Join us, join us
This is a huge question. I’ll be honest – I don’t have a set plan, because if I am elected to the Board I’ll be one of many contributing to that goal. In fact I’ve been one of many contributing to that goal for several years – making ALIA something librarians want to join is done by all of ALIA’s groups and committees, staff, and even individual members.
People want different things from ALIA. Some people want ALIA to be a source of professional development – conferences, events, journals, etcetera. Other people want ALIA to be advocates for individual libraries, sectors, and our profession as a whole, and rely on ALIA to support events such as National Simultaneous Storytime and the National Year of Reading, or to run campaigns such as last year’s Bad Idea campaign. Yet other people rely on ALIA to assess and accredit TAFE and university courses so that they can have some confidence about the quality of the education that they’re choosing. Very few people need ALIA to do all those things for them all at once, but we probably all need ALIA to do those things for us at some point in our careers.
I’m a member of ALIA for two reasons. The first is because I’m able to use ALIA as a tool to further my career – by being involved in ALIA I’ve been able to develop skills beyond what was needed in my paid employment, and develop a professional network that was invaluable when I was working in small libraries. ALIA’s never ‘gotten me a job’, but ALIA has given me opportunities.
The second reason is because we are stronger together – because I don’t know how to advocate for my profession at a national level, and I don’t have the influence to get library issues that have or might affect me into the minds of people who are making decisions about them. ALIA does, and the more of us that join up, the more power they have to represent us.
So, to the original question – how do I plan to make ALIA more attractive for librarians to join? I think that people’s perceptions of ALIA are local first. This means that people base their impressions of ALIA on what they see in their world – do they see events being run by local groups, do they see ALIA members in enviable positions, and did ALIA help them when they faced a difficult situation?
The ALIA groups system is good, but could improve. Groups that I’ve worked with (either as part of, or in a support role when I was NSW Manager for ALIA) often reported feeling unsupported, and frustrated by obscure and complex paperwork requirements. Communication from the ALIA structure (national office and the Board) seemed minimal, and groups that were having problems struggled to get support to fix those problems. I believe the groups need to be seen as ALIA’s primary activity for members, and support for them should be a priority. They need to be given a combination of support, guidance and instruction, but also enough freedom to do what they should be doing for members. Facilitation can help groups share expertise and resources. With this, I believe that local groups will be able to use their passion and knowledge to run excellent events.
I believe we need to talk about ALIA. I talked about ALIA a lot when I first started in the profession, but I’ll admit that I hit a bit of a lull when I stopped seeing myself as part of the new grads niche. Current ALIA members need to advocate for ALIA, or at least be public about their membership. This doesn’t mean not criticising ALIA – we can be honest about it’s failings while participating in the improvement – but it does mean that new people entering our profession should see those in senior and middle roles being active participants.
Finally, the work of ALIA’s industrial relations and copyright services need to be better marketed. They’re there, but it took me quite a bit of looking on the website to find the details, and even then it’s behind the membership log in. Given that all that’s there is information on what the service is, it really should be on a public page. I welcome Sue McKerracher’s (ALIA’s Executive Director) recently announced plans to open up much more of the ALIA website, and feel that it’ll be a big improvement.
Did that answer the question? If the local experience of ALIA is positive, if professional leaders advocate for ALIA, and if people can easily find better information about what ALIA can do for them, I think more people will want to join ALIA. Which in turn will lead more people, because we are stronger when we work together.