Do I Want to be a Warrior in ALA’s Battle?

Today I received an e-mail from ALA asking me to renew my membership. An excerpt of the e-mail is included below. There is a confrontational tone in the message that is very off-putting and also resonates with the reasons why I dislike ALA. My own emphasis added:

Thank you for this past year of ALA Membership. Your membership year ends April 30, 2007 and we invite you to renew online today.

In 2007, your membership dues will be hard at work. A number of new advocacy initiatives that impact libraries at the state and local level are underway. For the first time, the Association will offer a series of advocacy mini-courses around the country on topics like using research, effective budgeting and passing referenda that are designed for school, academic and public library use. ALA is stepping up the fight against TABOR initiatives wherever they arise. We are committed to saving school libraries from so-called 65% Solution initiatives which would dismantle school libraries or eliminate staffing by state-certified school librarians. And, we are developing and extending materials and training to help rural and tribal libraries succeed.

Please go to www.ala.org/membership and choose ‘Renew’ to help us fight – and win -battles for the future of libraries.

Your ALA website login is:
Login – PMURRAY

— MEMBERSHIP SUMMARY —

Member Type:

$110.00 R Regular Membership Basic Dues
$60.00 LITA. Library and Information Technology Association

Prepaid Amount: $0.00
Balance Due: $170.00

[…]

Renewing your ALA Membership today means improving advocacy efforts that increase support-and funding-for libraries of all types. There is a lot at stake for us as individuals and for the communities we serve. Please renew now to help fight and win substantial advocacy battles.

Sincerely,

John Chrastka
Manager for Membership Development
and personal member

Admittedly, I was not in Seattle last month so I may be a little out of tune with the workings of my association, but has there been a declaration of war that I missed? Is there really a battle underway for the hearts and minds of our patrons? Is this the only reason ALA exists? Perhaps this is a personal bias, but this message conjures up mental images of feuding over MARC tags and mind-numbing debate of resolutions during ALA membership sessions that would seem to have very little to do with the real world.

Don’t get me wrong — I think there is a lot libraries could be doing differently and better in service to our patrons. Why else would this jester be in front of you dancing and juggling and telling stories? But there is so much more that I expect my association to be doing that to pursue a renewal campaign with this tone makes me wonder if it is really worthwhile to pay $170 to support this association.

As I was writing the text of this post, I started thinking about other the organizations whose missions are closely enough aligned with my world view that I am a member. For instance, I’m a member of the Association for Computing Machinery at a rate of $100/year for which I get more content (the useful/relevant Communications of the ACM journal and the full text of nearly 1,000 books) and professional development support (over 1,000 ThomsonNETgĀ® online course modules) plus a certain amount of important advocacy that I believe in. I am also a member of a local church community (for which there are dues of a sort) where I get personal fulfillment plus a way to magnify my talents and interests in support of my vision of a better world.

So why am I a member of ALA? To get a discount registration to a conference that is so large and unfocused that is pales in comparison to other highly content dense and professionally engaging meetings? To get a “professional journal” that is more like a trade press magazine with hidden gems that a few and far between? To do battle with the forces of evil facing libraries everywhere?

Do I need to be a member of ALA? Would the Web4Lib mailing list go away if I was not a member? Would the Code4Lib IRC channel disappear? Would the Code4Lib annual meetings suddenly stop? (I really hope to get to next year’s meeting!) Would I be prevented from hearing and debating the views of a wide variety of colleagues through their blog writing?

Too many questions. More so than any other year, I’m really on the fence about whether or not to renew.