Report of the 2016 Membership Value Survey

American Library Association
Office of Research and Statistics
May 2016
 
OVERVIEW
Survey participants most frequently indicated that learning best practices, increasing the public understanding of value of libraries, networking with others in profession, continuing education, and supporting ALA’s advocacy for library funding were important factors in their decision to join or renew their membership, which is mostly consistent with responses from 2015 and 2014. Respondents also noted that they joined or renewed their membership with ALA in order to keep current on news, innovations; because it was a requirement, duty, or expectation; or to contribute or give back to profession. Responses for questions of likelihood of recommendation and importance of membership are consistent with 2015 and 2014. Respondents gave higher ratings when answering the question about member satisfaction than 2015, but this may be due to changes in question and response phrasing. 
 
PURPOSE AND METHODOLOGY
To help assess the importance of an ALA membership and to identify strengths and potential areas for improvement for the American Library Association, the Membership Development Office and the Office for Research and Statistics continued a yearly survey of members’ experience in April and May of 2016. The seven question survey, modeled after a 2007 membership survey conducted by the Allegheny Marketing Group and a 2008 membership survey conducted by Harris Interactive, is intended to gauge (1) the driving reasons members join or renew their membership, (2) members’ overall satisfaction, (3) the importance of ALA membership, and (4) how likely the respondent would recommend membership to a colleague. The survey made use of both radio button questions organized according to a 1-5 Likert scale and open-ended text boxes. 3,500 ALA members responded to the survey. 
 
We made two important changes to this year’s survey. First, the labels for radio-button questions were changed from a 1-5 scale to a text scale with units such as “Very Unimportant, Unimportant, Somewhat Important, Important, and Very Important.” Correspondingly, we removed phrases such as “On a scale from 1 through 5, with 5 being “Very Important,” from these questions. Secondly, the final question: “Is there anything else we should have asked you or that you would like to tell us about your membership experience?” was replaced with “Apart from what you have previously mentioned, do you have any additional comments?” in an effort to reduce redundancy in answers we received for that question and the preceding question.
 
Regarding members’ reasons to renew their membership with the American Library Association, respondents were asked about the importance of factors on a one through five scale, including: promoting intellectual freedom, learning/ sharing best practices, increasing the public’s understanding of the value of libraries, continuing education, joining divisions, joining roundtables, networking opportunities, career advancement opportunities, supporting library legislation, registering for conference at a discount, and supporting advocacy.
 
RESULTS
Satisfaction, Likelihood of Recommendation, Importance of Membership
For the questions on likelihood of recommendation and importance of membership, responses are mostly unchanged from 2015. Respondents gave a significant amount of higher ratings when answering the question about member satisfaction (5.2% more “Satisfied” and “Very Satisfied” ratings) than 2015 and half as many “Very Unsatisfied” responses compared to 2015, but these changes may be influenced by the previously mentioned change in how the answer choices were phrased. 71.9% of members ranked their satisfaction with their ALA membership as “Satisfied” or “Very Satisfied, a 5.2% increase from the 66.7% that selected a 4 or 5 in the previous year. The number of respondents who selected “Very Unsatisfied” (0.9%) is less than half of the number of respondents who selected 1 as their level of satisfaction in 2015 (1.8%). 70.6% of members ranked their likeliness to recommend an ALA membership to a friend with “Likely” or “Very Likely,” a 5.2% difference from the 71.8% that selected a 4 or 5 in the previous year. 69.0% of members rated the importance of their ALA membership as “Important” or “Very Important,” a 0.4% difference from the 69.4% that selected a 4 or 5 in the previous year.
 
Factors that Influence Members’ Decisions to Renew
 
In indicating which factors were important in their decision to join or renew their ALA membership, responding members gave the most “Important” and “Very Important” responses to: to learn best practices” (2,763), to increase understanding of value of libraries (2,444), to network in profession (2,395), continuing education (2,317), to support ALA’s advocacy for library funding (2,280). Totals for the other factors are listed in the chart below. These responses are largely consistent with the responses members offered in 2014. These results are similar to the 2015 results, though supporting advocacy for library funding earned more top responses and career advancement earned less top responses.  
 
To learn about best practices 2,763
Increase understanding of the value of libraries 2,444
Network in profession 2,395
Continuing education 2,317
Support advocacy to increase funding 2,280
Promote intellectual freedom 2,235
Career advancement 2,113
Support other library legislation 2,055
Join divisions 2,045
Register for conference with discounted rate 1,896
Join roundtable(s) 792
 
In response to the open-ended question “What other reasons influence you to join or renew your membership with ALA?” respondents also listed:
  • Keep current on news, innovations (107)
  • Requirement, duty, or expectation (106)
  • Contribute or give back to profession (85)
  • Required to participate in divisions (52) 
  • Cost (41)
  • Attending the ALA conference (34)
  • If membership is funded by employer (30)
  • Discounts (30) 
  • Networking (29)
  • Publications or email communication (35) 
  • Committee work (28)
  • For resume, credential, promotion (24)
  • Encouragement from others (9)
  • Grant or scholarship opportunities (9)
  • Access to listservs, ALA Connect, or the ALA website (9)
  • Career resources, including Joblist (8)
  • Contact with vendors (4)
  • Automatic approval for e-galleys with some publishers on NetGalley and Edelweiss (2)
Patterns in Members’ Open-ended Responses
The following sections summarize some of the major themes of members’ responses to the open-ended questions “What could ALA provide that would help you do your job better?” and “Apart from what you have previously mentioned, do you have any additional comments?”
 
1. Affordability
ALA membership fees and conference-related expenses were frequently mentioned by members. 414 members mentioned a cost-related concern, including:
  • Online courses (202, 0.6%)
  • Membership fees (123, 0.4%)
  • Conference or preconference fees (43, 0.1%)
  • Books (25, 0.07%)
  • Division costs (8, 0.02%)
  • ALA store (7, 0.02%)
  • Conference hotels (6, 0.02%)
Suggestions for mitigating expenses include offering division membership separately (29), offering scholarships or grants (18), implementing a sliding scale for membership (10), and offering opportunities to win publications, posters, and library merchandise (2). 
 
2. Conference-Related
Twenty-four members suggested that ALA reduce its number of conferences to one annually. Twenty-two members requested that ALA should do more to virtually communicate the events of the conference to members who are unable to attend. Twenty-three members suggested that ALA should host regional or localized meetings in addition to the two larger meetings. Six members requested more opportunities for virtual committee work.
 
Respondents suggested that conference planners should consider holding more conferences on the West coast (4), in the Midwest (2), in Hawaii (1), in D.C. (1), on the East coast (1), in the Northeast (1), and in Texas (1). Others said they would prefer that ALA not host conferences in Las Vegas (2), Orlando (2), or Anaheim (1). 8 members wrote that they would prefer ALA select conference cities according to season. One respondent writes that they would like ALA to exercise more sensitivity in selection of conference locations regarding issues of racial inclusion, disability inclusion and LGBT safety. Another suggests hosting Annual at another time of the year as the last few weeks of June are often a stressful time for children's librarians.
 
Other members suggested improving the submission process for conference proposals, keeping exhibits open until the end of the day on Mondays, hosting annual ACRL conferences, hosting annual PLA conferences, and choosing hotels located closer to conference events. In terms of programming, members suggested adding more sessions that address issues relevant to support staff (2), library marketing (1), circulation (1), diversity and cultural competency (1), and issues relevant to academic librarians (1). 
 
3. Advocacy
In open-ended responses, fifty-three respondents wrote that they would like ALA to continue to advocate or do more to advocate for libraries. Specifically, respondents mentioned continued or increased advocacy for salaries and budgets (16), school librarians (14), intellectual freedom (7), academic libraries (1), diversity (1), and full-time certified media specialists (1). 
 
Ten members suggested that ALA launch a national media campaign to increase public awareness about the value of libraries. Two additional members suggested that ALA do more to market library careers to young people.
 
Other members also requested state-level legislative support (8), better communication of advocacy outcomes (4), more efforts to promote diversity (4), better communication about threatening library-related legislation (2), “change regarding how publishers, vendors and public libraries “lend” ebooks and downloadable audio,” and “larger and more specific focus to the Americans with Disabilities with Act in regards to library services for people with disabilities.” One member remarked that they “appreciate the information coming from the Washington ALA office about legislation.” Another proposed that ALA extend the President’s term.
 
Thirty-seven respondents stated that they think ALA should be less involved in social justice issues. Fourteen members characterized “too political” or “too liberal.” 
 
4. Technology
Twelve members had positive comments about ALA’s website and digital communications. Fifty-eight members recommended that ALA redesign its website. They specifically cited problems with logging in (2), registering for conference (2), online customer service, checking membership status, changing their email address, using the conference scheduler. Ten members suggested that ALA improve or replace ALA Connect. 
 
Regarding emails, nineteen members requested fewer emails and three members requested less content in the emails they receive. Two members said they would prefer emails be better tailored to their interest. For example, one member expressed frustration about receiving offers for professional development materials that they did not have the “purchasing authority nor much of a budget” to spend on them.
 
A few members noted problems with the ALA online store. Two members expressed frustration about logging into online courses. Another commented on the difficulty of registering multiple staff members for ALA training. One member commented that the voting process for ALA council was time-consuming and suggested adding a comparison chart. 
 
5. Professional Development
Sixty-four members requested more opportunities for professional development or continuing education. Commonly suggested topics for courses or workshops include:
  • Makerspaces (7)
  • Leadership (5)
  • RDA (4)
  • Fundraising and foundation work (3)
  • Conflict resolution (2)
  • Coding (2)
  • Cataloguing (2)
  • Community engagement (2)
  • Information literacy (2)
  • Curriculum planning (2)
  • Developing resources for English learners and multilingual patrons (2)
Other topics mentioned include CSS, Java, Web, EAD, Python, Big data, Drupal, computer literacy assistance, Wordpress, in-house digital collections, digitization, metadata standards, "cloud" based ILS, security, assisting low-literacy users, designing programs for teens, intellectual freedom issues, legal issues, electronic resource management, licensing, budgeting, legal compliance, HR, marketing, social media, services for patrons with visual impairments, collection development, managing acquisitions, budget trends, publishing trends, school library issues, retirement options, engaging immigrant communities/populations, board development, NBCT process for school librarians, and programming for children. Five members requested that ALA focus less on digital trends.
 
Four members proposed that ALA should offer professional development certifications, and another requested “online courses with CEU options.” Three members requested that ALA offer more rigorous or advanced courses. An additional two requested that ALA offer courses that cover a wider range of topics. Three members suggested that webinars should be offered in the evening after work hours, and three additional members suggested that ALA archive webinars for viewing later. 
 
Members also requested that ALA provide more opportunities for local networking (16) and online networking (4).
 
6. Publications
Five members said they like receiving American Libraries. Three members remarked that their copies of American Libraries arrive late. Members suggested adding a school library section to the magazine (2) as well as a section to “discuss IMLS and the grants it has funded” (1). Another recommended that ALA make more of their magazine available online. One member proposed offering chapter previews of forthcoming ALA publications .
 
7. International Members
International members as well as members from U.S. territories noted that they had experiencing difficulties with ALA shipping policies. One individual requested that ALA provide the opportunity to buy to APA and ALA divisions publications from Puerto Rico, and a second remarked that their emails requesting information as to why Puerto Rico was not listed as a shipping destination for the ALA store remained unreturned.
 
Members in other countries also expressed frustrations about the price of dues relative to their country’s exchange rate. Three members from Canada, one member from Puerto Rico, and one member from the United Arab Emirates requested lower dues. One member, who is an American citizen working abroad, also requested a discounted membership rate. Two members who are American citizens working abroad requested more resources that applied to the needs of where they live and work. One requested emails tailored to include topics about international librarianship. A second inquired about support for intellectual freedom issues abroad. Two members suggested the ALA should make “information on services and the organization” and other resources available in languages besides English.
 
8. Special Groups
Speaking in a general sense (ex: “ALA should do more for…), respondents requested more resources for the following groups:
  • Small or rural libraries (11)
  • Academic libraries (9)
  • Support staff (8)
  • School libraries (6)
  • Youth librarians (4)
  • New professionals (9)
  • Special libraries (3)
  • Library champions (3)
  • LIS educators (3)
  • Public libraries (3) 
  • Outreach services (2)
  • Community college libraries (2)
  • Staff at book depositories (2)
Other groups mentioned include tribal libraries, hospital and health sciences librarians, library media specialists, retirees, vendors, students, and subject specialists.
 
Fourteen members requested better career services. One member wrote that they would like more resources for a variety of professionals working in libraries: “ALA needs to keep it [sic] ear to the ground as new professionals enter the job market and to be inclusive beyond the job title "librarian" in order to include a multitude of other skills that are required to operate successful libraries and archives. ALA JobLIST should include more jobs in all areas of Library and Information Science and Technology (LIST).”
 
Fourteen members requested more information about how to get on committees and seven members requested more information about joining divisions or roundtables. 8 members requested more opportunities for mentorship. Five members requested a guide prepared by ALA for new members. One member suggested that ALA prepare a “master directory” of programs and professional development opportunities offered by each ALA section. 
 
Additional requests from specific groups include: a listserv or discussion board for independent school librarians, mentoring from others with experience transitioning from a county system to a tax supported nonprofit rural community library, “better posters,” a section in ACRL for history to serve academic history librarians, and more support for media (legacy and digital) librarianship knowledge/skills in Information Schools.
 
9. Uncategorized
Twelve members requested that ALA should be more transparent. Four of these members requested access to ALA finance data and an additional two requested information about ALA staff salaries. Consistent with a response from last year, one member suggested that the ALA office should relocate from downtown Chicago.
 
Sixteen members described ALA as “too big” or “bureaucratic” and eight others suggested ALA change its structure. Four members said they are unsure what ALA actually does. Two members proposed that ALA perform tours of the United States, speaking to library staff about our work and learning about what is happening in libraries across the U.S.
 
Eight members requested better coordination between ALA and their state association.