Just when I thought we'd settled once and for all that Meredith Farkas isn't the Annoyed Librarian, she has to go and write like an annoyed librarian. She's complaining about the ALA again, this time about how damned expensive it is and how the conferences cost a bundle and don't do anything worthwhile and asking why we can't have "virtual" participation and stuff like that. Ahh, these kids today. You can read the whole post, but here's the concluding paragraph:
"So my generation is alternatively skeptical of what the ALA can offer us and passionate about working to improve the profession. If participation continues to mean making the kind of sacrifices it does now, the ALA is going to lose my generation, save those whose libraries fund their participation in ALA or who have to participate in ALA to get tenure. Not that they won’t still do great things for the profession; they’ll just do it outside of ALA. There need to be more ways that people can come together and create something like the BIGWIG Social Software Showcase or Five Weeks to a Social Library within the confines of the ALA. While we can talk about revenue streams until the cows come home, if we don’t attract new members with benefits that speak to their needs/wants, you will lose untold money in the long run. We can’t pretend that things haven’t changed."
As far as I'm concerned, Meredith Farkas has gone too far! This is just crazy talk, and I think it should stop right now, Miss Missy. Though I might criticize the ALA as an organization, I stand firmly behind the need for conferences every year, and I applaud the steadily rising expenses of participation in ALA.
First, let's deal with the expenses. My ALA dues this year were enormous. Fortunately, I don't have to pay them out of my own pocket, because if I did, it would depress me. Do you know how many martinis I could buy for $200 or so? At least a dozen where I come from, and a lot more if I make them at home. A dozen martinis or a dozen issues of American Libraries going unread into my recycling bin--not exactly a hard choice, is it? And the conferences! I don't know how much I blow each year on ALA conferences. I don't really keep track. It's only money, and not my money anyway. Still, I think the high cost is absolutely necessary to keep out the riff-raff.
Yes, you heard me right. These things are so expensive because we don't want every librarian out there joining, now do we? If every librarian joined, then it wouldn't be the nice exclusive club that the ALA is now. And you can imagine if the riff-raff came out in force to the conferences. I shudder to think. Admittedly, there are some riff-raff now, but they're easily spotted. They're the librarians stuffing their tote bags with piles of free pens and pads and posters and every sparkly thing they can grab by the chubby fistful as they waddle along the conference aisles. We see them. We avoid them. But if ALA were cheap, we'd have more of them, and they would be harder to avoid.
As for the conferences, of course we need the conferences. If we started allowing a lot of "virtual" participation, then we wouldn't have anywhere to go, and if we didn't have anywhere to go, then we couldn't eat and drink on the library's tab, now could we. My library sure isn't going to shell out $1000 for me to take my laptop to bars and restaurants and socialize "virtually." I need to be there, baby, and besides, I don't want to spill my martini on my computer. As long as my library administration is under the impression that we all get some professional benefit out of ALA, so much the better. I encourage this delusion in all libraries.
Also, if we didn't have conferences, then the ALA couldn't get all that booth money from vendors who then sit around complaining about how no librarians ever stop at their booths. The only librarians they ever see are the ones trying to grab fistfuls of pens. The clever vendors just put out one pen at a time, and then remove it when they see old Cat Sweater Person hoving into view for the fourth time. See, it's not just librarians who pay a lot to go to ALA; it's the vendors, too. The ALA needs that money, and it's not just the ALA. Without the vendors there, who would pay for all the free receptions? Who would take all the librarians out for free dinners? No one, that's who. It's all a delightful perpetuating cycle designed to get librarians free food and drink. I don't know about you, Meredith, but I think that's a good thing.
I suppose there must be some professional benefit to attending ALA. I can't think of any, but I cant believe all the people who claim to get some benefit from ALA are lying. Many of them are very nice people, and I just don't think they'd lie. But professional benefits pale in comparison to free booze and free dinners. I think we can all agree on that, at least.
And it's not like ALA doesn't do a lot of great stuff for all the money they get. There's a whole Washington office they have to fund, which spends its time lobbying unsuccessfully on all sorts of political issues. Oh, and there's the impressive ALA website, what we all know to be a model of its kind. That kind of work doesn't come cheap. And of course there's the free bar every day at the ALA headquarters in Chicago. This might seem extravagant, but it's the only way any intelligent people can stand to work there. And don't forget about how the ALA protects our intellectual freedom from worried mothers in Bumflap, GA who ask to have "I Married a Dead Gay Penguin" removed from the shelves of their local grade school library. Without the ALA, we would have no intellectual freedom, and you should just pay your dues and thank God there's an ALA around to protect yours, you little ingrate.
So you can complain all you like about how your generation needs this or wants that, about how everything has changed, about how you're all passionate and whatnot about the profession. I've heard it all before. All those old, jaded, slack-eyed lumps you see around the ALA conference were once that way as well. But with age comes wisdom, and eventually you'll realize that there are far more important things than doing great deeds for the profession (which hasn't ever been much of a practical concern for the ALA). Instead of complaining that ALA is for the haves and those on the tenure track, you need to make yourself a have on the tenure track and bask in the glory. That way you can take advantage of what ALA has to offer--free food and booze. The entire machinery of ALA revolves around making sure I can get away from work for two weeks a year and eat and drink at the library's expense. I can't think of any greater good than that.