Thursday, January 19, 2006

Interview: to join or not to join?

Turnabout is fair play, right? I've been answering so many interview questions, I thought I'd try asking a few. This is the first in what I hope will be an occasional series of informational interviews loosely related to my candidacy for ALA council. The little survey I did a few months ago suggests that a lot of folks out there feel disconnected from ALA. So, I thought I'd talk to someone who is very involved in libraries, but not active in library associations, and try to figure out what is going on.

Meet my pal Steve. He's a good friend, but he's also a library buddy, which means I can call him up when I'm being a big library dork and say things like, "OMG, I visited this library today, and you wouldn't BELIEVE their circ policies..." Steve knows more about libraries than just about anyone I know, and he keeps me from getting too uppity about library school.

Heidi: For your age, you've already had a remarkably long career in libraries. How long have you worked at the library?

Steve: I volunteering for the library when I was ten. I continued volunteering until I graduated [high] school, and then I got my first job as a library page in 1995. So it's been ten years of employment, but almost 19 total with the library.

H: What kind of work do you do at the library?

S: I'm a library assistant, which means I do reference work with librarians but get paid less. It's paraprofessional I guess.

H: Do you think you'll stick with the library gig, or do you have plans to move on to something else?

S: Right now I'm gonna stick with it. I have plans to finish up my BS and after part-timing school AND work for ten years, I'm ready to get more involved at work (i.e. full-time, more projects, moola, etc).

H: Any interest in getting an MLS? Why/why not?

S: At this point in time, I'm not sure. I've been in school for ten years, and just want some time away from it for a while. I might consider it after a couple years, but just don't know. Also, what I'm wanting to do at the library doesn't necessarily require an MLS, so I'd need to weigh the benefits later on if I do decide for more schooling.

H: I know you're not a member of ALA. Why not?

S: I'd ask you "Why?" I don't know what the benefit of it would be. I'm not a librarian, and even some librarians I talk to don't know what the real benefits of belonging to it are. I guess I see it as way too much money to spend on something that I wouldn't get any use out of.

H: What's your impression of ALA? Its purpose, goals, structure?

S: I guess you could say I have a negative impression of ALA. I know they're around to fight for libraries, freedom of information, etc etc, but I also know that for such a progressive organization, they can be a little...for lack of a better word...unprogressive. I read a lot of blogs. I've seen Michael Gorman stick his foot in his mouth more times than needed. It's almost embarrassing to have a leader of such a potentially great organization talk smack about technology that he clearly has no idea about. Shouldn't we be embracing change? Shouldn't ALA work towards helping backwater libraries come into the big 21? I think so. I also think ALA should be working to help educate the American public on what a fantastic idea the library is. There's something for everyone at the library, public or private. Wouldn't it be great if every single citizen realized that? Perhaps these are things that ALA is doing. Perhaps they've already done them. I guess I don't know because I'm only familiar with ALA in terms of banned books lists, and Gorman's comments. Oh, and occasionally fighting against the Bush administration.

H: Is there anything that would convince you to join ALA?

S: I really doubt it. They'd have to put on a great campaign to win my support, and I'm sure what I'd expect would cause other people to have the opposite reaction that'd I'd have. They'd also have to really lower the cost of [membership]. I already spend too much on causes that I have a greater interest in. Why put money I don't have into something that almost seems "work-related"? Perhaps if they had some way for my employer to contribute money (like the "$3 to the presidential campaign" thing on tax forms where I don't have to spend money)...

H: Even though you're not a member, as a library worker do you feel a connection to ALA? Do you feel it represents your interests?

S: Again, I feel I keep in touch with the library world, but ALA for some reason just isn't a part of what I see when I'm looking. I read Library Journal, about ten library blogs, articles concerning libraries, etc. Occasionally I see they're in court, fighting for something I believe in. Or they are working to educate some school board about why a certain book shouldn't be banned, but other than that I rarely see them. I know they exist, as I know that my library probably wouldn't be as great if ALA weren't around. But I don't see them.

H: You've been super involved with committee work at the library (staff day, training, summer reading), you've even presented at a national conference (you presented at PLA, right?). But you're not really involved with library associations. Why is that?

S: I guess you could say I've been involved in almost everything the library does. I've held varying positions in a number of locations, been involved in committees that helped shape and mold our own organization, and yes, even presented at PLA back in 2000. I enjoy a challenge, and [the library I work for] continues to encourage me. I recently joined the Virtual Reference team that provides statewide chat reference (email ref too!). It's the first statewide project that I've been a part of. I've also looked into what my options would be if I were to join a committee or team through ALA, but paraprofessional opportunities are few. Maybe in the future...


At 7:47 AM, Blogger Angel, librarian and educator said...

This sounded very interesting. That is probably one thing that ALA should be doing more of, listening, and I mean listening seriously, not just humoring, to librarians as well as the paraprofessionals. I agree with Steve that a lot of what you see about ALA is when they are fighting some court case or some banned book issue. While these are issues dear to my heart (censorship, intellectual freedom, etc.), ALA pretty much comes out more as any other PAC, which I guess is nice to an extent, and I know other organizations that do the work I have mentioned above. As for what they provide an individual librarian in the trenches like me, I find that highly questionable other than some journals (some of which I can read at work). For what I do, I am probably better off with the state organization or any other small and more specialized organization. Actually if things like the Instruction Section were a smaller separate thing, I would join that faster. As it is now, I mostly pay the ALA dues because I need to have something on the resume (you know, the whole affiliations thing). I could go on, but I won't. I am sure you can find someone more eloquent as you campaign about the disconnect issue, which other than some bloggers, I don't think ALA is paying that much attention to. Best, and keep on blogging.


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