Associations with associations

I just read on the ALA Inside Scoop blog that ALA’s membership numbers are dropping because of the recession. (Yup, this was posted 3 weeks ago — I have a lot of blogs to read, people!) :)

With ALA Publishing Department revenue already in decline, membership dues revenue at $4.3 million is under budget by $127,000 or 2.8%. The number of new and renewing members has declined from 67,827 to 65,437, or -3.52%.

On the plus side, ALA continues to see growth in student membership; May numbers were up by 2.3%. Year-to-date statistics show a flat renewal rate overall for personal members and new membership enrolments are down 6.33%. The YTD statistics also show movement from regular and other classes of membership to the “continuous member” category, which is up 8.7% and no doubt reflects the retirement trend within the profession.

Of ALA’s 11 divisions, only the Young Adult Library Services division has seen growth of 1.04% over FY2008. Not surprisingly, the Public Library Association has born the severest drop at (12.67%), followed by the Reference and User Services Association (8.24%), the Library and Information Technology Association (8.18%), the Library Leadership and Management Association (7.25%), the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (6.05%), and the American Association of School Librarians (5.17%).

YALSA makes sense to me, since they seem to be the rockingest division of all. I’m trying to wrap my head around this decrease in numbers, though, in conjunction with reports of the very strong conference attendance in Chicago. And am wondering if the decrease in memberships is a temporary fluke or signs of an ongoing trend. Are people going to re-up when the economic situation gets better, or will they find that they don’t miss the membership?

Then I went a-reading further and saw Nicole Engard over on What I Learned Today posting about library association memberships. Her reason for not joining more associations?

I was recently asked to participate in an interest group for an association. I said, ‘heck yeah, but I’m not a member do I have to be?’ Apparently I can participate for a period of time without being a member – but why not join the association?? It’s simple. I do a lot of speaking and I have only one rule when it comes to speaking – I will not pay to speak for an association (local libraries – sure – but big associations – fat chance). I will accept a reimbursement of my expenses (without honorarium) in most cases, but I will not pay out of pocket to speak for an association when I can educate librarians at no cost to me via several other venues.

Today I filled out forms to speak at 3 conferences. Two of them require that members speak without any compensation and I just can’t live with that – so I don’t join. I spoke at a state conference last year and had to fight to get my mileage reimbursed because they insisted that association members and librarians who work in the state don’t get paid to speak. Why?

I want to belong to more associations, I want to help the library profession and share my knowledge, but I do not want to – and will not – go bankrupt doing so.

This has always been a mystery to me, and is one reason why I let my own state association membership drop lo these many years ago.

Anyway. Sorry for the post-o-quotes, but I’ve been up with some (hopefully 24-hour) flu since 3AM and am too fuzzy to think about this further — I just wanted to throw the topic out there and see what you all thought. Even comment on Facebook, if you must. ;)


  1. Jason Puckett:

    I was talking about the membership drop vs. the conference attendance, and a friend of mine quite rightly pointed out to me that most people pay for memberships out of their own pockets, but employers often pay for conference travel. Makes perfect sense to me.

  2. Michael Golrick:

    I am a PLA Board member. PLA had a conference in 2008 in Minneapolis. (It rocked!) The next conference is not until 2010 in Portland Oregon. For PLA (and both ACRL and AASL) membership tends to increase in a year with a conference and drop in the year without it. For finances, income (and net revenue) is way up in conference years, and down the next. We plan and budget for that. I am slightly surprised at the AASL drop since they had a conference this year, but it is also a sign of the stress in that part of librarianship.

    Great post. Hope you feel better!

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