Monday 5 June 2017

Day 5: Why I cancelled my ALIA membership...

So, two and a half weeks ago, I joined the Australian Library and Information Association. It wasn't a decision that I took lightly. You see, there was a time when I was once an ALIA member, and I cancelled my membership, with no intention of ever re-joining.

But before I can explain why I left, I need to first explain why I joined ALIA in the first place.

It would have been about eleven years ago - back in early 2006, when I was working as a Serials Officer with a public library service, and studying to become a librarian - when one of my librarian colleagues encouraged me to join the ALIA NewGrads mailing list. It opened up a world of ongoing discussion amongst students and new graduates, and all of a sudden I was connecting with a whole bunch of my peers from around Australia in a way that my university's online subjects never seemed to manage to do, despite their best efforts. It was through the mailing list that I found out about the New Librarian's Symposium, and I was determined to go there in December, and meet a bunch of these other librarians I'd been chatting to.

In September of that year, I got my first professional librarian job - in Darwin. When I arrived, the local librarian community was welcoming, and were keen to get me involved in the ALIA Top End Group, but I would need to become an ALIA member first!

It turned out that the difference between the member and non-member registration for NLS was actually greater than the cost of ALIA new graduate membership, so I was saving money by joining - so that was that!

In the following two and a half years of living in Darwin, ALIA membership meant that I was an active part of a professional community. I was Secretary of the Top End Group, and was involved in the organising committees for the Top End Symposium in 2007 and the New Librarians Symposium in 2008. It was a big part of my life - I was particularly passionate about creating events and spaces where library professionals could come together and share ideas.

And then I moved back to Melbourne in mid 2009, and became the convenor of the New Graduates Group and took up a role on the New Generation Advisory Committee to the ALIA Board. I think it was somewhere in 2010 when I started hitting the wall. I still had a few good friends from the ALIA scene, but I also started losing that sense of community. The more I pushed, the more I started to feel like the library industry didn't care - that I was surrounded by librarians who just treated their job like a source of income, rather than a life-long calling that they should be pouring all their energy into like I felt that I had to. And I started to resent them for it.

Furthermore, as much as I hate to admit it now - I kinda started to hate libraries. I hated that we lived in a world with such scope for innovation and creativity, and yet libraries were still, on the whole, stuck in 20th century attitudes.

And here was ALIA - an organisation that I felt was responsible for inspiring and facilitating vibrant communities for professional development and knowledge-sharing... and yet, from what I could see at the time, did none of this.

Whether I was justified in feeling this way at the time is certainly questionable - looking back now, I recognise that I was often impatient with an industry of professionals who often have to juggle work with managing a family and a household, whereas here I was, a early thirty-something year old with all the time to do all of the things. And, for all its scope for innovation, it's still a relatively conservative field, all things considered.

But I figured, in spite of all my efforts, I'm not really making much of a difference in the industry, and I'm not feeling connected with my community or inspired in my work. It's time for a change.

So I left in mid-2011. Left the country and lived in the Japanese countryside for a while. Let my ALIA membership lapse after five years of membership, and told them I'd left the country and the industry. That year off did wonders for my perspective - not just on my career but my life.

A year later, I came back to a library job - tentatively - with more of a focus on community development and arts programming, which I didn't really consider "real" librarianship. I worked in fringe and literary festivals, and then spent a few years working in international development programmes. There were huge challenges and frustrations, but the achievements were extremely rewarding.

Looking back, I think ALIA membership was important to me as a new graduate in the industry, trying to find my feet and connect with the real issues in the industry - but it could only get me so far. I needed to hit that wall in order to realise the limitations of what I can expect from a professional community and industry. The industry does not owe me job satisfaction, and my peers don't have an obligation to care more about the professional community than their own non-jobby lives.

And yet, six years after cancelling my membership, I've joined up again. My reasons are different now........ (to be continued tomorrow)

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