On the costs and benefits of conference attendance

This post on ALA’s New Members’ Roundtable Listserv (NMRT-L) bears repeating.  Lorna Peterson, through Linda Crook, reminds us that conference attendance and the work of the ALA in general, i.e., of professional library associations, is largely funded by individual members and not be employers.   She notes that regardless of how new ICTs can bring people together, holding a constant attitude that library conferences can’t be attended due to cost is a disservice to your peers and stakeholders,  Furthermore, professional associations have survived for decades, or in the case of the ALA, for over 130 years, on the fees and dues paid by its members:

“But I do have to make a comment here: Never, ever, in the entire history of ALA, in its 135 year history, has the membership as a whole gotten full support from institutions to attend. Doesn’t matter the type of library– school, public (believe me, public librarians in the past got REAMED in local papers for attending ALA), academic,special– these librarians have not been sent in full to ALA by their institutions.

On the one hand, I think it is good that the younger generation is holding on to its money more (and yes, that is because there is less security now for those who entered the workforce in the 1990s and afterward) but on the other hand, bringing up the cost issue presents a picture that we old timers were sent to ALA fully funded by our institutions. Didn’t happen. My first ALA in 1982 after working as a librarian for 2 years, was in Philadelphia where I stayed in a dorm, took a super cheap flight from Columbus to Philadelphia, and had most of my meals at a 7-11 across the street. But the experience of ALA — the speakers, the programs, exhibits, meeting other colleagues, was worth the money. And so it has been for these almost 30 years of regular ALA attendance. And trust me, a great portion has come out of my pocket and not because I am rich.

The new information and communication technologies make it easier for us to meet virtually. And this is a boon. And it saves individuals and institutions money. What I am criticizing, what I don’t like, is the false picture presented that there was a time of members’ memberships, registrations, travel paid for by institutions or fairy godmothers — some members may have had blip, unique experiences when all was paid for, but in general, for the work of ALA in its 135 history, the financial burden has been on the individual. I am not saying you should martyr yourselves. What I am saying is that I would like to see the narrative change — we have an opportunity to do more because of the new information and communication technologies that allows us to the work in a blended way that will advance the cause of our community– the community of librarianship and what we believe in. Saying that because we don’t have the money to attend diminishes the commitment of those in the past and what we do at ALA. The new information and communication technologies allow for an engagement that broadens participation. In my opinion, the narrative should be broadening participation, enhancing engagement, and furthering the mission of our awesome profession and association. If the argument is only based on saving money and financial hardships, ALA would not have survived for 135 years.


You can read the e-mail on the NMRT-L listserv’s archive here.  And if you’re up for it, join the list and respond.

What’s the takeaway here?  Peterson and Crook’s post should remind us that when it comes to professional associations, you only get what you put in.  Of course, in some years, conference fees will be too expensive for your budget, but don’t be 100% dismissive of the conference or of the association.  It isn’t good for you, your peers, or your profession.


[n.b. In the coming days, I’ll be writing up my own takeaways from #CLA2011.)



The Hoffman Survey (2005) on Ethics and the ALA

Perhaps I’m dwelling a little too much about ethics and librarianship, especially since so many others regularly cover this ground in the blogosphere. All the same, I’ve got some thoughts stirring about in the head, and I wonder if these ruminations can get others thinking about the role all of the ALA’s professional codes play in our lives.

This morning I came across an article from 2005 that discussed the results of an extensive survey concerning librarians and professonal ethics. Kathryn Hoffman’s article, “Professional Ethics and Librarianship” (Texas Library Journal, 81.3, Fall 2005) outlines some of the questions I believe must be asked if we are to properly determine the manner in which our professional code affects our day-to-day jobs. I was wondering how I could quickly push through a survey on the subject to fit a deadline on a paper I’m writing, but Hoffman’s article offers much of the data needed to understand this issue.

Hoffman’s article has some brilliant analysis regarding the adherence (or lack thereof) to the ALA Code of Ethics; it is something I’d recommend we all read. Since Texas Library Journal is open access up to late 2005, you’re only a click or two away from reading this important article yourself. In the meantime, here are a few salient points to consider. From a sample of nearly 1300 professional librarians who were asked about their “knowledge about the ALA Code of Ethics, other professional codes, how often the principles of the code are consciously used” (Hoffman, 2005, p. 7), we can gather that:

1. Only two-thirds of respondents were aware of the ALA Code of Ethics, and only one-third of respondents consciously applied the code to daily work situations. Perhaps most telling, Hoffman’s data shows that if a “conflict occurs between the ALA Code of Ethics and institutional policy, 85% of respondents reported that institutional policy prevails in their actions” (p. 8).

2. One-third of respondents report that they experienced an ethical dilemma as a librarian, administrator or teacher (p. 8).

3. 62% of female respondents (who account for 90% of the sample) felt that circumstances do exist “when librarians should exercise censorship in the selection of materials if they feel someone will be harmed, while only 49% of the men responding agreed with this principle” (p. 9).

4. “73% of librarians in school libraries agreed that librarians should excercise censorship in the selection of materials, while 53% of members in academic libraries agreed and only 49% of public librarians agreed” (p. 9).

Hoffman’s data and subsequent analysis reveals some telling trends about the alignment of a librarian’s personal convictions with his or her profession’s ethical code. Although two-thirds of ALA members are aware of the Code of Ethics, 85% of respondents stated that institutional policies will override their actions. Also, a plurality of librarians from different sectors appear to condone a certain form of censorship or filtering, depending on the circumstances at hand. This personal conviction runs opposite to the ALA Code’s second principle, which aims to “resist all efforts to censor library resources“.

Hoffman’s study suggests that the ALA’s Code of Ethics does not reflect the ethical principles of a plurality of ALA members. While I come down on the side of free speech and don’t condone censorship or filtering, I wonder if studies such as this should give us pause to consider how responsive the ALA currently is to the personal convictions of its members. Although people subscribe to certain values and principles when they join a profession, I wonder if there should be greater give and take between the professional association and its membership. Without any sort of consensus-building between the organization and its general membership, the organization runs the risk of emptying their principles of any value because their own membership will not always be a party to them. Whether or not this has actually happened with the ALA, I can’t say, and I wouldn’t be so foolish to make such a claim by only a single consideration of a single study. Further study on the subject, however, will hopefully make this issue clearer for us all.

Code of Ethics of the American Library Association. (2008). American Library Association. Retrieved Oct 26, 2008, from http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/statementspols/codeofethics/codeethics.cfm

Hoffman, K. (2005). “Professional Ethics and Librarianship”. Texas Library Journal, 81(3), 7-11.