL needs to push the envelope.” They suggested more forums for the Association’s thought leaders. The perennial problem of the difficulty in getting published in ACRL publications or presenting at the national conference came up in the focus groups. There is a perception that ACRL is a “closed society” and that the same people are selected to participate. This “insider group” is difficult to penetrate. ACRL needs to better communicate that the participation process is open and democratic.

Back at their campuses the participants claimed they were treated with a lack of respect, viewed more as having a support role than being peers. Some suggested ACRL should spend less attention on public policy and put more effort into helping the profession get more recognition in higher education institutions. New library school graduates claimed their ideas and creativity are stifled by senior-level administration. The focus groups showed a distinct generation gap. At one end of the spectrum young librarians long for the retirement of the older generation. But at the other end middle and upper level librarians felt neglected by ACRL, to some extent, while new librarians are getting much more attention.

A review of the comments made in the focus groups indicates that members from across the association have positive feelings about ACRL membership, but clearly there are many areas where members express needs for association support. To summarize, everyone wants more from ACRL – but please don’t raise the dues, do offer free or low-cost professional development and help us get more respect from faculty. Looks like ACRL will have to wave its magic wand and give everyone the association they want. Seriously though, it may be that ACRL can improve member perceptions with more effective communications. Not only do members need to have the latest information on association programs and publications (apparently not many focus group attendees knew of ACRLog – this has to be dealt with immediately), but they need to know that ACRL is a democratic organization when it comes to professional opportunities. If there is a segment of the association, of any size, that believes participation in committees or publication/presentation opportunities are based on some sort of invisible political network where insiders are favored, that perception needs to be addressed by ACRL.

While its uncertain what changes within ACRL will result from these focus groups, it is good to know that ACRL is making the effort to learn and understand what members from different segments of the academic library community are thinking about. The more that is known about member concerns, the better a job ACRL can to do improve the association. Let me know if you’d like to hear more from the focus group report.

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