Library Issues

Meredith hits one out of the park

I was going to comment on Jenny’s post concerning the ALA and conference fees, but my thoughts seem irrelevant in the face of Meredith’s incredible post. Excerpts below, with small amounts of commentary:

Librarians sacrifice enough by being librarians (and getting paid so little) that it’s not their duty to serve the ALA. Librarians should help their patrons. They shouldn’t have to make little money and they shouldn’t have to sacrifice their financial well-being or the well-being of their family so that they can speak at a stupid conference.

Bravo! There’s not a single librarian that couldn’t be making more money in another profession, and I’d be willing to say that goes triple for those of us on the tech edge of the world. We’ve make individual choices to come to this profession, and we shouldn’t have to further our financial burden in order to share the knowledge we bring to it.

In the past, there were certain ways that librarians contributed to the profession. They wrote articles for professional journals, they served on committees for professional organizations, and/or they spoke at conferences. The first option involves research and time. The latter two involve travel, expense, and time. Is that the only way to contribute to the profession these days?

Here’s a topic near and dear to my heart. As a new academic librarian, I have things like tenure and reappointment to worry about, and “what counts” is a huge deal. Does my blogging count towards “forwarding the profession”? I’d like to think so, but I’d be willing to bet that my committee might not feel that way.

They spend more than $25 million on payroll and operating expenses alone! And I would feel really good about that if I thought that the ALA was doing a lot of good. But I don’t see it. And I certainly don’t see them representing a younger generation of members. When there is talk of a shortage of librarians rather than a shortage of entry-level jobs (which is the reality), new librarians feel betrayed. When the ALA is so behind technologically and its President insults basically anyone interested in any sort of online publishing, digitization, or Web design, techies feel betrayed. When the ALA doesn’t lobby for better pay for librarians, those of us who barely make ends meet feel betrayed. What does ALA stand for? Who do they help? It is an organization that represents libraries, not librarians.

Why do we need the ALA? Is ALA really relevant anymore? Does anyone really feel like ALA represents their interests? At my job, none of my colleagues has been to an ALA Conference and have no interest in going. They seem to consider the ALA pretty irrelevant. And that perspective is only confirmed when the only thing the ALA Council can seem to accomplish is passing a resolution on Iraq!!! The ALA is a huge organization that is hard to understand, hard to feel a part of, and hard to know what it stands for. I paid out-of-pocket for my membership this year, but it will certainly be the last unless the ALA changes. But they won’t.

This again has been rattling around in my head for some time. I re-upped my ALA membership recently, in the belief that making change happens more easily from the inside. But I can see a time when that membership letter comes, and I decide that my $150 is better spent on me than on the nebulous ALA. It’s clear that the ALA needs to change, especially in the face of an upcoming generation of librarians who are largely questioning of their purpose and direction. When the older generation leaves the profession, where will the ALA be then?

By griffey

Jason Griffey is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at NISO, where he works to identify new areas of the information ecosystem where standards expertise is useful and needed. Prior to joining NISO in 2019, Jason ran his own technology consulting company for libraries, has been both an Affiliate at metaLAB and a Fellow and Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and was an academic librarian in roles ranging from reference and instruction to Head of IT at the University of TN at Chattanooga.

Jason has written extensively on technology and libraries, including multiple books and a series of full-periodical issues on technology topics, most recently AI & Machine Learning in Libraries and Library Spaces and Smart Buildings: Technology, Metrics, and Iterative Design from 2018. His newest book, co-authored with Jeffery Pomerantz, will be published by MIT Press in 2024.

He has spoken internationally on topics such as artificial intelligence & machine learning, the future of technology and libraries, decentralization and the Blockchain, privacy, copyright, and intellectual property. A full list of his publications and presentations can be found on his CV.
He is one of eight winners of the Knight Foundation News Challenge for Libraries for the Measure the Future project (, an open hardware project designed to provide actionable use metrics for library spaces. He is also the creator and director of The LibraryBox Project (, an open source portable digital file distribution system.

Jason can be stalked obsessively online, and spends his free time with his daughter Eliza, reading, obsessing over gadgets, and preparing for the inevitable zombie uprising.

2 replies on “Meredith hits one out of the park”

I didn’t comment on Meredith’s comment, and I’m not out to defend ALA in general–but I do think it’s sad that nobody’s noted one thing ALA does very effectively with a chunk of that money: Lobby on behalf of intellectual freedom and against even more extreme copyright, such wonders as the Broadcast Flag, etc.

I believe the ALA Washington Office earns every dollar ALA puts into it. But that’s admittedly only a piece of the whole.

Walt, I’ll agree that they do a good job, often, of getting the right word out. But if I were to do a dollar to dollar comparison between the ALA and something like the EFF…I’d rather my money go to the EFF.

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