The Value of a State Library Association
By Sandy Heinemann
May marked the half-way mark in my tenure as VLA President. It has been a very busy time. I have attended meetings in many areas of the Commonwealth, written numerous letters, chaired meetings, responded to e-mails, spoken with legislators, and carried out a myriad of other duties. During this time, my commitment to the association that I have been involved in for over 20 years has increased, and, more than ever, I appreciate and value the ways in which the members promote and sustain its mission. The association is the sum of its various parts. Members work in a number of different types of libraries--special, academic, school, and public. They hold a variety of positions-- reference, technical services, acquisitions, and administration, to name a few. Some of our members are trustees or friends. What we all have in common is a belief in the value of libraries, library services, and the library profession.
So, why are we members of our state professional association? First and foremost, our association gives us the opportunity to speak as one voice in support of our mission and our values. The Virginia Library Association provides leadership and a structure to effectively influence legislators in both the Virginia General Assembly and the U. S. Congress. Critical issues relative to funding and intellectual freedom are determined by these governing bodies. There is strength in numbers. A critical mass speaking as one voice can move mountains. This year, through the efforts of VLA's legislative liaison and Legislative Committee, the association secured a budget amendment which increased state aid to public libraries by $2.8 million for FY2000. Every public library and its users benefit from this. VLA also worked with members of the General Assembly to adopt internet use policies that would allow libraries local control over patron use of the Internet. This occurred during a time when attempts were made to legislate use of the Internet in libraries and schools, thereby impeding access to electronic information sources in those institutions.
Secondly, the Virginia Library Association provides affordable and accessible continuing education opportunities for all library personnel in the state. At a time when the costs of training opportunities and attendance at national conferences is escalating, VLA offers workshops of current interest to all levels and types of library employees. The VLA Annual Conference has been held every year since 1923. It continues to attract first rate speakers on a variety of relevant topics. In addition, it provides an opportunity to showcase our local talent as more and more Virginia librarians support the association by presenting programs at the conference. The VLA-sponsored Paraprofessional Forum Conference attracts nearly 500 attendees annually because it fulfills a need to network and learn, and it is affordable.
Thirdly, professional development and career advancement are furthered through networking at VLA conferences and workshops, and by serving the association on committees and in other leadership positions. Such opportunities are less costly to institutions in terms of personnel time and institutional resources than participation in regional or national organizations. VLA funds two major scholarships through corporate and individual donations with the awards contingent on the recipient's commitment to a career in a Virginia library. These people will staff the libraries of tomorrow.
Why should every library director and all other library personnel and supporters belong to VLA? VLA is the underpinning that connects all library services and library personnel in the state. Every one of us lives in a community that has a public library; every one of us is a library user. Many of our children use school libraries; some of us are graduate students who use university libraries. We should support an organization that allows our collective voices to be heard in a way that can bring results. Organizations such as ours do not exist on air alone; people provide the time, energy , commitment, and financial support to maintain worthwhile organizations. The more individuals and institutions contribute, the more they, and society, will receive in return. To those of you who are members, take "One Minute for Membership" and ask someone you know to join.