As part of my taking a fresh look at career options, I have been asking myself if it really matters what professional associations I belong to now. We are told repeatedly as young academics that membership of the right associations matters, helping you find a community, offering a conference venue or related publication venue, and so forth, which might be partly true but only partly.
As renewals have come up for a few, I’ve decided to let my membership lapse. I take a look at what the association claims as benefits for membership and then ask myself if I either receive or avail of said benefits, and if so, are they worth the price of admission? These days I am beginning to think the answers are negative.
Sure, as a former president of ASIST, I have a tie to the organization that is difficult to sever, and I know the challenges of even sustaining never mind growing membership. But over the last 15 years I maintained membership of more than half a dozen associations, at a cost of well over $1000 a year and I now question just how much value there is in this.
Not to pick on any one society but I’ve let my ALISE and SLA memberships elapse. The stated benefits of these organizations are not great: a mix of some I barely use (e.g. access to a limited scholarly journal, possibility of being considered for an award (as if!) or membership of a SIG) and those I’d never use (membership lists?). Yes, a discount on attendance at conferences, usually the equivalent of membership dues, offers a wash but if I don’t attend the conference there’s not much going for this either.
SLA claims to offer a bit more than most, to keep members ‘ahead of the learning curve’ and advance career options, but I can’t say i experienced too much of this, but then maybe that’s just me. When I told them upon receiving my reminders to renew that I found the cost-benefit ratio to be too small they just politely told me ‘thank you’ and that was it. Fair enough, what association has time to deal with such members when there’s committee meetings, resolutions to draft, learning curves to keep ahead of, and awards to hand out.
The real point though is just what can associations offer in this age? Yes, they’ll cling on as long as they are running financially viable conferences which they can price to encourage membership but this is hardly the purpose is it? Rather than hide behind cliched mission statements, repetitive presidential editorials about ‘excitement at developments in the field,’ associations need to renew their purposes and deliver value beyond the old formulaic benefits. In the information space, one might really think a group that pushes harder for greater educational quality might gain some traction. What a pity those claiming to do so seem to be distracted, shuffling task forces and committees in mundane attempts at survival.