Why I will not renew my ALA membership next year

The announcement I just received from ALA about the application for Emerging Leaders is the final straw in my decision to not renew my ALA membership next year.

The description of the program sounds exciting to someone who is eager to get involved in ALA:

The program is designed to enable more than 100 new librarians to get on the fast track to ALA and professional leadership. Participants are given the opportunity to work on a variety of projects, network with peers, and get an inside look into ALA structure and activities.

But then I read the requirements:

  1. Be under 35 years of age or be a new librarian of any age with fewer than 5 years post-MLS experience, and
  2. Have a recent MLS degree from an ALA or NCATE accredited program or be in an MLS program currently, and
  3. Be able to attend both ALA conferences and work virtually in between each,
  4. Be prepared to commit to serve on an ALA, Division, Chapter, or Round Table committee, taskforce or workgroup upon completion of program, and
  5. Be an ALA member or join upon selection if not already a member.

So ALA will happily take the money from library “support staff” (BTW I hate that term) for membership but does not allow those same members to apply for leadership opportunities within ALA such as this one. Isn’t this the American Library Association (as opposed to the American Librarian Association)? When will ALA recognize that not all library “professionals” have nor need an MLS.

No thank you.

About Lori Reed

Lori Reed, coauthor of Workplace Learning & Leadership: A Handbook for Library and Non-Profit Trainers, is a learning and communication strategist with more than twenty years experience in learning and development. A 2009 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and a 2010 "One to Watch" for paralibrarians, Lori graduated cum laude from East Carolina University with a Bachelor of Science in Communication. Lori is a certified Synchronous Learning Expert and a North Carolina Master Trainer and has traveled across North America speaking about libraries and training.


  1. rowan douglas says:

    Emerging Leaders is for librarians. Support staff and other non MLS positions can be honored with the Movers and Shakers recognition categories. I suppose if you are looking for an excuse to dump ALA, this is convenient as any. But really, we do expect library leaders to be librarians, don’t we?

  2. richard says:

    Do we expect library leaders to be librarians? Have they been in the past?

  3. I see absolutely no reason to think that someone working in libraries without an MLS wouldn’t be qualified rise to a leadership position in ALA. And I think the organization is sending a clear message that ALA isn’t for people without one. I think you should make it very clear to the organization how you feel about this and the impact it has had on your interest in remaining a member. For one group in an organization to be marginalized is incredibly unfair. Where is the emerging leader program for library staff who don’t have an MLS?

  4. Support Staff/Paraprofessionals/Other-Appropriate-Name-To-Be-Determined is certainly one large and valuable group of library employees which deserves more attention than it receives–including leadership opportunities. On the other hand, withdrawing from ALA takes each of us one step further away from being able to promote positive change within the organization. CLENE (Continuing Library Education Network and Exchange Round Table), for example, is a wonderful part of ALA and desperately needs people of your talent, experience, and heart actively participating; perhaps if more of us work together through this setting and continue doing what we can through our other pursuits, we can bring about the sort of opportunities you so obviously cherish.

  5. Lori, if anyone should be considered an Emerging Leader, it’s you. I’d love to see this program (and more scholarship opportunities) open to non-MLS members.

  6. Hi:

    First time commenting here – a key issue I hear everywhere.

    In my part of the world (the West), a goodly number of libraries in small communities are run by people without masters’ degrees. Even our state libraries support certification for those folks, and I have participated in several state library-supported training for library directors without MLSs. I also have run and taught in a number of library leadership programs that were open to everyone, and the quality of participants remained very high.

    I believe ALA has an official stance – they want to encourage everyone to get a library degree. So the EL programs reflects the official strategic plan. Not being a librarian myself, I don’t really have an opinion if this is the right thing or wrong thing to do.

    I do think that a masters degree in itself, or lack of same, is not necessarily concrete evidence of leadership competency.

    There seems to a group of people, including former state librarians Nancy Bolt and Karen Strege, who are working to address the issue of the status of the nondegreed worker within ALA – they are coming down on the side of giving them status, etc.

    I listen to the arguments I hear over adult beverages at conferences and they seem to come down to this:

    1. Do you support the profession of librarians? OR
    2. Do you support libraries?

    There should not be a conflict between these ideas, but, at the extremes, there are people who want to close libraries if they are not run by librarians, and there are the people who think the library schools are a waste of money.

    I have been a mentor in the Emerging Technology program. I would probably run it differently if I was in charge, but the talent they attract sparkles!

    Pat Wagner
    Pattern Research, Inc.

  7. I think Paul’s suggestion to try to work from within ALA is one to at least consider – you can try to change things through committees and interest groups. Realistically, though, the ability for one person to change the way an organization views itself and its “core membership” would be very, very hard. I speak from my own experiences trying to “change from within” certain aspects of my state library association. One can try, and help the profession overall through participation and advocacy – but don’t go in with any expectations for magic fixes.

    I struggle every year with my ALA membership for so many reasons. This issue – the ignoring of staff without MLSs – is yet another tick in the “not good” column. I responded to this issue at my blog if anyone’s interested.

    Thank you Lori for raising this important issue.

  8. I think we are beginning to see some cracks in this system. This is a bad step by ALA to make an exclusion. It is difficult to explain to anyone why you would exclude the vast majority of library employees from becoming recognized leaders. I would agree with Pat. In Arizona, the State Library and the University of Arizona partner to training and certification for those who run libraries without a degree. According to this logic, they don’t deserve the training nor the opportunity. I wouldn’t lose the membership because of it. Another way may be more effective.

  9. Well, now you’ve really gone and done it, Lori: you’ve pulled two of my favorite people (Pat Wagner and Sarah Houghton-Jan) into this discussion, inspired them to give us additional food for thought, and even carried the whole thing onto another site (Sarah’s). Makes me believe that you’re forming the core of a small group of very vocal and reasonable people who might help you make change from within. If so, we all win–including those who are currently excluded from the sort of opportunity which inspired this entire exchange.

  10. Wow. Thank you all for your comments. I’m responding with a new post. 🙂

  11. Sure you can call it “elitist,” but to be a leader in your field shouldn’t you first be an expert in it? Sorry if you don’t like it, but in our culture expertise is defined by getting the terminal degree. Seems reasonable enough to me.

  12. Expertise is defined by the terminal degree? Not in my world.

    Expertise is defined by knowledge, skills, and results. Some degreed people have ’em. Some don’t. Same for non-degreed people — and yes, that says bad things about the degree.

  13. The issue of measuring expertise and success is interesting. There is a decades-long tradition in higher education in the US to award college credit for learning that takes place in the workplace. Using tests and portfolios, which capture learning, it is typical for people in a number of of fields: accounting, criminal justice, corporate management, aviation, health administration – as well as in many specific skills sets, such as language, English and math, to earn credit. Typically, the process is rigorous, but costs about 1/2 as much as “going to school”. For about ten years I taught one aspect of this process (the portfolio) in two colleges and one university. I also went through the process myself and earn 38 college credits toward my degree. Depending on the sponsoring institution, 1/4 to 1/2 of one’s credits can be earned this way.

    My opinion: the professors I have met who are most resistant to this process (which, yes, can be abused, but with decent oversight is legitimate and a very powerful educational tool) are what we call “Adult-phobic” – they don’t like having to give college credit to people who did not sit in a classroom for months and yet, might know more than they do!

    I have been trying to remind the leadership in library education for a while now that there is a tested way with a very good track record to acknowledge the expertise of talented and intelligent people who have accomplished great things without the formal credentials.



  1. […] Training Specialist Lori Reed posted an article on her personal Library Trainer blog to explain why she would not renew her ALA membership next year: to protest the exclusion of library Support Staff from the American Library Association’s […]

  2. […] program excluding non-MLIS library staff from applying – Lori Bell over at Library Trainer rightly takes issue with this requirement, resolving to let her membership in ALA lapse in protest. Sarah Houghton-Jan […]

  3. […] Emerging Leaders Update January 26th, 2009 7 Comments Last year I wrote a few posts about the Emerging Leaders program in ALA and my frustration with the requirement that […]

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