The Value of A Professional Organization

I believe disclaimers should be in front of the text to which they relate. Otherwise, the reader may start out making an assumption that turns out to be wrong. Accordingly, I note that while I am a member of the AALL executive board, this blog post, as all others on this blog, represents solely my own writing and opinions. I am not authorized to speak for anyone other than myself. Now that you know that, you can decide for yourself how much my position colors my writing.

In one sense, this post returns to an earlier topic upon which I have written (here and here), the governance of organizations in the Internet age. But this post goes well beyond mere governance. I intend to lay out what I consider to be some important aspects of the association’s value to its members. Along the way I may mention its value to those beyond its membership. I hope that I will contribute to an important conversation about AALL’s future.

To begin with, AALL’s membership is diverse, and this is only fair, given that law librarians comprise people who are diverse in many ways: gender, race, ethnicity, age, type of employer. As one who has been fortunate to attend many annual meetings, I can attest to the diversity in visible member characteristics. Glancing at the report on Membership Statistics 2009-13 one verifies that membership is employed by law firms, academic institutions, courts and government agencies, and business corporations. The value of diversity in employer type is recognized by the association and inculcated in its bylaws. The bylaws contain a clear statement on nondiscrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, age, national origin, disability, or sexual orientation. At its recent meeting the executive board approved a proposal to add gender identity to this list and the membership will soon have the opportunity to add this language to the bylaws.

This recognition of the value of diversity continues in the procedures for nominating candidates for office and the executive board. The charge of the Nominations Committee states that, “The Committee shall present a slate that, if elected, would maintain a balance on the Executive Board of members by library type, geography, sex, and minority representation to the extent possible.” Given the value that the organization places on diversity, it should come as no surprise that members do not hold the same opinion on every matter that becomes the business of the association. I am confident that nearly all the membership would agree with the object of the association as stated in the bylaws: “The American Association of Law Libraries exists to promote and enhance the value of law libraries to the public, the legal community, and the world, to foster the profession of law librarianship, and to provide leadership in the field of legal information and information policy, in recognition that the availability of legal information to all people is a necessary requirement for a just and democratic society. ” Once we move into the particulars of achieving that object, members may well disagree on details. Members participate in establishing the means of working towards the object by serving on committees, participating in discussion in various fora, voting in elections, serving in office, and paying dues. Members who feel they want to change a particular strategy or goal may open discussion, submit resolutions, create new communities of interest, communicate directly with board members, and otherwise reach out to fellow members. Ultimately, of course, a dissatisfied member can leave the organization. That is the essence of any voluntary organization.

So what value does AALL give its members? To begin with, it provides much more than just lip service to achieving its object. AALL’s government advocacy staff represent association views before Congress and federal administrative agencies. Those staff work closely with AALL members to advance association aims before state and local governments across the country. AALL sponsors educational programs that are delivered at the annual meeting, through webinars, and member participation at chapter meetings. AALL helps members connect with each other. The Membership Development Committee recently launched Mentor Match (login required), a self-serve mentorship program. Participants can volunteer as a mentor or mentee, and can use the system to find an appropriate match.

AALL supports professional and personal networking of its members. Anyone who has attended an annual meeting can name at least one professional friendship started at such a meeting. Mailing lists and My Communities on AALLnet further the networking opportunities. Special interest sections allow like-minded members to gather around a common interest.

AALL supports professional growth. The management institute and leadership academy provide small group opportunities for developing skills and advancing one’s career. Members become sought-after speakers at annual meeting and chapter meetings. Members write articles in Spectrum and Law Library Journal. Members publish their photographs in the annual photo competition.

AALL relies on a relatively small but efficient staff to keep the organization running smoothly, and that staff ultimately reports to the membership, through the executive board.

In sum, members make up the association, and together with its staff, deliver value to fellow members every single day. Value abounds.

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