Highlights from the Chapter Leaders Forum at ALA

Having received an ICfL 1st Time Conference Attendee Grant to attend the American Library Association Conference in Las Vegas during June of this year, I made it a priority to spend one entire day at the Chapter Leaders Forum Meeting. The Forum brings together board members from various state library associations in order to share ideas about membership, activities, and library promotion. At this year’s event a number of attendees offered suggestions for increasing association membership at a time when most were seeing declines. Although the Idaho Library Association actually increased its membership overall (and in all its divisions as well), awareness of other states’ ideas may prove helpful in coming years.

The idea of targeted advertising to individual libraries appeared in several formats at the Forum. The Washington Library Association highlighted their Library Ambassadors program, which has as its goal finding at least one person at each library in the state willing to highlight the activities of the association and spreading the word about how those activities work to advance the goals of the profession. WLA provides a “toolkit” to ambassadors to help them in their efforts. Such a toolkit might include any sort of information that association leaders feel would help non-members understand why membership matters, such as information about what dues actually are used for and whether or not they have made a difference in patrons’ lives. Similarly, an Advocacy Committee within the association makes an effort to call each new library director in the state in order to inform him or her about the association’s work.

Planning social or group activities for members also proved a popular membership recruitment tactic among a number of associations. Many included receptions for new members at association events, such as annual conferences. Member initiative groups or communities, both in-person and virtual, also were suggested as were retreats or workshops like the Harwood Institute’s Turning Outward Initiative. Not all activities mentioned during this discussion necessarily cost a lot of money or time, however, as some associations suggested simple initiatives like creating a Pinterest account aligned with the association’s goals or activities or offering a statewide honorary award to a paraprofessional of the year.

Monetary incentives were, unsurprisingly, also emphasized among Forum attendees. A monthly deduction for memberships, rather than a one-time annual payment, was something that several associations have experimented with recently. This did, of course, cause some extra set-up work for the treasurers; however, for librarians on limited incomes, it undoubtedly makes paying for a membership less burdensome. Another idea that came up during the Forum’s open discussion session also presented some accounting challenges, yet offered benefits as well. This was to offer a life-time membership to anyone willing to pay $1000 up front. Seemingly not enough associations have tried this approach to determine with any certainty its level of success yet; however, it did generate interest among cash-strapped associations. Two additional ideas offered at the Forum include free advertising, perhaps in a conference program or association newsletter, for business sponsors as well as a big discount in membership dues for any library that could convince all of its employees to join (or pay for them).

After returning from the conference, I shared these ideas at an online gathering of other attendees sponsored by ICfL. This INFO2Go! Session, entitled “Golden Nuggets from ALA 2014” included many other tidbits of information that attendees picked up at the conference. It can be found archived along with other sessions at http://libraries.idaho.gov/page/info2go. In addition, I presented some of these ideas at the next online ILA board meeting. Decisions about which of these ideas, if any, can or should realistically be implemented within the Idaho Library Association will undoubtedly be discussed more among current and future members of the board. Nevertheless, given that ILA is a member-driven organization, I would like to encourage members and non-members alike to post comments, questions, and additional ideas.

Rami Attebury is Past-President of the Idaho Library Association and a librarian at the University of Idaho Library.




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