I am indeed a member of a professional organization. The Special Libraries Association is an international organization that has chapters all around the world. Being a member of a professional group definitely has its benefits, like networking, classes, and career opportunities. However, professional groups are a great example of how the information profession is in flux right now. Recently, at least in the US, it seems that groups are struggling with membership numbers, innovation in what the groups offer to members, and engaging with membership in general.
Gaining new members can be difficult, especially since the recession most likely made people consider where they were spending their money. Groups are starting to make changes in membership pricing structures, and more groups should be doing the same. For example, CILIP very recently changed their membership structure and allows members to pay per month. SLA last changed their membership fees in 2016, increasing membership fees almost across the board. It was the first fee raise in six years, but quite a substantial one for some groups. Hopefully, the next time SLA assesses it’s membership fees, it will continue to consider different and more varied fee structures.
Adapting to changes in the profession is a major reason why professional organizations struggle. SLA has made recent changes in its offerings, which has made a difference, but I believe that communication and innovation can be worked on. For example, annual conferences, while traditional for professional organization, need updating. SLA has been improving its conference sessions, keynotes, and activities, which is encouraging. I’m very excited that this year’s opening conference speaker is Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden.
Finally, professional organizations can suffer from an out-of-date image. Not all people that work in libraries are librarians, and not all librarians work in traditional libraries. Organizations should actively promote a more modern image. Organizations’ headquarters should promote what their members are doing, and make them feel valued, all year round, not just at annual conferences. Connecting and engaging with members on social media, mentoring younger members, and communicating that you value what your members are doing, makes their voices feel heard. Members value organizations that value their members.
Professional organizations are playing catch-up, but the results of their changes are starting to show. I believe that professional groups are valuable, because they encourage members to create networks, facilitate continuous learning to move the profession forward into the future, and are a vital way to help the profession continue to be vocal about the issues that impact information professionals around the world.
Update: In light of the recent controversy over a certain member of Congress being given the Madison award, an award that some members of ALA do not believe he deserves ( see the comments at the end if the article), I wanted to expand on a thought some have expressed about library associations. Although I am not a member of ALA, I have felt that SLA suffers from the same problem sometimes. ALA is the American Library Association and SLA is the Special Libraries Association, not the Special Librarian Association. There’s also the Medical Library Association, Association of Research Libraries, and many others. The one aspect they all have in common? They’re all library associations, not librarian or information professional associations. Many of them state in their missions that they support both libraries and librarians, but is it time for a name change? SLA members don’t always work in libraries or have the job title “librarian,” so shouldn’t the name of the organization reflect it’s members? Even changing the name of SLA to the “Special Libraians Association” might be more appropriate.
Note: This blog post is one in a series of posts reflecting on my experience with Rudai23.