When I opened this month’s Public Libraries and started reading the “President’s Message,” I was intrigued by the results from the membership survey, and it got me thinking about why I joined ALA and PLA. I’ll admit, I’m one who initially joined because I was going to be attending the PLA conference this year in Philadelphia. Then, this fall I got my renewal notices in the mail. At first, I really wasn’t sure if I wanted to renew my memberships or not.: the cost can feel like a bit of an investment. After thinking about it, here’s why I decided to stay and why I believe membership is important.
Professional development is an essential piece for molding yourself into a better library employee. Membership in these national organizations means you receive American Libraries and Public Libraries, which are full of great articles on different aspects of the library world. You get emails of the weekly AL Direct with more great information on current library events and opportunities. News of webinars providing prospects of continuing education come to you, and you can attend them for a discount.
Then, of course, you have the conferences. With these gatherings comes the opportunity to travel to another city, meet new people who are excited about library service, and learn about new developments and programs that other libraries are doing. If you haven’t had the chance to attend a conference, I highly recommend it. The feeling of excitement and new information you come away with is inspiring.
When I went to PLA, I had already started easing myself into professional development, but the PLA conference really put the fire in me. I attended some fabulous sessions, met amazing authors, and decided that I wanted to be more involved. If you can’t go to one of the national conferences, try your state conference. Better yet, present at a conference! After attending PLA, I came back to Colorado and talked with a couple of my coworkers about presenting at our state conference. Our proposal was accepted and we had a great experience. Speaking in front of a group of our peers who hoped to learn something that would help them in their career paths was both terrifying and thrilling. I felt like I was contributing in a whole new way and taking a bigger role in my professional organization.
Beyond professional development, ALA and PLA are active advocates for libraries in ways that individuals cannot be. As large organizations, they are able to be more visible in overarching issues and debates. They can represent the whole of libraries when working with issues, like publishers and eBooks. They are able to connect librarians and distribute information on a large scale. Want to know how to advocate for your library? Go to the organizations’ websites and you’ll find out. Want to get information to compare with what’s happening in your district? Send an email out on one of the many listservs. Much of what we use on a daily basis, like the Code of Ethics and Library Bill of Rights, comes from the ALA.
Whether you’re interested in attending a conference, learning about a new skill, advocating for your library, connecting with others in your chosen field, or just supporting the work that these organizations do, joining ALA, PLA, and other national or local organizations is worth it. I have come to realize membership in these groups is, indeed, an investment – an investment in libraries and an investment in myself!