ACRL Update: Change Ahead

Before getting to the core of this column, how about a round of applause for the newest winners of ACRL’s top awards, Academic/Research Librarian of the Year and the Excellence in Academic Libraries Award. They are:

2011 Association of College and Research Libraries’ (ACRL) Academic/Research Librarian of the Year
Janice Welburn, dean of university libraries at Marquette University

2011 Excellence in Academic Libraries Award
Luria Library at Santa Barbara City College, Santa Barbara, Ca.
Grinnell College Libraries, Grinnell, Iowa
Z. Smith Reynolds Library at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C.

ACRLog congratulates all the winners on their amazing accomplishments.

When ACRL isn’t doling out awards, it’s busy trying to advance the association into the future. At ALA Midwinter I heard more about these initiatives, and now is the time for members to share their thoughts about two important developments. First is the new version of ACRL’s strategic plan, the Plan for Excellence. This plan is currently in draft format and input is being sought from the academic library community. The first thing you’ll notice about the Plan for Excellence is that it’s far shorter than its predecessor. Whereas the old plan had quite a few goals and multiple objectives – and went on for several pages – the new plan is streamlined. It consists of only three goals, and each goal has but four objectives. This is a welcome change, and our colleagues who developed the plan should be applauded for coming up with a document that will likely be more practical and realistic to implement.

I’m not going to rehash the goals and objectives here; you can link to the ACRL Plan for Excellence and look it over. In brief, the three goals are (1) Value of Academic Libraries (2) Student Learning and (3) Research and Scholarly Environment. I don’t think any ACRL member would argue with the importance of these goal areas. The related objectives leave plenty of room for innovative project development. Where I am somewhat disappointed is with dropping membership growth as an ACRL goal. What I heard is that membership and some other prior goals were dropped because they are now perceived as the routine work of ACRL, and are no longer considered truly strategic in nature – and that ACRL needs to have a manageable set of goals and objectives that are within the scope of what we can actually accomplish with our limited (and potentially decreasing) resources.

I agree that the association needs to be careful about how much it takes on, but you only need to take a look at pg. 633 in the December 2010 issue of College & Research Libraries News where you’ll see a chart in the ACRL Annual Report that shows the percent change in membership from 2009 to 2010. There are many more minus signs then I’d like to see. It’s true that total membership is only down a few hundred members but this is a trend we can’t afford to ignore by eliminating its strategic value. Retaining existing members and recruiting new ones is the lifeblood and future of ACRL. When you bring into this picture the reality that many newer-to-the-profession academic librarians can build their own professional support system through social networks or seek newer alternatives such as SLA’s new and growing Academic Libraries Division, it seems to me that we do need a strategic approach to growing ACRL’s membership. My suggestion is to add a new fourth goal called “Organizational Sustainability” with the following four objectives:

* increase the membership by 5% by 2014
* study association needs of academic librarians with fewer than five
years in the profession and identify strategies for developing next
generation leaders
* identify strategies to make association membership and conference
attendance more affordable for new members
* continue to build opportunities for virtual membership

By adding this fourth goal ACRL keeps the retention and recruitment of members firmly in its vision as a vital issue that does require a well thought out strategy.

And speaking of membership, the other big change being advanced by ACRL is a Bylaws revision that would change how a dues increase would occur. Currently, the timing and amount of a dues increase is somewhat arbitrary. Dues only change, typically upward, when the ACRL Board decides that it needs to and by what amount. Then the full membership must vote on that increase. The whole process is time consuming, and the increases are usually approved. As a result, the ACRL Board has only moved to increase dues, because of its unpopularity, sporadically and it results in less frequent but larger increases. For example, the last dues increase was in 2005. Dues went from $35 to $55 for a 57% increase which is pretty substantial. The new proposal seeks to eliminate this from happening again – and after five years we might be due for an increase – by shifting to having the Board consider a dues increase annually. The increase would be tied to the HEPI meaning that the Board could only increase dues by the percent amount increase in the HEPI. Over the last 20 years if ACRL dues had been tied to the HEPI the maximum annual increase would be $3 (and less in 2009 and 2010). That doesn’t mean the Board would increase dues annually. The revision would just give it the power to do so without a vote by the membership. A vote would be required only if the amount of the increase needed exceeded the HEPI. According to my calculations, between 2002 and 2008 the HEPI averaged 4%. The obvious advantage to the revision is that it will allow the Board much greater flexibility in increasing dues as needed so that we avoid these huge bumps every 5-7 years.

While I support this revision to the bylaws, my opinion is that we need to look at restructuring the dues all together. Right now we all pay the same, and this is true with ALA dues as well. This puzzles me because it would seem to make more sense to connect dues to salaries. This is the method used by most state library associations. Why am I paying, after 30+ years in the field, the same amount as the new academic librarian who is making far less than I am, and is no doubt loaded with student debt? For me, dues and membership are intertwined. If dues are keeping new-to-the-profession librarians from joining ALA and in turn ACRL, that ultimately weakens the organization and is threat to its future sustainability. There was a similar conversation recently concerning ALA conference attendance, and I made the point that I’d be willing to pay more so that attendance would be more affordable for our newer colleagues, especially those lacking employer support. By no means is this a simple issue, and I don’t doubt that even considering it would cause some organizational turmoil. It’s complicated by the fact that ACRL dues are connected to your ALA dues payment. But even a modest step in this direction would make a statement, and perhaps encourage current non-members to consider joining. Would a change in this direction be more likely to encourage you to join ACRL – or do you support the current dues structure?

Whatever direction the change in ACRL takes us, I hope that more of you ACRL readers will consider being a part of that change (if you are not already positioned to do so), by becoming an ACRL member and helping to guide the association into the future.

5 thoughts on “ACRL Update: Change Ahead

  1. Dues connected to salary sounds like a good idea. But here’s my real question: I’m a member of ACRL, and glad to be one, despite the crunch on my pocketbook. I know ACRL is part of ALA, which is why we have to join both. But I’d love to see someone take a hard look at *why* we have to be join both. I’ve asked, and got essentially “because that’s how it’s done”. To me ALA is more focused on public libraries – I don’t think I get anything at all out of that membership. However, I get oodles of great benefits from ACRL. Heck, I’d be in favor of raising the ACRL dues if it meant we also didn’t have to pay the ALA dues.

    Then again, being fairly new to the profession, I may simply not understand the reasoning.

  2. I will echo SusannaS’s comment. Yes to dues connected to salary, and yes to the ACRL-ALA link problem. I would be happy to pay $100 or even $150 to ACRL directly, instead of paying about $200 to join ALA and ACRL.

    Additionally, I have trouble with the fact that other academic associations (Anthropology, Sociology, etc.) cost less to join than ALA, when they, on average, make more than librarians.
    see:
    http://www.aaanet.org/membership/membershipcategories.cfm
    http://www.asanet.org/members/cost.cfm

    Their conferences are also less expensive generally — not to mention, they tend to only have one big conference a year (and then some regional/area-focused ones), unlike our 2-3 big conferences a year.
    see:
    http://www.asanet.org/AM2011/2011_expense_estimate.cfm
    http://www.aaanet.org/meetings/Registration-Fees.cfm

    Note all of their fees (membership and conference registration) are tiered for students, unemployed members, by salary, etc.

  3. I agree with SusannaS and Miriam. Yes to linking dues with salary. I don’t attend ALA – I consider ACRL my principal organization. I’d pay higher ACRL dues if I didn’t have to pay ALA dues as well.
    Could the structure be turned around, with higher dues for the ACRL level groups and less for ALA? What support and money does ALA provide for ACRL, exactly?

  4. I agree 100% with the previous 3 comments…I gain absolutely nothing from my membership in ALA, but my membership in ACRL is invaluable. I would be willing to pay more to join ACRL, if I didn’t have to get an ALA membership. I would also join other divisions that would probably be more useful to me, such as RUSA and LLAMA, if I didn’t have to fork out so much for my ALA membership.

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