It’s taking a lot of yarn these days to keep me going. So it’s probably a good thing that it’s the holidays and I’m on a holiday knitting deadline that’s less than four weeks away. I’m needing a lot of heavy doses of knitting needles and yarn to remain calm and I’m still calling up people and ranting excessively about things.

Right now, one of the things taxing my brain is ALA. If their customer service ever bothers to get back to me, I have to decide whether or not I want to re-up my participation when it expires. It’s a topic that I’ve seen other librarians go through and certainly I’ve sat down with a couple of people wiser than I to try and figure this out but so far—still very murky.

Jim Rettig, our President-Elect, who ran a fantastic campaign via YouTube recently posed a question to the New Members Round Table Listserv. He wanted to know what our most positive experience with ALA had been and how we could share that with others. I tried to consider what I had done with ALA and what I could consider to be a wonderfully positive experience that I could share with others. Truly, I was racking my brain looking for something. Some spoke about the joy of conferences. That wasn’t something I could really contribute to based on the one conference I attended. Others spoke of the welcoming nature of committees. Because I haven’t had institutional support in terms of funding and/or time to attend conferences nor a very strong desire to haul myself to wherever twice annually on my own dime/vacation time—I haven’t participated in any committees.

So instead of having an answer for Jim I find I’m a confused member, interested in being involved but not really sure where someone like me could fit in. I was recently relieved reading the thoughtful posts by Meredith and Rachel—it helped remove the guilt of not seriously ever having considered attending midwinter. And there was Josh’s post—which also reiterated many feelings I currently have. This year I don’t even have the option to consider either conference: I don’t get vacation until midsummer and do you really think they are going to let a Children’s Librarian go anywhere that isn’t a dire emergency during summer reading? Come on…who is kidding who here?

There’s been a recent spate of blog posts about virtual participation and restructuring of ALA. It’s kind of scary when KS can devote an entire post to just how many places ALA restricts virtual participation. Cost of travel is only going to rise. On the flip side high speed internet is becoming incredibly affordable—even for this little hedgehog who is paying all the bills by herself. But virtual participation is restricted and penalized. That’s assuming one can FIND virtual participation. I went to the ALA site and selected “Our Association—Membership—Get Involved” thinking that perhaps this would show the way. It leads to a dead site (available here 12/1/07). That doesn’t make me just want to hop into involvement—when I can’t find a way.

Eventually—via a comment on KS’s post about VP—I did locate a not very fleshed out wiki on the subject. Honestly, I’d never have found that without that direct link. I just went back to the ALA main page and you have to click on a not-obvious hyperlink to get to the wiki section and I just scrolled the index 3 times—and I can’t find the title of the wiki. Am I blind? Can you get to the Get Involved page from here?

It’s been recommended to join divisions. That seems to shove us into specialization whether we like it or not. Currently I’m a public librarian but I may at some point in my career go into something else—academic, corporate, special, archives. If I only join PLA—what then? That seems to keep me from cross specialization unless I cough up another 50-100 dollars to join another division where I’m not sure I’ll be particularly welcome because I’m not currently an academic/special/etc etc. And the only benefit I seem to get then is another journal to clutter up my desk at work or my living room at home. I don’t even make it through my monthly National Geographic.

I know professional development and participation is important. I recognize that, I’m there with you. I just can’t seem to make the current system work for me. I’m willing to give it a stronger shot—but ALA needs to do some reaching out other than that glossy magazine that shows up on my doorstep every now and again. So while I haven’t decided on that renewal yet, I’ll probably hold onto at least general participation for another year. What else I’ll send money off to remains to be seen. Anybody in the Wisconsin Library Association want to rope in an enthusiastic but currently rather disgruntled hedgehog?