Notes From The Campaign Trail – Part Two

Editor’s Note: Here is the second post in a series from Scott Walter, ex-ACRLog blog team member, in which he shares his learning experiences as a candidate for ACRL office.

Access to high-quality continuing professional education has come through in every study of the Association as a key member benefit, and it is something that ACRL does very well.

Turns out, there’s a problem. It costs a lot.

At meeting after meeting, this is what I heard: I love ACRL continuing education programs, the content is excellent, the speakers are expert, but, golly, I only have so much money for professional development, and couldn’t there be some way to help me out? And, gee, I already pay a lot of money to be a member of ALA/ACRL, and I have to pay for conference registration, and it’s hard to pay more to take advantage of these great opportunities. Professional development is important to me, and I want to know what I’m getting for my dues.

When our members value professional development and recognize the quality of our programming, but feel like they can’t take full advantage of their member status owing to ever-increasing costs, that’s a problem. I knew it was a problem (I pay for these things, too!), but, until I spent some time on the campaign trail, I didn’t realize how deeply it was coloring perceptions of the value of ACRL membership. I had a number of ideas about how to address this, but here’s the one I liked the best: members get one free.

One of our ACRL colleagues, Meredith Farkas, is the brilliant ghost in the machine that is Five Weeks to a Social Library: The First Free, Grassroots, Completely Online Course Devoted to Teaching Librarians About Social Software . What if ACRL coordinated the development of one professional development program each year as a member benefit? Think of it – information literacy, scholarly communications, higher education administration, library renovations, designing learning spaces – one topic, designed and delivered by the experts among us, informed by Meredith’s model, and free to ACRL members.

We could do this. We should do this. Because professional development is one of the most important benefits of ACRL membership, and one of the things that we do better than anyone else, and every member should have a chance to sample that.

And, if they learn as much from that free (with membership) sample of our work as I know they will, they’ll feel better about the dues they’re paying, and, heck, they might come back to the table for more.

18 thoughts on “Notes From The Campaign Trail – Part Two”

  1. Scott–did you get an understanding of what the costs are and how ACRL sets the prices for workshops?

    Your drug-pusher solution–one for free and get’em hooked–doesn’t get at the root causes. What if ACRL concentrated on facilitating members sharing their knowledge with each other and empowering them to do things like Meredith Farkas is doing?

  2. My wonderful institution has frozen professional development and travel money except, of course, for the high and the mighty…So, I don’t mind the drug pusher model. However, I gush over the Steve Bell Model — I don’t know who pays for the Learning Times access. Nor do I know how he gets the presenters he does. I do know the price is right, the content is tremendous and the convenience is worth its weight in platinum. The good folks running the TCC virtual conference out of Hawaii also do a great job (informative, globalized and downright fun) and at a nominal cost. I look at ACRL pricing and I blanche — rural community colleges serving poverty areas — those of us who need it the most — cannot afford it.

  3. Marc – I didn’t ask ACRL for a breakdown of costs, although we know they include overhead costs at F2F venues, staffing costs for F2F and digital venues, etc. In the times I’ve presented ACRL pre-conference programs, I’ve never received a breakdown (although I have seen the difference that including a coffee break or a lunch for a program presented at conference can make).

    As to your other suggestion, I’m going to ignore the unfortunate analogy you chose and simply suggest that the one issue (ACRL should look at new ways of providing access to its high quality professional development opportunities as a member benefit, while still acknowledging that these programs represent an important revenue stream for the Association) isn’t tightly bound to the other (ACRL should facilitate the sharing of expertise among its members). I’d say that both issues are important.

    I actually think ACRL (at the chapter and national levels) does a good job at helping to create the networks of expertise and knowledge sharing that is a key benefit to membership. If you think more can be done, or think it can be done in a different way, suggest a concrete approach and let’s see where it goes.

  4. Scott – If the programs “represent an important revenue stream” for the Association then that’s going to be in tension with encouraging members sharing their expertise for free.

    The problem is many members can’t afford the programs or perceive the programs as too expensive. Your proposed solution doesn’t do anything about lowering the costs of the programs.

    How about making the ACRL Online Community that came out of ACRL Baltimore a permanent feature of membership?

  5. Marc – Does the reality that professional development programming represents an important revenue stream for ACRL mean that there is no way to encourage people to share freely? Is there no middle ground in your view? To me, that’s a little too harsh an “either/or” that you’re setting up.

    You’re correct, though, that my idea does not solve all the problems associated with this issue. My apologies if I suggested that it did. I have no “magic bullet.” All I suggested is that it would be one way to make things better. And, where I sit, a little better is still, well, a little better.

    I’ll leave others to pursue this thread further.

  6. That the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community can deliver valuable one-hour webcasts 6 or 7 times an academic year is owing entirely to the generosity of the Learning Times Network and those who volunteer their time to share their ideas and research. That we can offer these sessions to our colleagues at no cost is something we value, but I don’t expect that ACRL can replicate this model. It perhaps demonstrates that there are a number of ways grassroots organization may be able to deliver free programming to the library community. As I wrote in a previous post I think there may be some value in charging a fee for training in that it creates a commitment by the participant; fewer no-shows and more involved people. But the issue is how do we subsidize for academic librarians who would like to attend but face financial challenges.

  7. This appears to be largely an association-forward discussion. Five Weeks was special because it was a librarian-to-the-forefront approach, where the emphasis was on improving the skills of the attendees.

    I have enough time in ALA governance to know that the engine of ALA (including all the divisional pistons) relies on several fuel streams: conferences, CE, and publishing. (Dues about cover themselves.) ALA balkanized publishing to the point where it is almost flatlined; that leaves conferences and publishing for generating real bucks. This has lead to a solipsistic cycle where revenue streams become the justification for the organization, rather than vice versa.

    The problem here is huge, and will get larger. The association looks fine now, with membership up, etc., but the librarians coming of age in the profession will likely look askance at an association designed around management models and work products from a previous century.

    (Note that though Meredith’s participation was essential, this was a group effort with other leaders playing crucial roles: see )

  8. Thanks, K.G. for the shout out to the rest of us.

    As an organizer of Five Weeks, we did it to prove to our associations and organizations that with a little effort, eLearning does not HAVE to cost a lot of money and can be offered for FREE.

    ALA is too focused on money and that includes all of its divisions, committees, roundtables, and IGs. I think we should look at some of the overhead cost of ALA (all that administrata) and cut costs there. I mean do we really need a separate office for Library Advocacy? Isn’t that what ALA is supposed to be doing as a whole?

  9. Apologies to K.G. and Michelle – I certainly didn’t mean to leave you and the others out (I know, I may not have meant to, but I did; my bad)! Few things are a one-person show, and I shouldn’t have suggested otherwise.

    Our point is the same, though, I think: e-learning doesn’t have to be expensive, and we have people who can design and deliver a quality product for little cost (albeit with lots of “sweat equity”). Coordinating that sort of project and making it a member benefit still strikes me as a concrete step ACRL could take toward demonstrating the value of membership as well as recognition of the fiscal pressures many of us are struggling to squeeze professional development into.

    It’s not the only answer, and sponsored programs like this will live alongside the burgeoning network of programs like the Blended Librarian Webcasts and grass-roots efforts like yours, but it’s a start.

    Please find me at an upcoming ALA meeting and swat me one for not acknowledging you in the original post.

    Offer of free swats (of reasonable force) extended only to “5 Weeks” designers, presenters, and administrators who I forgot to name 🙂

  10. Well, I rarely swat at people and I was not offended.

    I am glad that ACRL is talking about this. Simply having the conversation is a step in the right direction.

  11. I wasn’t involved in Five Weeks; all I did was nod approvingly from the sidelines (though I was supervising someone who with my approval used staff time for teaching a Five Weeks course). I just wanted to point out how much of a group effort it was, because that in itself is significant.

    Five Weeks did take a lot of sweat equity, and as a year-round venture the same small group would burn out. But its point was significant. Most of ALA “work” is comprised of face-to-face meetings to accomplish tasks that could have been dispensed with in a few online exchanges (in a strange sort of emulation of quite a bit of library “work”). I suppose some could argue that meetings are the final work product of a professional association, but that is a depressing thought.

    Your point about orienting ACRL activities toward member-contributed education is a good one. What if that were ACRL’s core work product? LITA did that very well for a while, with its regional institutes. (Gosh, what if LITA and ACRL teamed up to offer online instruction in cross-divisional topics? What if we didn’t do CE by division but made it a central activity of the association?) But note, that would also mean a paradigm shift for ACRL’s CE, which is now viewed as a revenue stream for supporting ACRL’s existence, versus a member benefit for improving the education of academic librarians.

    I’m not sure I agree with Michelle that we don’t need an office for advocacy;in fact, I see that as core ALA activity, just as I see the Washington office in that role. But we can discuss that elsewhere…

  12. Michelle – it’s worth noting that ACRL, per se, is not talking about this; we are talking about this. My hope is that, if we could identify people who would put in the “equity”, maybe ACRL would start talking about it.

    K.G. – I had a whole other post in my head about the value of the regional institute model (even if it might have to be modified), albeit in service to another concern I have, i.e., the divide between ACRL National and ACRL Chapters (which are, I believe, the true nexus of Association activity for many members). Your points, though, are good, esp. on the third issue, i.e., inter-divisional collaboration on topics of mutual interest. One of the motive forces behind the Taiga Forum over the past year has been to facilitate inter-divisional communication and collaboration among a small group of library administrators, but the obvious possibilities for interdivisional programming overlapping interests between ACRL and ALCTS, ACRL and LITA, ACRL and LAMA, etc., are myriad!

  13. Scott,

    Thanks for raising these issues (again?) The ACRL Professional Development Coordinating Committee will discuss these issues and hopefully make some recommendations as to how we can proceed as an organization. There have been some efforts in this regard already (CLS, for example, had a free virtual conference), but we will discuss how we can expand this model association-wide.

    Chair, ACRL PDCC

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