Focus Group - 2004 ALA Annual
Market Research Findings and Detailed Report
ALA Focus Groups conducted during the
2004 Annual Conference
Prepared for the
American Library Association
Marketing General Inc.
During the 2004 Annual Conference, in Orlando, FL. Marketing General, Inc. (MGI) conducted a total of six focus groups consisting of various types of Meeting attendees.
- Academic Librarians with more than five years
- New ALA Members
- ALA members
- Academic Librarians with less than five years
- ALA Members - more than ten years tenure
- ALA student members
This focus group was conducted with members to get a better understanding of the following:
- To understand the most pressing challenges in their day to day profession;
- To understand what tools or resources would help them do their jobs better;
- To understand their perceived value of their membership with ALA and what products and services are most useful;
- Gain insight about how ALA can remain relevant to its members now and in the future.
To meet our objectives we developed a list of core questions that we asked to all six groups. We then added a few variable questions that were appropriate for the sample audience.
MGI obtained a list of pre-registered conference attendees from ALA and sent out an invitation to participate via fax. MGI has no problem filling any of the focus groups and needed very little follow up calling. We sent out confirmations to all participants. We have run into some problems with no-shows but all focus groups were well attended during the Annual Conference
Moderator's Guides and attendance lists were created for each segment. They are included in this report.
Statement of Limitations
Focus groups seek to develop insight into attitudes, beliefs and perceptions rather than quantitatively precise measures. Because of the limited number of participants and the restrictions imposed on recruiting, this research must be considered in a qualitative frame of reference.
The reader is reminded that this report is intended to clarify ambiguous issues and indicate possible directions for future research. The data presented here cannot be projected to a universe of similar respondents.
The value of focus groups is in their ability to provide observers with unfiltered comments from a segment of the target population and for decision-makers to gain insight into the attitudes and beliefs of their consumer base.
Our six focus groups at this year's Annual Conference provided us with a good cross-section of ALA member librarian categories. And although many of the issues were specific to career level or specialty area, the findings were very much a reinforcement of what we had been told in prior focus groups at AASL, PLA and the midwinter conference.
I encourage you to read through the detailed findings for each group. There may be additional information that will be helpful to ALA in terms of content or membership segment. This would include new members and student members that were both interesting reads.
Overall, there have been two themes that have really stood out across all of the focus groups: to build awareness of the profession with the public communities that libraries serve and among their professional colleagues; and to find ways of attracting qualified individuals to the profession.
If ALA were to allocate resources or dollars to any new initiatives, it is MGI's recommendation that they would fall within these two areas. Librarians really wanted ALA to provide a PR campaign to include Public Service Announcements and information about the value of a library and the value of a librarian's expertise. They wanted to combat some of the illusions that librarians were a thing of the past.
There was increasing conversation about the use of the Internet and the "Google" mentality in thinking that everything there is to know could be found on Google. Other conversation discussed the matter of electronic formats replacing books and the authentication of the printed piece vs. a piece that could easily be manipulated. Clearly, many librarians are watching a transformation of the profession and the physical buildings and it has left many thoughts about the future up for speculation.
Attracting new folks to the profession was important and certainly finding qualified candidates out of library school was a challenge. ALA's recent grant to promote diversity in the profession may be a good step in helping to push enrollment in library school (masters).
Most participants saw ALA as a large, bureaucratic organization and encouraged ALA to spend more time educating and guiding 1st year members through the ALA membership and any conferences as well. Most participants voiced that it was difficult to "get involved" in ALA and serve on committees, etc.
The conference was highly regarded as a "cannot miss" event. Some complaints included the frustration over not being able to attend more sessions because they overlapped so much within the two to three day time frame. Some complained that the bus schedule was too small to read. Others wanted to detailed program brochure before making travel arrangements so they could plan travel better. One participant booked flights and then realized one session was on the departure day and she really didn't want to miss it.
Some groups talked about the desire for ALA to lobby for more funding for libraries and to continue its efforts against damaging access to information and other restrictive laws. But for the most part, legislative issues were not at the forefront of people's thoughts.
Lastly, another theme throughout the focus groups, although subtle, was a real sense that ALA needed to provide services and benefits to its members but that it also had to serve and represent the "wholeness" of the profession. They wanted to ALA to be more diverse and more representative of EVERY type of library.
Following are a few action items, detailed findings, attendance lists and transcriptions for each group.
Based on our analysis of the discussion from ALA member focus groups, Marketing General, Inc. encourages the following action items in no particular order:
- Ask a handful of new members to proof conference program brochures and other such collateral to provide ALA with a better perspective on materials from the end user's view point.
- Spend time brainstorming what a thorough PR/PSA campaign would look like and cost to promote libraries and librarians.
- Spend time brainstorming ways to "sell" the profession to young people choosing a career path or to para-professionals or career change seekers.
- Work more closely with library schools to understand the curriculum and to be a liaison between what is being taught and what is expected in the "real world".
- Continue to find ways to engage members (especially new or students) in ALA through committees, divisions, etc.
ALA ACADEMIC LIBRARIANS MORE THAN FIVE YEARS
Twelve academic librarians participated in this focus group held at ALA's 2004 Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida. The focus group was conducted by MGI with the objective of learning about important issues that affect librarians' jobs and more about how ALA can better serve their needs now and in the future. The group consisted specifically of conference attendees that have been librarians for more than five years in an academic setting.
The group began by discussing what occupies the majority of their workday. Responses from participants included strategic planning, developing new methods for measurement and collection, managing database systems, writing documentation, project-based work, assessment of things like online courses, grant writing and equipment proposals. Additionally, time is spent troubleshooting, going to meetings and on typical librarian functions like working at the records desk.
The majority of the group cited interacting with people as the best part of their job, whether it be assisting students with reference work or supervising and mentoring library staff. When asked what they found most challenging about their work, participants noted dealing with vendors, spending time outside of the library in decision-making at the university level, and fundraising. One participant felt keeping up with and picking appropriate technology posed one of the greatest challenges saying, "I've been in the same position since 1970, but every two to three-years it's a different position. Pinpointing what technology is going to succeed, what to invest your money in for equipment, hardware, training, job descriptions in terms of what you are able to do. I think that is challenging." While yet another echoed a common frustration of the group, which was maintaining quality with less staff, saying, "I think the declining budgets. You know you are talking about quality in the time of declining budgets. What can you maintain? What do you eliminate? What services do you keep? In the same line trying to explain to the upper administration that quality is still important."
A key problematic area for most of the group is intellectual property and the increasing restrictions on access of information. While the group agreed that with the move from print to electronic, you get much better access to information, a critical problem posed by not having it in hard copy, is not knowing if you will continue to have access to the same data electronically in the future because of changes in databases. One participant suggested that a model needed to be developed to guarantee consistency and preservation of electronic information.
When asked what the biggest difference is between public and university libraries, most participants responded that in public libraries you don't know who your clientele will be as opposed to the university community, where it is fairly predictable. One participant commented, "I think this is a very interesting question, because I realize that we almost have a new paradigm for academic libraries now. Because the academic is also the public library. Once we have Internet access available, we see people arriving at our doorstep, in fact doing amazing things within our facility, not only to use the Internet or to use our printing facilities, prior to this we didn't have just anybody coming in. So, then that issue of authentication, who has the right to use even a public library or an academic library a lot of which are frankly state funded, that is for the public too."
The focus group then discussed what they were most concerned with for the profession moving forward. Concerns included the quality of individuals coming into the librarian profession and related to this, the quality of education being received in library school. Additionally, one participant was concerned how the diversity of incoming librarians will impact the educational process.
There was a lengthy discussion about the challenge libraries face maintaining relevance in light of Internet and electronic medium. Many felt it was a battle they had been fighting for some time with both their respective universities and their constituents. Some felt the best strategy may be to recognize the Internet and work with it rather than against it since its use is so pervasive, particularly among the "born digital generation - they know how to search on Google before they know so many other things" citing that this is their paradigm for getting information. All agreed it was about information literacy, starting an early age and showing people there are alternatives to electronic media that can provide them with more in-depth and authoritative information and the major role libraries play in this. Participants felt that faculty have a role in addressing scholarship and mentoring students to develop better information seeking skills that will serve them well through their careers.
The discussion then focused specifically on concerns with regard to ALA. A lively discussion pursued around how the leadership or positions ALA takes impacts its reputation. One participant was concerned that ALA might jeopardize the natural goodwill that exists for all libraries, by possibly taking an antithetical position. While still another participant felt that with any stand taken you run the risk of political ramifications or alienating a segment and that this is the risk you must taken to remain true to the real value of what libraries represent.
The focus group was asked what motivated them to join as members of ALA. Most of the group responded that a mentor or co-worker had suggested it and all agreed that being a member was an expectation of the librarian profession. Some of the group joined as students and some joined when they got their first professional job.
There was a mixed response when asked if their libraries paid for professional training and conferences with some indicating a portion was paid while others had their entire registrations paid for.
The group was then asked if they belonged to any of the special interest divisions for ALA. Responses included LAMA, ACRL, ALCTS, ALEX, and RUSA. Participants also responded to belonging to roundtables. Participation in special interest divisions and roundtables means these members are paying upwards of $200 annually for their membership. Participants were asked if installment payments would make it easier for them. Most agreed they would prefer to simply pay it in full.
When asked if ALA should consider adding a membership category for library support staff, most of the group agreed it was a good idea. In fact, one responded it was long overdue. Two participants were concerned about the affordability of dues for these constituents.
However, there was great concern among the group about how including paraprofessionals as members might impact how ALA is regarded as a professional association. They felt that one of the greatest weaknesses of the librarian profession is that it is not granted the same sort of validation as a profession as something like the American Bar or American Medical Associations. They saw the role of librarians as one that is changing from simply technical and cataloging to one of teaching students and faculty where paraprofessionals are focused on the clerical aspect. One of the ways suggested to accommodate paraprofessionals would be to set it up as an identified group within ALA - separate but associated - with programming, mentoring and discussion relevant to their specific needs.
The focus group discussed what keeps them involved in ALA and makes them renew their membership. Answers included have a role in ALA committees or groups, networking, continuing education including conferences, and for opportunities to learn what is new in the field.
Other organizations participants belong to include the Modern Language Association, Society of American Archivist, Online Audio Visual Catalogers, SLA, and Special Libraries. Participants were not involved in local chapters but some were involved with state librarian groups.
The focus group was then asked is there was something ALA could provide them with that would help them and/or their career. The need for something like an ALA 101 that would help librarians just starting out in their careers understand ALA, its conferences, and how to get involved was expressed. One participant suggested including something with conference registration email confirmations that explain ALA's purpose while another suggested assigning a "mentor" to new conference attendees that can help introduce them to people.
There was group consensus that ALA had the burden of demonstrating its relevance in relation to its divisions. Many felt that these groups regarded themselves as the primary organization since ALA functions much more like an umbrella organization. The group also agreed that ALA serves a role in addressing bigger issues like intellectual freedom and events like the conferences that the divisions do not. One of the greatest challenges between ALA and its divisions lay within duplicating resources or committees. For example, there might be multiple committees that address the issue of copywriting but there might be copywriting issues that are specific to a division that would not be addressed if only offered by ALA.
Participants were asked how budget cuts, if any, have affected their organizations. In terms of resources, responses included loss of staff, subscriptions, equipment and supplies. How funding was approached has also been impacted. As one participant noted, "library directors are now being challenged to come up with different funding sources beyond the dependency upon the parent institution." Participants noted the need to be increasingly entrepreneurial in their approach, which they saw begin with offering fee-based reference services years ago. Some of the more entrepreneurial ways participants were generating revenue included having a Starbucks within the library and vending machines to rent videos.
The group also offered feedback on ALA's Conference. Some expressed frustration at not being able to do everything because its packed into two days while others did not have the budget to attend the "mini-conferences" or workshops that are offered at ALA's conference at additional cost. They felt that these and other ALA events held throughout the year dilute the Conference. As an aside, there was much agreement among the group that it would be very helpful to be able to access a conference program with detailed descriptions online before they make their travel arrangements to attend.ALA NEW MEMBERS
Ten ALA members participated in this New Member Focus Group. Almost all participants were new ALA members of less than one year with four recently joining as individual members having been institutional members in the past.
The group began by discussing what occupies the majority of their day. Responses included assisting patrons in finding books, doing research and answering reference questions. Some felt that although this is where their time should be spent, often a fair amount of their time is occupied supervising staff, serving on committees, doing programming and advancing the needs and priorities of their library.
The best part of their work for most was the variety their jobs provided, both in the actual duties and the kinds of topics they get to research and learn more about. Additionally, most felt interaction with their patrons whether adults, teachers, students, children,
and/or other libraries is an element they find most rewarding.
Challenges included time management and a sense they can get everything done and get it done well. The group felt a good deal of this could be attributed to the priorities imposed on them from external sources like teachers and principals as well as the variety their jobs provided. As much as they enjoy the variety, the find it can be frustrating as well. Additional challenges cited included budgets. Those with healthy budgets and those with less healthy funding, are both challenged with knowing they are making good choices about how money is spent and if they are choosing the best resources, staff and strategies for the their libraries.
The issues that concerned some with regard to their profession included having the required experience they needed to move forward in their careers, meeting the needs of changing constituents because of growth in their community and how the homogeneous approach they are forced to take towards the resources offered by their library does not serve different community needs. Many in the group cited communicating the depth and variety of their experience as well as justifying the existence of their institutions and the resources needed as the cause for their greatest frustration.
Reasons members noted for joining ALA included listing membership in a large professional association for academic reasons and on resumes, a determination that of those associations available to libraries, ALA most closely met their needs, the opportunity to go to conferences and to network, as well as special dues prices for first-time members and students.
Participants were then asked if they belonged to any of ALA's divisions or roundtables. As a group, these new members were very involved with ALA responding that they belonged to the new member's roundtable, YALSA, LAMA, the PLA Council, RUSA, ACRL, PAG and PARS.
Seven participants out of the focus group pay for their own ALA dues while the institutions of the remaining three pay for their memberships.
Benefits the participants found most valuable about their ALA membership included literature from roundtables, list serves, attending conference, networking with people that do the same thing they do and face the same challenges, and ALA's magazine which they felt shows the real world application of the kinds of things that are taught as just theory in class.
Things that ALA could provide that would be helpful included more timely information and better contact between the national organization and its local representative. There was a lively discussion and group consensus that there was better support needed for people attending conference for the first time and even those who have attended in the past so they can better navigate it and have a more meaningful experience. Many felt that sessions, specific tracks that appeal to a particular group of constituents, were scheduled on top of one another so they couldn't attend. They also agreed a clearer, easier to use conference program book was needed. One participant wondered why mid-winter conference were held in the north and summer sessions in the south which didn't make sense given the seasons and temperatures of each of these regions at these times of the year. While another, had wanted to download the conference schedule to his/her PDA but felt there were too many questions asked to do this. "I couldn't believe the number of questions they wanted to know. I was amazed that an organization that it so concerned about individual rights and privacy would hook up with an organization that wanted so much detailed information so I could download a schedule."
Seven participants said that they planned to renew their ALA membership. Two were unsure and one thought they would not renew as an individual because economically it made better sense for his/her institution to be a member.
For the most part, the other professional organizations participants belong to are targeted to specific interest areas such as the Society of American Archivists and NEA. Additionally, some participants were members of state associations that focus on issues specific to the states participants live in. Participants cited the targeted areas of focus, publications and journals as having value.
The focus group was then asked if they felt that as new members, they understood the
benefits of membership in ALA. Three participants responded that they did not understand the benefits and others expressed that they were aware of some benefits like the members magazine and discounts at the ALA graphics store but had to assume there was more.
Things that the group was not presently receiving anyplace else but that ALA could provide them with to help support their career included making it clearer how to get involved with ALA by specifically listing committees you can join, what they do, how you join, when and where they meet. "It gets really hard to know how to get involved in the ALA structure, and how to really become a part of it and really utilize it in the way they want us to, to advance our careers, and really become invested members." Another participant agreed saying, "I certainly know that I don't understand enough about it, to know what they could give me when I go to sign-up for that I just kind of the see the price and go, oh can't do that. But maybe if I knew more about it, then maybe the cost would be beneficial." Additionally, it was suggested that resources that ALA's website provides like the ALA Best Books Lists and Best Books for Reluctant Readers should be available to members in an annotated list the way that YALSA does. It would also be helpful if ALA could continue to provide local libraries with more tools on CDs to help them further promote national programs like One Book One Community or National Library Week on a local level.
The group was then asked where they thought ALA should focus its efforts for the future in a broad general sense. Several participants agreed that more diversity in book reviews representing other cultures is important. One participant felt that ALA could carve out a niche in this area and that in doing so, would reflect that ALA addresses a more global community. Two other issues noted included lobbying for increased federal spending in libraries and the need for a recruitment program to recruit both young librarians and those making mid-life career changes because of the graying librarian population. The need for a public relations campaign that would create awareness about the importance of libraries and reading was also considered important.
Finally, participants were asked what they hoped to gain from being at conference. One participant responded, " I hope step back from the day-to-day and take a bigger look at my profession and where I am going, and what I'm doing and how I can come back to work renewed and inspired." Others cited building connections with people, gaining different perspectives, getting fresh ideas and meeting celebrity authors.ALA MEMBERS
This was a group of general ALA members. They were a great group and very understanding as we struggled through the focus group with no AV assistance for recording the focus group. The following reflect written notes from each line of questioning.
When asked what occupied their days most answered with customer service and staffing issues followed by technology issues like e-mail, computer maintenance and upkeep, etc.
This group valued the creativity and flexibility that their work offered them. The enjoyed interacting with people, seeing customers and staff succeed, being able to buy books and having the opportunity to work with fellow employees.
Librarians felt that colleagues (like teachers in an academic environment) did not understanding the value of the library or their role as a librarian. They felt as though their roles were underestimated. Most agreed that budget cuts were a constant strain and that the lack of personnel and resources was impacting the delivery of services to the communities they serve.
This group really stressed the need for librarian brand awareness and wanted to see ALA put together a strong program that combated the "Google" mentality (anything you need you can find on Google) among students, parents, teachers and legislators. They wanted to see teachers making a requirement of their classes that all of their students had to utilize libraries as part of research and learning.
Most were worried about getting qualified people to enter the librarian profession. There was some conversation about the lack of good children's librarians and that programs were ending because there weren't any champions to lead the cause. They also voiced concern over the low salaries in the profession and the perception that more support staff were replacing librarians in libraries. ll became ALA members to be a part of the organization representing their profession. They deeply appreciated the networking, conferences, and education.
Most all belonged to at least one special interest division, and their state or regional library associations of which their libraries/organizations paid for their dues. Other organizations to which they belonged seemed to be more specific to professional areas like American Museum Association, Computing Machinery, American Historical Association, etc.
When asked what they would like to get from ALA which they currently do not receive some of the suggestions included CEU programs online or through regional conferences, self tests for changing technologies and processes and to keep librarians up on knowledge and experience. As in all focus groups there was a desire for ALA to positively promote the library profession to the end user and to fellow colleagues. They also wanted to see ALA as less bureaucratic and more flexible to be able to be more responsive to current issues. They also mentioned improving the website so things weren't so buried in pages. They wanted more collaboration with other organizations that shared common issues. Smaller, regional conferences were also suggested. One person also wanted ALA to promote its Annual Conference to support staff. Lastly, they thought the ALA customer service department could be more knowledgeable, informed and helpful.
ALA ACADEMIC LIBRARIANS - LESS THAN FIVE YEARS
A total of eight academic librarians participated in this focus group of ALA members of less than five years.
The group began by discussing what occupies the majority of their day. Responses included making choices about purchases including books, assisting patrons, supervision of staff, instruction, and cataloging. The majority of participants included reference work among those tasks that occupy the most amount of time.
Participants were asked what they enjoyed most about their jobs. Most enjoyed the academic environment and the variety and flexibility their jobs offered. Others cited colleagues, working with patrons, particularly students and really getting to know them and making a difference, and access to resources and technology as energizing.
Challenges participants faced included a lack of money for resources, staffing, and time to get their work done. The group talked specifically about not having the support of their institutions because the role and importance of libraries was not fully understood. Participants also discussed the need for better technology. Several of the libraries have recently migrated to a system called Olive that links campuses together. Some talked about the benefits and challenges their libraries are experiencing converting library space into technology information commons. A few mentioned low salaries as a source of personal frustration. The issue of pay and tenure was discussed at great length. Those at academic institutions and viewed as faculty received greater compensation.
One of the differences the group saw between academic libraries and public libraries included the patrons and their reference needs. At an academic library, they knew what questions to expect while in a public library, they never know what they will be asked. Also, students are invested in the scholarly process while the public just wants the information and not necessarily understand how to get it.
Moving forward in the next few years in their professions as librarians, things members of the group were most concerned with included the impact of technology on their libraries in terms of maintaining the relevance of libraries, how resources allocated, and how libraries in turn are used. Some felt that because of the Internet they now had to sell or market the value of libraries are a research resource to both their institutions and patrons. There was concern about print versus non-printed materials like electronic subscriptions and how this affects acquisitions. Concerns about diminishing budgets and the interactivity of databases were cited.
The group was asked why they joined ALA. Reasons included tenure requirements, a desire to get involved, opportunities to network and work with other librarians, seeing what others are doing, their library school encourage them to join and the opportunity to join ALA's special interest groups.
Divisions and/or roundtables participants belonged to included RUSA, CJCLS, LIRT, DLS, NMRT, ALEX, LITA, MRMT and RBMS. Most were members of ACRL.
The majority of the group pays their own ALA membership dues with eight six paying on their own and two paid by their institutions. Reasons participants cited for renewing their membership each year included networking, to be connected to the larger library world, ALA publications, and advocacy on behalf of the issues that surround the profession. There was consensus among the group that the three most valuable benefits they get from ALA were networking, publications, and events.
Other professional organizations participants belonged to included local associations like FLA, the Rhode Island Library Association, the Connecticut Library Association, the Washington Library Association, the Oregon Library Association, the New York Library Association, the new England Library Association, and more topic specific associations like LOEX which is targeted for instructional librarians and the Special Libraries Association, the New American Serials Interest Group and organizations that are not librarian professional associations like the Florida Association of Community Colleges. There was not a lot of benefit that participants saw they were getting from these associations except an opportunity for a different viewpoint, networking and some programming.
When asked if there were something that ALA could provide them with that would support their careers, participants responded help with advocating for salaries, budget issues, intellectual freedom, and the Patriot Act. Several participants would like to see average salaries for their part of their country or if possible, their specific state. Another would like to see more education or information on just advocacy in general as well as marketing, specifically librarians marketing themselves, and marketing their libraries.
Participants were asked if they thought that promotion of libraries and librarians needed to happen as a more grassroots level. The group thought that perhaps ALA could help them with empowerment tools (a workshop or toolkit) that can help them at their local levels.
An area one participant thought ALA should focus its efforts was on the individual librarian more than the public librarian. While another felt that "ALA really needs to strive to represent all of the librarians under its purview and the individual library on promoting the value of libraries." Several participants mentioned the political atmosphere and that whenever ALA is in the news its always derogatory and seen as a "very liberal left-wing organization".
Finally, the group was asked what they hoped to get out of conference. Responses included the exhibits and the chance to learn more about areas they normally don't get to while another participant noted meeting people and making contacts from other places as a highlight.
ALA MEMBERS - MORE THAN 10 YEARS
Eight members participated in the focus group of members who have tenure more than ten years with the American Library Association. Most of these long-term members cited communication and interaction with others as the thing that takes up the majority of their days. Other responses included multitasking, meetings, working with staff, and consulting.
Members enjoyed a lot of things about their jobs. The majority of this group enjoyed the people that they worked with during the day. Another member commented that they enjoyed the sense of accomplishment that they received from completing something on the job.
The most challenging aspects of their jobs varied from member to member. Participants felt that personal issues, bureaucracy, funding, and politicians were all issues within their libraries.
Within the next few years, members were concerned about the level of leadership coming into the library profession. Participants felt that there were not enough people coming into the profession to replace those who are retiring. Many suggestions were given on how to prompt more students into librarianship. Ideas were to make the librarian profile much more savvy and work on increasing salary. In addition to this concern, another member felt that funding was going to be an issue for the future within schools as school library budgets are being cut.
Members came to join ALA for different reasons. Some joined because they were recommended to do so while in library school. The majority felt it was their professional duty as a librarian, and others joined because they were hooked through belonging to committees in the very beginning.
Interestingly, out of this group of long time members, only four had their dues paid for by their library or organization. The rest of the group paid their own way. One member, a Director, commented that he had paid his own dues up until that point also. This indicates the dedication and willingness of the members to continually support the association out of their own pocket for over ten years.
Roundtables and divisions that keep this group continually busy include ALTA, the Veteran Armed Forces Libraries Roundtable, ALSC, ASL, SLA, YALSA, PLA, and RUSA. All members were very invigorated talking about how they were involved in each roundtable and committees within the divisions. They would love to see a way to get new people involved. One member even felt that some divisions were very hard to break into because of the close connections that people make. Admittedly, she/he noted that sometimes members are appointed to different positions because they just know everyone making it again hard for new members to join. Another suggestion to involve new attendees was to break them down by their divisions. After broken down they could receive information before the conference begins and also be made aware of a common meeting place for the new members in their division. Although all members loved being involved, some still felt cheated from attending sessions at the conference because of their various obligations on the committees. They also felt that the divisions and roundtables competed for their time and membership.
Most members in this group continue to renew their memberships every year to continue seeing the people they've been networking with year after year. Another member commented, "it's a desire to give something back to a profession that has been good to me and [renewing membership with ALA] is the one way of doing it, and trying to encourage others to be part of a profession and be active."
The next question went on to ask the members the three most valuable benefits they received as members of ALA. Not surprisingly, networking was the most valued benefit. This included networking with peers and also vendors/publishers. Other benefits include American Libraries, divisions and roundtables and also support from the Washington DC office.
Things that members in this group hoped to gain from attending this year's conference were very specific to their home libraries. One member hoped to learn more about e-books and felt very successful. Other members hoped to continue to work that was being dealt with within their divisions.
Other associations these long-term members were involved with included ISTE and their state associations.
As for the future, most members felt that ALA should be focusing its efforts on leadership development of the younger generation moving into the profession. This could be through mentor programs and publicity to endorse the profession. Recruiting new members to the profession was very important to most participants.
ALA STUDENT MEMBERS
Nine students participated in the student focus group during the ALA annual convention in Orlando. Although it was a student group, many members were recently graduated and no longer in library school.
The first question asked participants to cite what they had enjoyed most about their studies while in library school. One member liked the diversity of the students and people. Another enjoyed being able to pick and choose classes of interest. Many felt that the library degree was so broad they could go anywhere within the field. This might be in reference, cataloguing, children's literature, etc. With the general degree a person can go into anything whether it be a library, school, or corporation. Lastly, one participant loved the professors and their passion to teach certain subjects.
The majority of the members in this focus group worked in a library setting while they were in the MLS program. However, some members who were newly graduated were already working in full time library positions. The biggest challenges that the members observed in the libraries so far were budget and staff issues. Another challenge observed was that no librarians seemed to be trained on the assisted technology computers. Those who need the special resources or computer must be provided for under law. If no librarians are trained on this special technology, then libraries cannot provide what is promised under law. Additionally, others noticed that this was the way many librarians are responding to new technology. If patrons need to use a certain new technological advancement then librarians need to have the answers and the training.
One member said, "There is a big controversy now about how much software people need to know how to use before they come into the [MLS] program. I just find that-I don't really fault the profession, and I don't really fault my program. I think language; the whole meaning of language is that it enables people to communicate with one another. It's impossible to survive in an environment where there is 50 different languages and you have to know them all. So, there is this enormous feeling of illiteracy among highly trained people. They are pedaling as fast as they can to keep up."
The next question asked participants to share their vision for libraries in the future. One member's vision for libraries is to create a communications infrastructure that really does communicate. This way libraries are truly accessible. Other visions included adding more classes on assisted technology to the MLS curriculum, and another member said "[My] vision would be that not only would we have access [to databases], and the process of access, we would look more carefully at what the technology that we are looking at does, how we would support that technology, and how we would grow that technology in our environment." Lastly, another member's vision was to provide more services to the communities and increase the services that already exist.
Four members of the student focus group belonged to divisions or roundtables including ACRL, LITA, LAMA, LIMA, GODURT, PLA, RUSA, the new member roundtable, intellectual freedom roundtable, and the gay, lesbian, and transgender roundtable.
In addition, all members of this focus group paid their own dues. Some mentioned that it was not that big of deal because they were still paying student dues. As for the conference, all but three members paid their way to Orlando. The members with monetary help were helped by their student chapters and schools.
Benefits that students felt most aligned with so far as members of ALA included networking and publications. Most members cited networking as their most valued benefit. Other benefits noted of importance were the publications, emails, and resume review services. Additionally, one member recognized all the work that ALA was doing to fight the Patriot Act.
Other associations that students in this group belonged to included The Medical Library Association, Special Library Association, North Atlantic Health Sciences Libraries, Connecticut Library Association, New York Library Association, Texas Library Association, Michigan Library Association, Colorado Library Association, Massachusetts Library Association, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.
Things that members receive from these associations that they don't receive from ALA are local benefits. For example, networking is much easier on the local scale. Also, one local association sponsors a mentor program for students.
Another question asked students what they would find helpful transitioning between library school and a full time position. One member felt more internships would be helpful. Other members suggested more local chapters of ALA and mentoring programs.
As leaders of tomorrow students were also asked where they would like to see ALA focusing its efforts in the future. One member commented, "I think there is a enormous amount of potential in connecting people at the grassroots around programs that are done in libraries and creating forums for people to communicate with one another both electronically and face-to-face."
Lastly, another member felt that ALA should keep focusing its efforts on advocacy and advocacy toolkits so that librarians have help speaking out to the public.
The last question asked members to cite what they hoped to gain from this conference in Orlando. Most students hoped to network and gain contacts for job related opportunities. Others just wanted to communicate with others who have the same job function they currently have or that they are interested in pursuing after school.