Remember That ACRL Membership Survey – Part One

During May 2006 ACRL conducted a membership survey. A marketing firm was hired to do the survey work. ACRLog obtained a copy of the initial report that summarizes the survey results, and we can share some of the data and findings. The survey was sent to 10,032 members and 3,332 completed it (a 37% return rate). The goal of the survey was to evaluate member satisfaction, and determine what the members most value about their involvement in ACRL. Since the report is somewhat long it will be reported in multiple posts.

The questions ACRL was looking for answers to included:

  • Are members and leaders satisfied with current programming?
  • How important are advocacy, library and personal issues to members?
  • Do leaders’ perceptions differ from those of “rank and file” members?
  • Have perceptions of ACRL membership changed over the past three years?
  • Here are some of the demographic highlights from the survey:

  • The ACRL membership still lacks diversity but there is improvement. While the membership was 93% Caucasian in 1993 it is now 86% Caucasian. The next largest ethnic background is African American at 5%.
  • ACRL is still dominated by women members. In 2006 the association was 75% female and 25% male. That’s far less balanced than in 1989 when it was 60% female and 40% male.
  • We’ve been told ours is an aging profession and the numbers back that up. Of the respondents 66% are over 46. That only 15% are under 34 (and just 1% under 25) indicates we clearly need to recruit younger individuals to academic librarianship. With only 4% of respondents over 65 ACRL is not likely to see a large number of members retiring in the next year or two, but beyond that the large number over 46 will mean significant retirements over the next 20 years. Who will replace those members?
  • ACRL is mostly made up of library deans and directors and department/unit heads. These two job titles account for nearly 40% of all respondents. Most likely it’s a reflection of the aging nature of the profession as ACRL members tend to move into senior administrative positions as they age. Public service librarian accounts for 18%. How do we get more front-line practitioners and folks from technical services units to join ACRL?
  • Over the years the respondents’ type of institution has remained relatively stable. Universities lead the pack, followed by comprehensives and then four-year colleges.
  • Another relatively stable area is membership tenure. It doesn’t change much from year to year. It is worth noting that that 45% of ACRL members have belonged less than five years. ACRL may be attracting more nextgen librarians, but a clear strategy for retaining these relatively new members is needed. Forty respondents said they were not going to renew their ACRL membership. About half of those were retiring, but the other half cited “cost” as the reason for quitting ACRL.

    In the next report – more on member satisfaction and participation.

    16 thoughts on “Remember That ACRL Membership Survey – Part One”

    1. The issue of technical services representation is an interesting one, and one that reflects broader issues within ALA.

      A couple of years ago, RUSA created a new Reference Services Section (RSS), which includes a committee (and, presumably, programming) related to information literacy instruction. Immediately, people wondered, well, how does that relate to the ACRL Instruction Section or to the ALA Library Instruction Round Table? My guess would be that, as people are increasingly forced to choose which ALA divisions to belong to (as each one raises its dues), it pays for a division to be “full-service” in order to have a better chance of retaining its members when they decide which additional $20/year to pay.

      For the record, I am currently a member of ACRL, RUSA, LAMA, and AASL, but I may have to re-think that constellation of memberships once all the fee increases kick in. ACRL is tops, of course 🙂

      So, if ACRL wants to draw in a greater number of technical services people (which I certainly think it should), we have to consider ALCTS.

      It would be relatively simple to create an ACRL Technical Services Section (TSS), but what would ACRL-TSS provide that is different than what is provided by ALCTS? How could we make ACRL-TSS a desired complement to ALCTS? How could ACRL-TSS programming build on the existing ACRL strengths in order to make technical services people want to belong to both divisions?

      And, do we have a core group of technical services leaders already in ACRL who could help to build a new section, or to take the lead in developing programming within existing sections that would make ACRL a “must-have” membership for people already paying dues to ALA and other ALA divisions?

    2. That only 15% are under 34 (and just 1% under 25) indicates we clearly need to recruit younger individuals to academic librarianship.

      I strongly disagree, as a recent (and young) library school grad. Those numbers don’t indicate that we all aren’t trying to enter academic librarianship, those numbers indicate that academic libraries aren’t hiring people who don’t have any experience. Most of the recent library school graduates I know have had ridiculous times trying to find even adequate jobs, because the number of openings for young librarians is very small.

      You don’t need to recruit more younger individuals to academic librarianship, you need to provide mentoring opportunities for us to get the skills you require before you will give us professional jobs. Trust me, the library schools right now are full of young students who would love to work at college and research libraries.

    3. Deborah – I’m not sure where the point of contention is. Academic libraries are hiring younger librarians. I’ve done so myself, and I just returned from ALA where I attended the NMRT reception and met nearly a dozen young librarians who just started working in academic libraries. Of course, there were at least 10 others who wanted to work in academic libraries but haven’t found a job yet. So I don’t think it’s a case of no openings for young librarians – but not many openings period – and right now the LIS programs are turning out more librarians than there for which there are openings. I agree that the available jobs will go to those who have some experience, but young librarians who’ve held internships or have prior support staff experience will have an advantage over others who have none. Clearly better mentoring and internship programs will help – and some ACRL chapters (such as the Delaware Valley Chapter) have a mentoring program. In general, I find that the profile of academic librarianship in LIS programs is low or non-existent thus those who are interested get little support from the faculty. All this aside, the issue remains that ACRL needs to do a better job of getting young librarians – when they do get their first academic library position – involved in the Association -and perhaps that means reduced (or free) division membership the first few years. Thanks for your comment.

    4. Steven,
      If, as you say, the LIS programs are turning out more graduates than there are openings in academic libraries right now, then how do we recruit people into jobs that don’t exist?

    5. Obviously, lots of issues here:

      1) getting LIS students experience that will help them to be competitive for the jobs that are out there – through active partnerships with their host libraries (internships, practica, work experience);

      2) getting LIS students and new librarians involved and engaged with ACRL.

      UIUC GSLIS has a student chapter of ACRL ( How many other student chapters are there? How has involvement in the student chapter helped either in terms of preparing students for the job search, or in terms of recruiting them as ongoing members of ACRL?

      Steven mentioned the idea of a graduated dues structure for new librarians (say, within 3 years of graduation). That could help, but we also need to assure that these new members would have not only opportunities for mentoring, but also opportunities to actually participate in the work of their sections (something that my primary sections, EBSS and IS, have always been great at).

      Steven also mentions the chapters, and this is a key piece of the puzzle. For many people who can’t (or choose not to) attend the national conferences, ACRL is about involvement in the chapters. Could chapters work with student chapters in their regions to put together a more powerful approach to bringing people into ACRL and helping them to start (grow) their career?

    6. Marc – The jobs may not be there as the students graduate but I believe that in time most will find jobs, particularly if they are more open to relocating to areas where there are openings (e.g., in Philadelphia where we have an LIS school turning out grads there are not enough local jobs for all those who want to stay in the city and surrounding region). What we need to do early on is encourage LIS students to take an interest in academic librarianship – and as part of that process encourage them to participate in ACRL – or at least be aware of the benefits ACRL offers to its members. So when they do find that first academic library position there is a greater possibility that they will be professionally active. So we don’t need to wait until LIS students have obtained that first position. Scott makes a great point that we can do more to encourage students through regional chapter activity – e.g., mentoring programs, inviting students to attend regional meetings at no or low cost, asking students to submit articles for newsletters, etc.

    7. Or, maybe young academic librarians just aren’t joining ACRL. Like myself.

    8. Ok Young Librarian – what would make you more like to join – or what keeps you from joining? Cost? Lack of support at your library? Don’t feel that you would fit in? ACRL journals not of interest? Can you elaborate?

      Have you considered getting active on the local level first? That gives one an opportunity to get to know ACRL a bit better.

    9. The UIUC ACRL student chapter is the alpha chapter. I was the founding chair, and am very proud that my baby, ACRL@GSLIS, was born in 2004. I don’t think there are any other chapters as yet, but the current chair launched a new members round table-type group (for ACRL) at New Orleans, so perhaps that will bear fruit.

    10. What is the median age of library school students? When I went to UT-Austin in the mid ’90s, I was one of very, very few students who was under 30. Librarianship seems like a second career for many people, so I’ve always wondered if the higher median age in our profession reflects a later start date in the career.

    11. Of course one could also ask what analysis was done to see if the profile of those responding is indicative of the association as a whole. Perhaps younger librarians replied to the survey at a lower rate than others. Harkening back to the prior discussions of survey design/validity on this blog … one might wonder about the method of distributing the survey, whole membership vs. sample selection as survey group, response rate, etc.

    12. StevenB. Several reasons. Most importantly, cost and potential to get involved. I cannot afford to join all the library associations I am interested in, so I am a member of only one at this time. The one I chose is my local library association. Although there are fewer specialized opportunities relating to academic librarianship, this association allows me to network with other librarians in my area, and because it is so small I have been able to jump right in and get involved. I have attended many events (this is easy because it’s local) and I have even held more than one formal position on the board.

    13. P.S. There is no ACRL chapter in my city. Perhaps if there were, I would have considered it.

    14. I have been most interested in this conversation. And I’d like to comment on a few disparate points.

      At Wisconsin-Madison SLIS, academic and public libraries are the two largest destinations of our graduates. Most of them are finding jobs, if they can relocate (and many do), and some even if they stay in Madison, because the University Library System has both a residency program into which several of the grads go, often progressing later to full-flegded academic librarian positions, and because there has been a huge number of retirements in the last couple of years. But the students are finding that their practicum experiences are essential for their being hired.

      STudents graduate with a huge amount of debt, often. A graduated fee structure, or a deal for the first two years after graduation, or some such, would probably enlarge the membership, as would a commitment by hiring institutions to fund at least some travel to conferences, especially for people who are presenting. Once a person is bitten by the conference bug, he or she is much more likely to be willing to self-fund attendance.

      In addition, the kind of residency programs that UW-Madison and some other college and university libraries have, not only help grads get the experience they need, but also allows the institution to get some new blood every few years–and keep the folks they really want.

      If our student body is any indication, beginning librarians are getting younger. A significant number of our students come straight out of undergraduate school or after a Peace Corps stint or a short hiatus of some kind. We still have the career changers, but the average age is falling.

      We take academic librarianship very seriously and attribute much of our students’ success in finding jobs to the help that our campus librarian colleagues have given us in educating our students through jobs, practicums and independent study supervsion.

      Louise Robbins, Director, SLIS

    15. As someone who has been involved in several recent search committees and who also mentors several new librarians, I’ve found this discussion interesting.

      There are some GREAT new librarians out there—but there are also quite a few folks who’s applications practically scream: DON’T HIRE ME! At a minimum, folks don’t follow directions: if a position asks for references, send references that can actually be contacted; if it ask for a curriculum vitae and you send a short resume instead, you will be at a disadvantage.

      If you have no library experience whatsoever, I think it’s a legitimate question to ask why you think librarianship is a good career choice. And yet, you wouldn’t believe the number of candidates who are thrown by this question. Other candidates do no research on our institution and ask basic questions that could have been answered if they had bothered to look at our web page.

      One thing I do look at is involvement as a student in library organizations or national organizations such as ACRL. Maybe you haven’t worked in a library but you’ve put together a poster session exploring an issue that we’re also trying to deal with. At the very least, belonging to an organization, being familiar with the issues being discussed by its members and being able to convey this information to a search committee can go a long way to showing your commitment to the field.

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