Sunday, February 12, 2017

To ALA or Not?

Someone on a list I'm on recently posted that they were hesitant to renew their ALA membership because of the recent ALA press release scandal.  You can read about it on Librarian in Black here: The person who posted asked the group what they thought about renewing their memberships.  Below is my response.

I'm not a member of the ALA, but I work with them on issues concerning Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.  I'm on the ALA EDI implementation Work Group and I try to represent marginalized people who can't afford membership or conference participation (among other things).  

I would say that ALA has been made progress due in large part to work by people like Melissa Cardenas-Dow, Trevor Dawes, Martin Garner and many others who are strongly committed to EDI in ALA and in libraries in general. 

I would also say that the constituency should scrutinize candidate's actual work on EDI.

In my blog post on the 2015 ALA election I explicitly state that there was only one real candidate who seemed to address EDI.   

That candidate was JP Porcaro...

It seems that, up until recently, the ALA has not really taken this issue seriously. They have focused on programs that teach marginalized people how to operate in oppressive systems without creating any real change. Instead, there should be a focus on changing the structural barriers and structural racism that exist within the organization. This kind of structural racism has caused the ALA to make little to no progress in the area of ethnic representation in the library field.  Look here for some information on this: .

ALA is too expensive, is too financially restrictive and is too exclusive for many librarians to participate in a genuine and engaged manner. ALA is making slow progress in this area, but it is making progress. I would say that ALA is listening and things are changing slowly.  

Some things that would help ALA create change:
  • Strong leadership who emphasize the importance of, and the dedication to ED,I as an organization
  • Putting more money toward EDI and making it a real priority in the organization
  • A more diverse (in all areas) membership to increase new ideas and development of the organization
  • Structural change that makes the organization more accessible to people who can't go to conferences and who can't pay full membership dues 
  • More discussion before making press statements that seem to support fascism
  • A more meaningful relationship with membership. 
    • It should be something more than just getting a copy of American Libraries in the mail every so often
  • Less of a European hierarchical infrastructure and more of a participatory flat infrastructure 
ALA  and libraries in general seem to be a very classist organizations with the majority of librarians who are 2nd generation of deeper middle class. This impacts work in areas such as community engagement, programming and staff relations. This also impacts areas like LIS research--where there is nary a study on White-supremacy and Information in the US; where the area of Culture and Information Literacy has been hardly touched.  

I am hopeful ALA is changing in the areas mentioned above. 

I'm tired, but there is still a long way to go!


Max Macias 


Jessamyn said...

Thanks for writing this. I moved on from ALA a few years ago because I felt like I was having a really hard time getting traction on inclusion issues and I felt like we were still just stuck on even making the professional population more diverse in a lot of ways. I was the one councilor who voted against the dues increase back in ... 2005? Gosh I can't even remember and I guess I am #stillmad I've found it a lot more rewarding to work within my local (VLA) to work on some of this stuff within my own state. I wish you all luck, it's a pretty great team of people who are really trying.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. I have to say one of the great disappointments in the library field is the astounding lack of diversity, especially at the professional/management level. There have been "initiatives," but very little progress. And to some degree I think a major roadblock is the sense among librarians that we ARE a diverse profession. It's one of the blind spots I've noticed in my almost-19 years in public libraries. The other is real service to the poor. I once asked a librarian whether or not she felt we were doing a good job of serving the poor. She said, "Yes! Of course!" I asked, "How do you know?" She looked at me a little sideways, like the question was just insane, and said, "Because I see them here all the time." So, because she sees "them" here "all the time" she has decided the library serves the poor well. I will bet you a dollar that if you approached 100 librarians and asked them if our profession is diverse, 95 of them would say "yes." And if you believe that, why on earth would you lift a finger to make a change?

Anonymous said...

ALA is definitely an association which is not inclusive. The reasons that you mentioned are completely valid. I would extend this criticism to other organizations. One that comes to my mind, because of my cultural background, is REFORMA. They are organizing their Annual Convention in San Juan in Puerto Rico, excellent election, but why they have to recommend as places to stay the most expensives hotels? There are great hotels that are not resorts or a giant monstrosity. Plenty of smaller, clean hotels with great services and in the most interesting parts of the city.
All these organizations don't realize that our profession don't pay well. And most of the openings are now part-time. More jobs, less money, no insurance, no vacation, etc. Those who are in the leadership should be ashamed.

Anonymous said...

I very occasionally join ALA when I am able to go to the annual conference if it is in a location I can attend, with friends to stay with. That is the only time I feel like it makes sense, for the conference discount. It is hard for me to see a benefit otherwise. Although I have had full-time jobs for most of my career, I have never had one that pays dues and conference participation/travel/lodging/time away from work. Since meaningful ALA participation seems to involve dues + additional dues for sections/roundtables + frequent attendance at both the annual and midwinter conferences it is useless to me. I have had much better experiences being involved with local or state groups.


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