I renewed my ALA/ACRL membership today. I’ve been a member of ALA and its academic division since I entered the profession although the ALA database won’t confirm this. In a few cases over the decades my membership lapsed by a month or so and when I got around to renewing, the system logged me in as a new member. So be it. From my perspective I’ve always been a part of ALA.
I’ve been thinking about the concept of membership for a while. I am a member of some things, e.g. my family, without a choice on my part. I had no say in the matter. One day I appeared and in the process became connected to any number of souls, both departed and still living. I am a link in a long genetic chain. On the other hand, some memberships are voluntary; we choose them. If I wanted, I could change my citizenship or my association with a group. I can join any number of societies and organizations. My motives for joining such groups may differ. As a member of a faith-based community I can access a tradition, set of beliefs, and other activities attached to the group. I assent to those beliefs and try to live accordingly. Something similar might be said about joining a political party. In our voluntary associations we might look for a congruence between our religious faith and political activism. Or we might see such associations as a means of advancement in our career, societal standing, or some other facet of our life. Each link we make in becoming a member of another group informs the whole. Some people might compartmentalize their life and see little overlap between membership in one group with that of another. Such is not my style; it is not who I am. My memberships have meaning.
There is another kind of membership, one that is bestowed on us by someone else. Sometimes we have a say in the matter; in other cases we don’t. Because I was born in the United States I automatically became an American citizen. Such a membership comes with certain benefits unavailable to others. Or, as another example, I might be selected by others (sometimes in secret)—because of some accomplishment or other attractive attestation—and be recognized. I will never win a Nobel Prize, but those who have are now members of a select group. The only say they had in the matter was in the testimony of their own lives and through their work. It was left to others to judge them worthy. I am comfortable with some of these types of membership, especially if they are judged on a depth of character and integrity of soul. If, on the other hand, the judgments are made on some other basis, I would prefer not to be a part of that group. I am happy in who I am and what I do, flawed though I am.
So where does my ALA/ACRL membership fit into all this? Obviously, it is something I have chosen to be a part of, a voluntary association. My relationship with ALA informs who I am as a professional librarian. It offers me opportunities to share my work experience with others, to learn from others, to expand my professional horizons, to enhance my work. I benefit by having access to the latest thinking and theories, of best practices, news, and legislative activities. At the same time, membership demands engagement. Admittedly, this is something I’ve struggled with over the years, especially in trying to connect with a committee or two that matches my professional interests. But I keep trying to find ways to engage with my professional association. Recently I put my name forward for some committee appointments within ALA. We’ll see if anything comes of it. If not, I'll look for other ways to keep connected.