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.