ASSOCIATES (vol. 8 no. 1, July 2001) -

ALA, Conference Attendance, & Support Staff


Gene Kinnaly
Senior Cataloger
Computer Files & Microforms
Special Materials Cataloging Division Library of Congress

ALA Annual in San Francisco was the latest in a series of Annual Conferences & Midwinter Meetings I've been lucky enough to attend, and without question, for me it was the best. It wasn't the perfect weather that made it the best, although the weather *was* perfect. And it wasn't the fun I had during and after my "official" duties were over, although it *was* the most fun I've ever had at ALA.

It was the best for two reasons. First, I got a lot more out of this conference, and second, I saw increasing evidence that support staff issues and concerns are being taken seriously throughout the association.

(1.) ALA is a huge organization, some 61,000 members by latest count. It's easy to get lost in the crowd. And I think the biggest mistake new members make is to focus exclusively on their specialty, and to ignore the opportunities to branch out into other areas. I'm a non-MLS cataloger, but from the very first, I was determined to get involved in things that were not necessarily related to either cataloging or support staff. When I joined ALA, I joined the New Members Round Table, volunteered for their Publicity Committee, and over a two-year term met so many great people and learned so many non-cataloging, non-support staff things.

When an ALA task force was being formed on electronic meeting participation, and NMRT was asked to supply a couple of names, I immediately volunteered, knowing I'd be exposed to a totally different view of ALA, and a totally different group of people. I was, and it was a great experience. I made sure I was involved in cataloging as well, so that my boss would approve partial funding for me to attend ALA. But it has never been *only* cataloging, and I think that, in terms of professional development, that's an important point.

This was my best conference because I know more about how things work in ALA. I understand the programming. I know how to visit the exhibits and *talk* to vendors, and not just pick up some pens and posters. I realize it's up to *me* to balance those things I must do - like committee meetings - and those things I really *want* to do - like various programs and events. And I'm not sure I'd understand these things if it were not for my varied experiences within ALA. If you are now a member or if you become a member of ALA and don't take the initiative to get involved in something other than your specialty, something other than support staff, you're missing out on some wonderful opportunities to expand your horizons and engage in some serious professional development.

(2.) Once again - due to committee commitments - I managed to miss all LSSIRT meetings and programs. But LSSIRT isn't the only place where support staff are mentioned, or support staff concerns are discussed.

And since ALA units are represented by a real alphabet soup of acronyms, here are definitions of the acronyms found below:

ALCTS - Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (a division of ALA -
RUSA - Reference and User Services Association (another division of ALA -
LSSIRT - Library Support Staff Interests Round Table (one of 18 round tables in ALA -

Saturday morning I attended the New Members Round Table Orientation, representing LSSIRT. NMRT has an orientation session at Midwinter and Annual, and I highly recommend it to anyone new to ALA, and especially anyone attending their first ALA conference. During the Orientation, incoming ALA President John Berry (*not* Library Journal's John Berry) spoke for a few minutes. One of his themes during his term is electronic participation in ALA, and specifically mentioned support staff when talking about the expense of attending conference, and how members should not feel like they can't participate without attending conference.

Later, each person representing ALA units had a chance to stand, introduce himself or herself, and say a few words about the unit they were representing. I said a few things about LSSIRT and stressed the trial membership, asking those in attendance to take the material they had in their packets back to their libraries and share the information with the library's support staff. After the Orientation was over, I had several people come up to me, saying they were support staff, and asking me for more information. It was great!

Monday afternoon I worked the ALCTS booth for a couple of hours, and talked to a number of different people. The ALCTS booth had a supply of the flyer describing the support staff trial membership (including a membership application), and there was a fair amount of interest shown by booth visitors. During my time at the booth, a person came by who said that she was a member of the RUSA Membership Committee, and that they were very excited about the trial membership and very pleased they were able to contribute to the formation of this program. And later, ALCTS President Carlen Ruschoff stopped by. We started talking about the trial membership (I talked to *everyone* who stopped by about it), and she said that she had talked about it during the ALCTS President's program that morning. ALCTS, too, is excited about the program, and is looking forward to getting more members from the ranks for support staff.

In fact, in the ALCTS Newsletter distributed this spring, Carlen wrote "... the board of directors expects our membership to grow and diversify. New audiences for ALCTS programs will be targeted for membership. The most obvious audience to reach out to is support staff. Last summer, ALCTS led the way to opening this door by working with RUSA and the Support Staff Interest Round Table (SSIRT) in drafting an outreach plan. A special membership package providing an opportunity for support staff to join ALA, SSIRT, and either ALCTS or RUSA for a single price has been created and will be implemented this summer on a trial basis."

My point in all this is that support staff are being talked about in a very serious way, and not just within LSSIRT. There is a very broad movement within ALA to increase the diversity of its membership, and one excellent way of doing that is to make joining ALA more affordable for library support staff. The Library Support Staff Membership Initiative does just that. For more information on this program, see:

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