New Members For The Digital Age

While some ACRLog didn’t exactly disagree with my thoughts about how to make ALA and ACRL better organizations, they made an important point that I missed in my assessment of how to get things done. My point was that our associations improve when, as members, we get off our duffs, get involved, and take the initiative to get things done – instead of waiting for association staff or leaders to let us know what we should do. While member-directed action is great stuff, the problem as others brought to my attention is that my solutions depended on the traditional committee structure. That strategy, said others, doesn’t accommodate many individuals who would like to be involved, but for whom committee membership, travel to meetings, and costly (for them) dues are barriers.

My first reaction was, well it’s great to want to involve those folks, but seriously, how is a big national organization going to get anything done if we don’t organize ourselves into smaller groups that are activated and authorized (and occasionally funded) to get the frontline work done – and to occasionally meet F2F in doing so. Others pointed out that there are librarians who are organizing to create working groups that can get things done outside of ALA, and are exploiting Web 2.0 technology to do so in ways that ALA and ACRL haven’t yet explored. I can certainly relate to that. So I recently had a thought about a new ALA/ACRL membership category that may be a better fit for a digital age.

I propose that ALA (and its divisions) develop a new member category that we can call “virtual member”. This is a new paying category of member, not just a term applied to a current personal member who chooses to join an existing committee as a “virutal member.” Let’s allow those who want to be loosely affiliated with ALA to do so in a way that allows them to participate, but not commit financially or physically at the level of a full member. First, virtual members pay less dues. Maybe they pay half of what a full member pays. A virtual member gets only e-access to publications; no print. That keeps publication costs down. Virtual members will typically opt out of conference attendance, but if they decide they do want to attend, they pay a premium above what full members attend. Not a lot, but enough to create some fairness to full members who are paying more dues each year. On the other hand, virtual members should get a low-cost registration rate for any virtual programming, such as ACRL’s occasional virtual conferences. That should encourage more virtual members to not only attend, but perhaps get involved in the organization of these programs.

What about participation in association committees? Some ALA and ACRL committees are already virtual-meeting friendly. I suggest we get more committees committing to virtual meetings, but more importantly, ALA should create a policy that allows or requires each official committee to appoint one or two virtual members. Those members can participate in any way possible outside of attending F2F meetings at annual or midwinter. With our communication and web meeting technologies being what they are, the time is ripe to get virtual members more fully involved in committee activity.

I honestly don’t know if the idea of a virtual member makes any sense. Would anyone want to be a virtual member? According to some readers the answer is yes. There are disenfranchised librarians out there, many of them relatively new to the profession, who feel alienated from ALA and ACRL because of these organizations’ size, bureaucracy, and the residue of the Gorman years. The time may be right to offer a form of membership for the digital (call it membership 2.0 if you like) age. And while we’re at it we’ll need leaders for this digital age who can figure out what makes sense for the future of our professional associations. Perhaps some of them will come from the ranks of virtual members.

9 thoughts on “New Members For The Digital Age”

  1. That’s certainly the kind of membership I’d be interested in. I found the print copies of ALA journals more annoyance than useful and would be much more apt to participate if I didn’t have to spend travel money on going to ALA meetings.

  2. I would certainly be interested in this. I pay dues for the local chapter, which is ACRL-NEC, but have not joined the national group because of its cost and because I know I am not likely to attend events held at a great distance from where I live. I would be happy to receive publications in electronic format only, and be able to participate in virtual events.

  3. I will agree with the rest of the respondents and say that such an option would be a great way to increase the geographical diversity in *active* membership, indeed.

  4. Why would anyone want to be anything but a virtual member?

    I’m all for using technology to meet more cheaply, more often. We can get lots of work done without having twice-annual face-to-face meetings in expensive conference venues. But would the organization be able to get by on lower dues? If the only cost savings is not sending paper versions of publications I don’t think half-price membership options will work.

    I don’t go to many ALA conferences but I do value the work of the Washington Office and other units of the association that do what I can’t do in my spare time.

  5. ALA sort of already has this: International Member. I am a member in this category, and I assume it is cheaper because they don’t expect you to attend conferences, join committees etc.

    However, I have joined two committees which operate virtually, that I’ve found to be really rewarding so far.

    However, I wouldn’t give up print pubs for anything, as I don’t get C&RL and American Libraries in print at my library.

  6. It is in part because “there are librarians who are organizing to create working groups that can get things done outside of ALA, and are exploiting Web 2.0 technology to do so in ways that ALA and ACRL haven’t yet explored,” that ALA needs to find new ways to do business. ALA, its divisions, its round tables can benefit greatly from the creativity, commitment, and energy of such librarians.
    We need to find an articulation means between these self-directed grass roots efforts and the formal structure through which, at least at present, things get done (or not!) in ALA. I have a few ideas about how we might do that. My main idea is that we have faith in the creativity, commitment, and energy of our fellow librarians to come up with ideas we can try until we get that articulation right
    The advantage of ALA membership to entrepreneurial innovators would be that worthy projects, ideas, etc., they develop outside the formal structure of committees and such would come to enjoy the amplifying power of ACRL, ALA, RUSA, LAMA, etc.
    Given the hybrid ways in which groups work today, drawing on telecommunications and technologies and f2f interaction, the idea of a “virtual member” is losing its distinction from the idea of a “member” plain and simple.

  7. It would be great if ALA/ACRL did what was suggested. Annual and midwinter meetings are difficult to attend and it would be great to see technology used to unleash the value of those meetings to a wider audience.

  8. As an ACRL Section committee chair I have more than one member who wants to participate in the committee’s work but can’t attend all conferences. While conference registrations are a part of the cost, airfare, hotels, and food are also necessary expenses. As a committee chair I would love to have “virtual” members who want to participate and be active rather than only those whose institutions or personal situations allow them to travel to conference.

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