What is ALIA’s purpose?

I’ve got a series of blog posts in draft form that are responding to questions that people have asked as part of my campaign for the ALIA Board of Directors, but something came up in a comment on a previous post that I think is really important.

The commenter referred to ALIA’s purpose – in a way that reminded me that not everyone would agree on what this is. This got me thinking about what I believe ALIA’s purpose to be. Given that the catalyst for this blog was my election campaign, I figured I’d better articulate my views here.

To me, ALIA’s purpose is two-fold: ALIA is there  to do things for members that they can’t do for themselves; and it exists to allow members to do things themselves that might be harder to do if ALIA weren’t there to back them up.

ALIA does lots of things that I can’t do, for various reasons. ALIA participates in the setting of standards for library-related TAFE and university courses, which means that when someone applies for a job with my organisation and I can see that they’ve done an ALIA-recognised course, that means I can assume they know certain basic things. ALIA advocates for all of us – I have no idea how to form an alliance with Google and Yahoo to fight government proposals for mandatory internet filters, but ALIA does, and did, and I’m really grateful for that (anyone else notice how quietly that policy was dropped?). ALIA can tell the Queensland Government that getting rid of a whole bunch of library staff is a ‘Dumb Idea’ because those staff themselves can’t, lest they never get another job just for speaking up. I hope I’m never in their situation, but if I am, I hope ALIA will stand up for me where I can’t. So ALIA does a bunch of things to protect and promote me individually and us collectively. It’s worth pointing out that both members and non-members usually benefit from these actions.

On ALIA’s ‘All about ALIA‘ page they describe ALIA as ’empower[ing] the profession’, which leads me to the second purpose that I believe ALIA serves, that of a tool that we can use to get what we want. Some years ago, what I wanted was to meet other librarians so that I could ask them how to do the job that I’d just been thrown in the deep end of (managing a one person library, first library job, fresh out of library school). I could have wandered across the road to the State Library of NSW and just randomly spoken to other librarians, but what to they know about OPLs? They had librarian colleagues. I didn’t. I could have read books or journal articles, but I couldn’t ask them questions. So instead I used the ALIA e-lists to ask dumb questions, and then I went to ALIA events to meet other OPLs. When I wanted to develop some event management experience to back up a proposal I was taking to my boss, I organised some local ALIA events. I didn’t have to worry about things like public liability insurance, because ALIA did that for me. I could focus on the skills I wanted to learn. These are just two examples of the many ways in which I’ve used ALIA as a tool to get what I wanted – if they weren’t there, acquiring those contacts and skills would have been much harder.

What I don’t think ALIA’s purpose is, is to publish an open access journal, or to be a landlord, or to provide me with a copyright advice service. I don’t think ALIA’s purpose is to give members awards, or make a profit from conferences. But any and all of those things might contribute to ALIA’s purpose. So I believe that if we have a clear idea of what ALIA’s purpose is, then we can constantly evaluate whether ALIA’s activities are in line with that purpose.

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