Where Do I Belong?

10 Jun

[A colleague recently posed the question on a professional listserv as to what kind and/or which professional organization best fits an academic, health, and special library librarian – something that many health sciences librarians feel that they are, i.e. a mix of a librarian that doesn’t solely fit within the Medical Library Association (MLA), the American Library Association (ALA), or the Special Libraries Association (SLA). It’s a GREAT question and I wanted to share my reply both to the list and on my blog, as I feel the value of professional organizations, in general, is really up for grabs. I hope this will spark some discussion.]


Do I belong to you?
One of the best children’s book’s ever!

Your question is a really good one AND one that I know is being asked at national, regional and state-level organizations across the board. What is the relevance of these groups. Annual memberships, meeting costs, and service time add up quickly, and in this day and age when both time and money are in short supply, the return on one’s investment really needs to be clear.

I very recently joined SLA. I made this decision for several reasons:

    • My fairly new role as an informationist and embedded librarian requires many skills and covers many topics that I noticed SLA programming and resources (both regionally and nationally) support more than MLA, e.g. entrepreneurship, knowledge management, and embedded librarianship itself.
    •  I feel that my work is progressive in nature, meaning that I’m doing some things as a librarian that haven’t always been viewed as a librarian’s role. Quite frankly, I find MLA as a whole (please read this as a general statement and in no way a reflection upon any individual member and/or group within the organization) to be something less than progressive. We tend to put energies towards fighting a lot of battles that we have likely already lost. This is NOT to say that preserving our past and/or current roles is irrelevant, but I do feel that we often fight to keep things a certain way when we’d do better to fight for change. Again, this is simply my opinion and what played into my joining SLA.
    • I appreciated the fact that membership in the national organization of SLA automatically included membership in the regional and local chapters. To me, this is a critical piece that MLA has missed for awhile. We really need strong local associations in order for the national one to mean much. To paraphrase our former Speaker of the House, “all professional development is local.” We support one another a lot easier in our states and regions than we do at the national level. I have many, many wonderful friends in MLA who I LOVE seeing each year at the annual meeting, but when it comes to the day-to-day of my job, I get the most from colleagues nearby. I have felt for a number of years now that MLA could do a much better job demonstrating that it appreciates the value of the regional chapters.
    • And finally, along with the reason cited above (one cost for both regional and national membership), the fact that membership dues in SLA are based upon a sliding scale, i.e. based upon salary, is a fantastic idea. This didn’t make my membership much cheaper (maybe not cheaper than MLA at all, I can’t remember at the moment), but it demonstrated an effort and awareness on behalf of the organization that while no librarian ever makes a million bucks, there is a bit of difference across the board and those who don’t get paid much, in no way deserve to be left out of professional groups. While my institution has never paid any of my professional association dues, I know that some who experienced this benefit in the past are quickly finding it disappearing. Helping people belong is a good thing.

For now, I’ll remain a member of both MLA and SLA. I’ve not yet experienced enough of SLA to grade it long-term and I do value the relationships I’ve made in MLA, along with most of the annual meeting programming, to stay a member. Hopefully, I’ll be able to afford both for awhile, but I think that you raise a really good – and REALLY important – issue for all groups to grapple with today.

5 Responses to “Where Do I Belong?”

  1. Brandy King June 14, 2013 at 1:18 pm #

    And we are SO glad to have you as a member! Save up your pennies — 2014 conference is in Vancouver in June!

    • Tweed Librarian June 18, 2013 at 9:38 pm #

      Welcome to SLA!! We’re a very friendly bunch.

      I’m also a member of two associations – SLA and AALL – the law librarians association. I get more out of my local SLA chapter than the local AALL chapter, which is 175 miles away. There just isn’t that local support.

      For me, another reason I like SLA so much is that I get to hear and see what librarians are doing in so many different fields. I think getting the broad picture is really important personally, and as a law librarian, professionally.

      • salgore June 19, 2013 at 11:22 am #

        Thanks so much, “Tweed”! Though it’s still quite early in the game, I’ve already received a lot from SLA, simply from the materials available online to read and peruse. There’s so much relevant stuff for me there. I appreciate it all. Thanks also for adding to the conversation about professional organizations. It’s an important one.

    • Hal Kirkwood June 19, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

      I’d like to chime in and say Welcome to SLA! I found your posting to be particularly appropos as association membership in general..and SLA in particular..is struggling to keep members and to grow. Social media has made a significant impact on the easy and free ability to network; something that associations and conferences used to be the sole source for.

      I’m actually a Director at Large on the SLA Baord of Directors heading a task force to re-envision the SLA annual conference…and unavoidably perhaps..move SLA forward as a whole. Your bullet points above connect exactly with issues of image, brand, and purpose that we are trying to build upon.

      If you ever have any specific thoughts or questions about SLA..do not hesitate to contact me. And to reiterate..we’re very glad to have you as a new member. 🙂

  2. librarysherpa July 24, 2014 at 1:43 pm #

    I wish I saw this post sooner. So, about a year later, (belated) WELCOME to SLA and THANK YOU for your membership! I hope you are still enjoying being a member. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about the association. I’m the Chair of the 2015 Annual Conference Advisory Council, among other duties.

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