Voting on ALA’s Dues Increase Proposal: Yes or No?

There’s been plenty of buzz around libraryland about the ALA elections in the past couple of months. Yesterday, I finally got my ballot and have given much thought as to who I wanted to vote for, for ALA President (Go Courtney!) and also ALA Councillors At Large (another debate on the number of At-Large Councillors rages somewhere on Facebook). When I opened up the ballot to vote, the first proposal made me pause. It says:

“MEMBERS’ ATTENTION IS ALSO CALLED TO THE QUESTION OF A DUES ADJUSTMENT. YOUR VOTE IS REQUESTED BELOW:

Should ALA establish a five-year personal dues adjustment mechanism not to exceed the percentage change in the national average Consumer Price Index (CPI) beginning in September 2013 running through September 2017?”

After doing some close reading, I believe this is a vote on the process of how the ALA  executive board reviews membership dues. If the amount were to be above the CPI average, then Council would vote on it, as well as membership. Increase in dues is inevitable, so right now we are voting on the process of how it’s done (correct me if I read this wrong).

I tweeted my question to get input from the public and got a huge variety of responses about this potential “personal dues adjustment”. Typically, the knee-jerk reaction to anything that talks about a dues increase is to vote no, but I wanted to hear from others on how they felt. I’ll try my best to sum up the different points that people made.

How would that money be used?

Someone had commented that as much as ALA has tried to do for the profession, it was the staff that bore the brunt of the burden. The ALA staff are pretty great, and the people I’ve worked with directly from ALA have been so supportive of the work that we do as librarians. I really value that and an increase might allow them to do more. To help justify this, the proposal states “This dues adjustment mechanism will allow ALA to augment valuable work on its many ALA 2015 strategic initiatives including library advocacy, federal legislation, intellectual freedom, diversity, digital content, community engagement, online continuing education, and member engagement..”

Can the average librarian afford that?

My initial concern of tying due increases to CPI, is that the CPI may not accurately reflect increases in a librarian’s salary. I had a lively discussion with fellow librarians about the benefits and disadvantages of this. One benefit is that the increases would be fairly low amounts, maybe a few dollars a year over the next five years, instead of a large jump all at once. The dues are also tied to CPI, vs. an arbitrary number which makes the amount in increase tied to a realistic standard of living.

But I also heard anecdotes about how rare it was for a librarian to get a raise, or even find an entry-level job; which makes it harder for people to vote yes on something like this. Eric Phetteplace found some statistics from the Current Population Survey which he put in a google doc. Why the sudden 13% increase in salary from 2011-2012? No one could really tell. Is that accurate? The data says one thing, but people are saying they haven’t gotten raises in a long time. The cost of ALA currently is already a strain on some people, so an increase of any kind causes more financial stress.

Increasing dues would turn away new and current members

ALA needs membership to function. We make up many of the committees through ALA, we pay for conferences, workshops, classes, and membership. If there weren’t people, ALA wouldn’t exist. An increase could turn new members and current members away. Many questioned if they get enough in return for what they pay.

Why even be a member of ALA?

Several people mentioned to me that they have dropped membership completely because they felt that they didn’t get enough in return. Some are working outside of the field, and so they don’t see how being a member would help them. Others are questioning their own involvement in the organization. How much is participating in committee work really going to benefit their home institution or even ALA? Can someone benefit from the networking aspects of conferences without actually being an ALA member? These are all valid questions, some I have even asked myself as a newer librarian.

The question of why someone should belong to ALA, really translates to the value ALA has for our profession. ALA will continue its work as long as it has members. Abby Johnson wrote a great post called “ALA is Not Your Mom” a couple years ago and I think it’s still relevant as discussions around this ballot proposal arise. Getting involved helps the organization to change, but I think it’s hard to even see what difference one committee member can make sometimes. ALA is a big organization, any change that one person can try to make can take a long time. Sometimes, we just don’t have that time.

My Thoughts

I do see value in the work that ALA does for librarianship. They represent our issues on a national level and hopefully stand up for our work. I know that I’ve had a few opportunities that have helped to advance my career, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of ALA. For example, last year I was able to propose and moderate a Conversation Starter at the ALA Annual Conference. Having any opportunity to present your work on a national level is pretty great for your career in my book. Also, Jenny Levine and Tina Coleman at ALA has been very supportive of the Hack Library School blog, and has worked with us on hosting events at conferences, and helping us promote things. Seriously, that means a lot to have people who care about your projects and want to help you spread the word.

The reason why I ask these questions is because not everyone has an employer who provides financial support for professional development. I’m actually very, very lucky that my work does support this, so voting yes wouldn’t hurt my pocket as much personally, but I empathize with those who pay for membership themselves. It’s not cheap once you start adding in other divisions and round tables. We all come from different libraries with different working environments. Being involved is going to mean different things to people.

I’m obviously flip flopping between this issue, although after doing much thinking, I’m going to vote yes. However, I’d be interested to hear what others think of this ballot proposal. Did you vote on it? Are you even a member?

Further reading:

ALA Council approves dues adjustment proposal