Thursday, June 28, 2007

Dual Membership Benefits for Library Students Part 2 of 2

Vintage books

This post is the second part of a exploration of the benefits of dual memberships to professional organizations for library science students. Read the first part here.

The ACRL, a division of the ALA, is a professional association of academic librarians. Founded in 1890, it is the largest division of the ALA, with approximately 12,400 members who work in community and junior college, college, university, and research libraries. Membership includes subscriptions to College and Research Libraries and College and Research Libraries News, access to more than 20 electronic discussion lists, current job listings, discounts on ACRL publications and conferences, and many career enhancement opportunities. Similar to the ALA, the ACRL has thirty committees devoted to specific goals, as well as task forces for special projects and discussion groups to address pressing issues in an informal environment.

The mission of the ACRL is to make the organization “responsible and universally recognized for positioning academic and research librarians and libraries as indispensable in advancing learning and scholarship” (Association of College & Research Libraries, 2006). To do so, the ACRL has formulated specific areas to work on in the near future: higher education and research focusing on learning, scholarship, and advocacy, the profession focusing on continuous learning, leadership, and information technology, and the association focusing on membership and sustainability (ACRL, 2006).

This brings us to our question: should a library student interested in working in an academic or research library join the ALA, the ACRL, or both? The ALA is the largest, oldest, and most comprehensive library association. Its size grants the association the crucial power it needs to advocate and lobby the government, especially when promoting Intellectual Freedom and privacy in the age of the Patriot Act. However, the ALA’s magnitude also makes the organization bureaucratic, complex, frequently impersonal and hard-to-navigate for new members. One advantage of its size is that the ALA, by being involved in all aspects of library work, allows its members to choose to what extent they would like to participate in the association and which interests they would like to pursue through committees and Round Tables.

Inversely, the ACRL is a specialized organization, focusing on the concerns of those who work in academic and research libraries. By joining only the ACRL, members lose some of the larger opportunities offered by the ALA, as well as its advocating power. However, the ACRL’s small size, in relation to the ALA, allows members to feel more comfortable voicing their concerns and having their interests supported without much bureaucracy. As most members of the ACRL join because of professional development, they may find that their needs as library professionals are met successfully by this organization alone (Cast & Cary, 2001).

On blogs such as the ACRLog, members unhappy with the practices of the ALA have gone so far as to suggest that the ACRL should succeed from the ALA (StevenB, 2006). This would not only increase the price of membership for the ACRL because it would have to pay its own administrative costs, it might also inspire other ALA divisions to become independent, therefore greatly reducing the advocating power that the ALA holds on a national level.

Some may argue that they would rather join a division like the ACRL than the ALA because they believe that ALA membership is too costly and, other than the New Members Round Table, it does not provide enough opportunities to network and share information (StevenB, 2006). However, student memberships for both associations is $60 total, with $25 for the ALA and $35 for the ACRL, which is reasonable for those on a budget. However, improvements can be made to make dual membership more appealing to new members such as providing low-cost membership dues during a librarian’s first few years and greater support for local and state chapters of the ALA and the ACRL (StevenB, 2006). Additionally, in “Is Association Membership Worth It?,” author Rachel Singer Gordon suggests waiving conference registration fees for some members, querying new librarians on their needs, and varying conference locations (2004).

Although the ALA is large and can seem intimidating for new members such as myself, I joined the association the moment I decided to become a librarian because the gesture showed my support for the ALA’s vital, national presence. As the primary professional organization for library science, membership allows me to keep abreast of all the new developments in my field. I also joined the ALA because even though I would like to work in an academic library, I will not dismiss other library career opportunities should they arise. The ALA can provide me with a comprehensive overview of the profession, no matter where I will work in the future. I also plan to join the ACRL because the information and networking opportunities, especially on the local level, will enlighten and enhance my career path. The dual membership as a student to the ALA and the ACRL will grant me a broad-spectrum perspective of my chosen profession, as well as a concentrated view on the type of work I would like to do in the future.

Although I advocate dual membership, the choice of joining the ALA, the ACRL, both or neither associations depends on each individual and their varying needs and priorities. It is to the benefit of the profession as a whole for library students to emerge from graduate school with a clearer picture of their place in librarianship. This can be achieved relatively inexpensively by joining associations that interest them at a discounted student fee. By doing so, students are granted the opportunity to explore the associations at their own pace and interest level, even those as complex as the ALA. Increased student exposure to associations like the ALA and the ACRL will undoubtedly encourage more student participation and perhaps more student chapters of these organizations. It may also promote later membership in the associations once the students have acquired jobs. The future of the library profession rests with these new members, who will shape the policies and procedures during the coming years. Professional associations like the ALA and the ACRL must strive to encourage and welcome its new members. Dual membership in the ALA and the ACRL is an investment in the future of librarianship and library associations. I, for one, will soon become a member of both organizations, and I encourage interested library students to do so as well.


American Library Association. (2006). Mission. Retrieved April 25, 2006, from

Association of College and Research Libraries. (2006). Charting our Future: ACRL Strategic Plan 2020. Retrieved April 25, 2006, from

Cast, M., & Cary, S. (2001). Members assess ACRL: Results of the 2000 Membership Survey. College & Research Libraries News, 62 (6), 623-8.

Gordon, R. S. (2004). Is Association Membership Worth It? Library Journal, 129 (7), 56.

StevenB. (2006). Questioning the Value of ALA Membership. Retrieved April 26, 2006, from

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