"What good are professional associations?”
This is a question that was posed to me recently, in all sincerity, by a colleague who wondered what the role of professional associations was in the twenty-first century. I will admit to some astonishment at the question. The reasoning behind it was that social networking opportunities like Facebook and Twitter, the ability to create and post and comment on professional blogs, the unlimited ability to track down any librarian and any library on the World Wide Web, and the wide availability of online training tools like webinars and streaming video had made “traditional” professional associations like VLA obsolete.
Does this remind anyone of the apparently premature prediction of the death of the book?
The question prompted me to think very seriously about our association, what we do, how we do it, and what good it is. First, to address an essential flaw in the premise of the question: social networking and online tools are not at odds with or a replacement for traditional associations. The Virginia Library Association runs an active blog, communicates via a Google Groups listserv, maintains an active Facebook presence, and continues to develop online training opportunities, both as webinars and video. Visit our webpage to learn more about these opportunities (www.vla.org). The association’s forums and committees have been active in promoting online as well as face-to-face professional development.
Which is not to say that face-to-face meetings do not continue to be tremendously beneficial. At a recent VLA meeting in Richmond, a colleague observed that professional associations like VLA or ALA often provide opportunities for professional fulfillment. “I often feel valued here in a way that is different from how I feel at work.” Indeed, associations provide a venue for a complementary but often radically different form of professional engagement, development, and reward.
Perhaps one of the most rewarding projects recently to come out of the association has been the Snapshot Virginia project (www. snapshotvirginia.org). Snapshot Virginia is “One day in the life of Virginia libraries,” a project of the Virginia Library Association and the Library of Virginia. The purpose is to capture the impact that Virginia libraries have on their communities on a typical day and to turn the statistics and photos collected into advocacy materials for public libraries. The results are an impressive tool for telling the story of the commonwealth’s libraries to our communities and elected officials.
This year nearly half of Virginia’s libraries submitted statistics, photos, and testimonials describing one day of public service. And the results are impressive. For example, in just one day:
These statistics (and the supporting patron comments) demonstrate that the commonwealth’s libraries are truly essential, providing necessary educational, career-development, social, and public services, especially in tough economic times. Promotional material such as posters and bookmarks highlighting patron voices, essential facts and statistics, and more can be downloaded from the Snapshot Virginia website. Many thanks go out to Sean Bonney for spearheading and managing this project, and producing the excellent website and advocacy tools now available — and thanks, too, to Central Rappahannock Regional Library for “lending” him to us!
So what good are professional associations?
The Virginia Library Association supports advocacy efforts (both in Richmond and Washington), hosts not one but two annual conferences, awards scholarships to support new entrants to our profession, sponsors training and career development opportunities both online and face-to-face, and provides a venue for professional enrichment and engagement that is related to, but different from, the experience of the workplace.
I’d say that’s pretty darn good.