Are you a member of either the American Library Association or your state library association? What value do you get from your membership?
I was an active member of MLA for years. I participated in work groups that planned continuing education events. I participated in a committee that helped reorganize the association. I have spoken at the annual conference several times. I have contributed articles to the newsletter. I have to admit, though, that when I started a new job a year and a half ago, I finished my final commitment and stepped back from it all. It was nothing personal; I wanted to focus on learning my new job. I also believe that if the same people contribute year after year, the organization reflects the interests of those people. The group needs fresh blood and new perspectives, so by stepping back I created openings for others to step in.
I am also a member of ALA and PLA, but have never been active in any committees with either organization. The benefit I get from those memberships is membership rates for conferences and webinars and a nice subscription to Public Libraries and American Libraries magazines.
I also benefit professionally from the advocacy efforts of all three groups (MLA, ALA, and PLA). Librarians have struggled with our public image for years. If we want to be considered professionals, we need a professional association. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers...they all have professional associations. What would happen if we lost ours? Whether we agree with every decision the groups make or how they are run, we need to have a professional association. It is up to us to get involved so that our views are represented.
Times are tough. Our budgets have never been stretched further. I understand why libraries who have to cut their budgets would cut the "dues and workshops" line and cancel their memberships. Professional associations are clearly important...but not crucial to everyday operation of the library and keeping its doors open and its staff employed (and paid). It's a catch-22 because without an association there would be no one organized to advocate our intereststo congress. Without that advocacy our communities and our elected officials don't know we're struggling. Yet, it is because we are struggling that we can't participate. The associations need membership dues in order to do their job.
I don't know what the answer is, but I would hate to see our professional associations disappear because they can't afford to exist. A volunteer-staffed professional association sort of defeats the purpose of showing the world that libraries can not be staffed solely on volunteers; that we are professionals and need to be recognized as such.
Be a member if you can. Be active if you can. Encourage those who can if you can't.