Tuesday, August 01, 2006

AL American Libraries Column #3: The Mission of the ALA

The Mission of the ALA

The Annoyed Librarian is as proud and grateful as you all to have an organization dedicated to her profession, and one so venerable and respected as the American Library Association. It leaves a warm glow in my delicate heart when I think of the ALA and its dedication to my professional well being.

Wait. Sorry. I just woke up from my cozy dream. You may have been under the impression that the American Library Association was a professional organization dedicated to the professionals who support it through their dues. You would, of course, have been mistaken. The official mission of the American Library Association has almost nothing to do with promoting the interests of librarians. I guess if it did it would be called the American Librarian Association.

Consider the official mission statement: "The mission of the American Library Association is to provide leadership for the development, promotion, and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all."

Library services. The profession of librarianship. Enhance learning. Ensure information access.

The mission of the ALA is identified with the mission of libraries to others, not of the ALA to librarians. It is a professional organization whose very mission statement implicitly denies any responsibilities to its professionals. And the ultimate goals are to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all. Anything else is subsidiary to these vague goals. And we've seen by the actions and arguments of the ALA that many librarians are incapable of making any distinctions about types of library users or types of information. All information for all people, presumably all the time. This semi-coherent goal drives the ALA.

Consider the priorities of the ALA mission. After Access to Information, Legislation/Funding, Intellectual Freedom, and Public Awareness comes Priority Area E: Personnel Resources. And only after library school education and accreditation come goals such as salaries and professional development. Goal 2 of Priority Area E is, "Master's level programs are effectively accredited." Library school education is a joke, completely lacking in coherence and intellectual rigor. Is that what the ALA means by effective accreditation? If so, I don't see much hope for the ALA doing anything worthwhile about goals even further down their list of priorities. The MLS is little better than a "union card," some say. But it's a union card with no benefits and no supportive organization behind it.

So the personal and professional well being of librarians comes very low on the priority list for the ALA, and only then in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all. Supposedly, the librarians come before Priority Area F: Library services, development, and technology. However, the ALA is probably more devoted to that than to Area E, though not any more effective.

What are some of the more important goals for the ALA? Consider Priority Area A, Goal 2: "ALA speaks with one voice for the profession." That's one of their most important priorities, and it's completely impossible, no matter what the ALA leadership tries to say. Part of the reason library school is incoherent is that the profession is incoherent. Besides their title of "librarian," what do the following jobs have in common: children's librarian, archivist, bibliographer, corporate librarian, systems librarian, etc.? Not much. The difference in priorities and experiences just between academic and public libraries sometimes seems staggering. The concerns of the ALA seem to have nothing whatsoever to do with academic libraries, and very little with most special libraries. Based on this goal, it seems clear that the ALA can't even formulate proper and coherent goals, much less fulfill them.

But at least one of the final goals of the ALA is being met. Organizational Area C. ALA human resources, Goal 1: "ALA membership is large and stable." See, that's an important goal because they need our money to do all those things they do that don't at all improve our lives. But they seem to have met at least part of this goal. Every time I go to ALA I notice that the ALA membership is very large indeed, though based on the ravings of some of those SRRT folks, I'm not sure how stable it is.


sassymoll said...

Amen! This is why I'm no longer a member of ALA. I got tired of paying exhorbitant dues and getting nothing in return.

Taupey, the Bush Kangaroo said...

Well-reasoned post, I love reading your posts not because I really care about the ALA but how it illustrates that critical thinking, applied correctly, points out the extraordinary illogic in so many facets of our lives.

Have a Gimlet to celebrate your "gimlet eye!"

miriam said...

When Leslie Burger was president of the New Jersey Library Association, she assured us churls and vassals of the organization that ALA was going to be taking up the problem of librarians' salaries, or lack thereof.

They didn't. They got involved in trying to get rid of the president instead.

Anonymous said...

I'm a law librarian (at a firm). My husband's an academic librarian. We went to ALA in Chicago last year. I went to several sessions and spoke to several vendors, and all of them were like "why are you here?" Um, hello, I'm a librarian?

I did end up deciding that I'm going to stick to the special library conferences in the future, since ALA really doesn't have much to offer anyone NOT in public/academic libraries.

mdoneil said...

My company would pay for my ALA dues. $100 bucks is nothing for them but even then I wouldn't join the ALA.

The first year I was a member they redesigned the website and made 733 character (I kid you not) long URLs.

Then I went to ALA in Orlando and was insulted by their political nonsense with the Moore trashy film, and the Gorilla Girls male bashing.

The ALA does nothing to represent me and acts to provide a unified voice of idiocy so the public tends to think librarians are either little old women or angry traitors.

Screw the ALA I'd rather give my own money to the local animal shelter.

SueC said...

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I've been hating the ALA for years & I'm not even a "librarian" (no MLS, by choice) but I was once a "Library Desk Assistant" for years until I became disillusioned.