Libraries Gave Us Power

I’ve been letting a lot of my professional association memberships lapse because I’ve become increasingly dissatisfied with them. I’ve always felt that I needed to maintain my dues based on past opportunities these associations had provided. Now I have come to terms with the fact that I have been paying for something that I didn’t really use much any more.

Coincidentally, Kendra K Levine articulated some of my dissatisfaction in her recent Library Attack post “Professional Associations: Maybe We Should Start From Scratch?” She starts off by pointing out how she is a member of three different associations in the midst of existential crises.

In one specific case, that existential crisis has existed for as long as I had been a member and, like Kendra, I used to have strong opinions about it. But the repetition of the debate wore on me to the point where I asked myself, “Does this association exist only to debate its own purpose?”

Similarly, Kendra asks (and I can’t emphasize enough how much I echo this sentiment):

Do the associations exist so that they exist? (Then what’s the point?) Or do they exist for the members? And then what do members want? I want to connect with others doing similar work. I want to learn what they’re doing. I want to share what I’m doing. I want to advocate for a democratic information ecosystem. I want to support others in the profession.

Kendra K Levine, “Professional Associations: Maybe We Should Start From Scratch?” in Library Attack

To that point, I found it increasingly difficult to make the connections I needed through the electronic communications channels available. The general channels would be swamped with the aforementioned debates. The specific topical channels where I would likely have found those connections had gone fallow because the members stopped having active discussions.

I take responsibility for the fact that I stopped going to conferences and meet-ups. Personal circumstances partially dictated that, but it’s not like I couldn’t have worked around that if I really made the effort. That’s on me, not on any of the associations.

In either case, my network has become insular: I work with the people both in D.C. and in the field that understand the questions I need answer. That’s all well and good, and we often come up with creative solutions internally. But that doesn’t change the fact that there is value in working with people coming from different backgrounds, but facing similar issues.

When I first started my current job, I had a supervisor who was really good at identifying institutions and organizations that had similar scopes to ours. Not just other governmental foreign offices maintaining cultural centers, but non-profits with global reaches, universities with dispersed campuses, and corporations with multinational operations.

One of my next steps will be to re-identify those institutions and reach out to them to establish new connections that can be mutually beneficial. (Good thing my aforementioned supervisor is on another Washington tour.)

The other step is to re-engage in a professional organization that offers local meet-ups and conferences and work to make those connections in person. Instead of waiting for organizations to understand what its members need, I have to create the experience I need.