Many of us – librarians – are members of some professional organizations. We tend to join one and pay dues every year but don’t do much about or with those organizations beyond that. But that would be probably not the best way to make use of your professional organization. In order to best utilize your organization, you need to know what it does first and see if their activities fit with your interests. So do some research to see if it is a good fit for you. Secondly, you need to figure out how the organization works, what structure it has, what is the mode of operation, etc.
- What interest groups does it have?
- What kind of programs does it put up at conferences?
- What committees does it have?
- Who belong to the organization and what do they do for the organization?
- What is the procedure for being involved with an IG or becoming a member of a committee (and the timeline)?
- Is there a mentoring program?
- What are, if any, tangible benefits for being a member?
- Is there a board?
- What does the board do?
- What is the relationship between the board and the members?
- Who do I contact if I have a suggestion?
I confess that I do not know the answers to all these questions for all organizations that I am a member of. I only got to know about a few organizations a little, while I was doing things that were of interest to me. But I think that organizations need to make answers to these questions as clear and transparent as possible to current and potential members and that members should also demand that organizations do so if not.
That having been said, here are some thoughts of mine about the organization that I have been involved for a while: LITA (Library Information Technology Association), a division of ALA (American Library Association). Andromeda Yelton, who is running for the the LITA board of directors, is interviewing many librarians involved with LITA as part of her campaign. I think it is a great project for not just those who are in the LITA leadership positions but also those who are interested in LITA and want to hear from other people’s thoughts on LITA as an organization. I am recording the video interview with Andromeda tomorrow, but I thought Andromeda’s three questions would be interesting to many others as well. So you can check out my answers here if you prefer reading a write-up to watching a video (as I do). If you are a member of ALA and are interested in LITA, hopefully this will be useful. If your primary organization is not LITA, you can think about that other organization instead and think about how your organization does compared to LITA.
How did you get involved with LITA?
I went to the 2009 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago. That was my very first ALA conference, and at that time I had zero understanding about the structure of ALA such as a division, a roundtable, a committee, an interest group (IG) etc. But while I was planning what programs to attend, LITA kept popping up. And then I happened to go to this meeting of LITA Emerging Technologies IG, and there were maybe three dozens of librarians who were very much like me, early in their career, doing technology stuff, and was somewhat confused about this new title of Emerging Technologies Librarian and the job duties of this title. We had a fantastic conversation, and I ended up volunteering to put together the resources we discussed after the program. I eventually wrote a program proposal on the topic for the next ALA Annual conference with the vice-chair of that IG at that time, Jacquelyn (Erdman) after the conference. It got accepted, and so Jacquelyn and I put together the program for the 2010 ALA Annual, “What Are Your Libraries Doing about Emerging Technologies?” which was amazingly well received. So that was my first experience of getting involved with LITA at an active level. In 2010, I also volunteered to chair the quite new Mobile Computing Interest Group because the first chair, Cody (Hanson) was steeping down. So that’s how I started being involved with LITA.
At that time, I didn’t think that I was getting involved with LITA. I was just doing things that were interesting to me. But this is just my experience. There are many different ways to be involved with LITA. For example, I have a friend who joined LITA and then e-mailed to the LITA president asking to put him on a LITA committee. He was put on a committee almost immediately and then later also became an ALA Emerging Leader sponsored by LITA. So you can do that. Not many people would think of e-mailing the LITA president with a request for a committee spot. That’s out-of-the-box thinking! Some people also start by creating an Interest Group and/or by going to the LITA Happy Hour, which is also an excellent way to be involved with LITA.
What are the strengths of LITA?
LITA is a very big group because it is a division of an even bigger organization, ALA. So there are a great number of people who deal with technology at many different levels in many different types of institutions: public libraries, academic libraries, special libraries, small libraries, large libraries, system administrators, web masters, IT department heads, metadata librarians, etc. So you are almost guaranteed to meet fascinating people whom you did not know about and they always have interesting ideas and thoughts on the current trends of library technology.
Another strength of LITA that I see is its Interest Group(IG)s. There are a great number of them, and they are highly informal and welcoming to new members. If you cannot find a LITA IG you like, you can even start one yourself with not much effort. I know that many people gravitate towards bigger programs because IG meetings don’t always post a clear agenda in advance. But that is a mistake. You are more likely to learn about things you did not expect from IG meetings than from large programs.
I also think that the simplified program proposal process for the ALA Annual conference and the LITA Forum is a huge strength of LITA. It cuts down so many levels of bureaucracy, and this only has been implemented only recently (3 years ago or so I think). You just fill out a Google Form, and you don’t have to be even associated with LITA IG or even LITA (if I am correct) as long as the proposal is relevant to library technologies. (Now wouldn’t it be dreamy if we can simplify an organization’s structure just like that too? Just thinking…) The simplified procedure attracts more qualified potential speakers, thereby enriching the programs offered from LITA at conferences.
What are the challenges for LITA?
LITA members, particularly the new members, have an amazing amount of energy. I don’t think that LITA knows how to harness this energy to the maximum benefit to itself. I understand that there are existing structural and procedural practices, but those practices may be ill-suited for gathering and implementing the creative ideas from new members. A lot of times, what confuses and intimidates new LITA members are the structure and the operation of the organization. Now that I have been active with LITA for some years, it doesn’t seem too bad to me any longer! But this is probably what happened to many who lead LITA. They are probably too familiar to notice what barriers of entry exist to new members. You get used to it. So there needs to be a strong mechanism to get input from new members inside LITA and then do something about the input. LITA really needs to do more to reach out to new members to let them know what they can use LITA for and how to do so. It has gotten better over the years but it can still be much more improved.
Also, LITA has a few high-profile programs such as Top Tech Trends. So LITA is well-known at least to ALA members. But that popularity and recognition is connected to the strength of LITA only at a very abstract level. LITA needs to change that. I was one of the two LITA-sponsored ALA Emerging Leaders in 2010-2011, and my team did a big project about what to do to give a stronger brand and identity to LITA. And I am hoping to see that some of those ideas from our team project get picked up by the LITA leadership. I am also serving on the LITA Top Tech Trends committee and working on transforming the Top Tech Trends program into a more dynamic and participatory event. So far the idea was received with enthusiasm at the committee meeting last week. So we will see.
Overall, changes have been slow, and I think LITA members are not cut out for a slow process. They deal with very fast-paced information technology every day after all. So the speed of things getting done really needs to pick up to respond to the average high energy of LITA members.
Additional thoughts – Join or Not Join
I know that many people get put off by various things when they join LITA, or any other professional organizations. They feel that the organization is not welcoming enough, don’t do much for the benefit of individual members, seem to have an awful bureaucracy, have too many unproductive committees, and even have cliques. And probably all of these are true to a degree. But those cannot be changed immediately and it won’t help you in the mean time. Besides if you are interested in library technology and an ALA member, you cannot but cross paths with LITA at some point. So you might as well make the best out of it as much as you can. And that doesn’t necessarily entail being a member.
I think it is the best if people join an organization because it is actually useful to them. If you are interested in LITA, don’t just join and wait for things to happen. Start somewhere else instead. First check out the LITA listserv, go to LITA meetings and programs, meet with people in LITA, and see if something clicks with you, your interests, and what you want to do, learn, or try. If it does, then go ahead and do those things you want to do. While doing those things, if it turns out that you cannot proceed without joining LITA, then join it. Now you have something you are doing using the organization for your benefit. Consequently the membership will be worthwhile, and the organization will also benefit from your participation. This way the connection between you and the organization will be meaningful and concrete. And down the line after doing many things that excite you, perhaps when you get to care enough about the organization itself, you can also do some work for the organization itself to improve things that you did not not like much or to create things you would have liked to see.