What is the VALUE of Professional Associations to new and aspiring professionals?

The following was originally posted on 01 May 2011 on the SLA Future Ready 365 Blog site
(http://futureready365.sla.org/05/01/the-value-of-professional-associations/)

I am re-posting it here because I wrote it and I think it is imperative that this be more widely disseminated and discussed. What do you think?

I started out a blog submission talking about how success in explaining and showing value of information services in an organization can be achieved one conversation at a time. While formulating this submission, I had an experience that I thought should supercede that one, namely an understanding of the value of our professional affiliations and memberships by graduate students and new professionals. If they don’t feel an association is worth their time and money for enhancing their career, how can we expect them to see our association as a resource to help them on the job and in their future growth?

I recently had a lengthy, lively discussion about the value of membership in SLA and other professional information organizations with a graduate student. His comments included:

“I am told to join a professional library association because I won’t get a job unless I do – I think that is extortion.” He asked “would you hire me if I wasn’t a member of SLA or another organization?” First I said “no” which he of course said “See!!” Then I clarified by saying I would have a concern as to WHY he didn’t join any association as that would signal to me he may be a good worker but maybe not a longer term contributor to the profession, so I would need to understand more about that. Well, we had quite a lively and noisy interaction over that one!!
“Don’t the associations understand that I have a choice in investment between education and other things such as eventually buying a home?” That ”because I chose education, I will be paying back a huge debt for a long period of time and maybe never be able to buy a home? How can membership in an association help with that?”
“Why are there so many student groups for a relatively small cohort — can’t there be one student group that can be affiliated with multiple associations? It seems the same 20 people out of 100 belong to the various student groups and the rest of the students see no value in joining any of them.”
“Our student group does regular service in prison libraries and other socially conscious activities that were started BY students, not the library school faculty or professional associations. What are associations doing like this? Why should we join an association to conform to what they are already doing when we, the students, are doing more for society than those associations?” I indicated an example of how SLA had a full day of service in New Orleans and he said “big deal, one day — we do ongoing service!” Oooh, boy, we had more lively discussion on this one too!!
“Isn’t it time for ALA, SLA, ASIS&T and all to think about merging and working together for the good of the profession instead of being splintered like they have been for so long? Is there any reason why these groups should still be separate?”
There were some more, but I lost track!!

Anyway, after agreeing to start the conversation over and hear out each side, we ultimately centered around this point that we both agreed was valid:

* It is clear the professional associations, the professionals in those associations, and professors in library schools (and their equivalent) are not conveying the value gained from membership and active participation.

In speaking with a professor at a major library school, she agreed that more and more library schools have instructors who are not in the library profession and/or who don’t belong to a professional organization, so they have no context or experience to convey about the value of associations to their students. As a result, students don’t know much if anything about associations and do not join or actively participate in them.

So here is the challenge. What are the key values of a professional association that will ring true to the current graduate student and new information professional? This is not about who or what is right or wrong, but rather being able to articulate the value and help our new colleagues be “Future Ready.”

Again, what do YOU think?

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