How Associations Can Support Our Profession: The Information Profession Is Facing Unprecedented Challenges, and the Associations That Serve It Do Not Lack for Advice on How They Can Help Their Members Respond

By Hales, Stuart | Information Outlook, November-December 2014 | Go to article overview

How Associations Can Support Our Profession: The Information Profession Is Facing Unprecedented Challenges, and the Associations That Serve It Do Not Lack for Advice on How They Can Help Their Members Respond


Hales, Stuart, Information Outlook


How can associations support the information profession? At this point in time, that question might seem moot--after all, the Special Libraries Association is 105 years old, and it is young by the information profession's standards. The American Library Association, the Medical Library Association, and the American Association of Law Libraries have been serving the profession even longer, since 1876, 1898, and 1906, respectively. Surely these four associations, with nearly 470 years of combined experience, have learned a thing or two about supporting the information profession.

And yet, in some respects, the question seems more timely than ever. The information profession in 2014 is facing challenges unlike any that its associations have ever had to help their members overcome: (1) widespread consumer access to information; (2) a global economy that has exerted downward pressure on prices and profits and made it more difficult to justify expenditures on functions that do not generate revenue; (3) the proliferation of social media, which have created new opportunities for information professionals to network with others in their field; and (4) third-party online educational programs, which cost less to attend than the onsite workshops and conferences long offered by associations.

To some extent, associations have been able to lessen the impact of these challenges by co-opting them. SLA, for example, hosts online certificate courses in copyright management and knowledge management/knowledge services, a virtual conference that reprises some of the most popular sessions from its onsite conference, discussion lists for its chapters and divisions, and communities on Twitter, Lnkedin, Facebook, and other social media. SLA also has developed several resources to help its members communicate and demonstrate their strategic value, most notably a 2013 report, The Evolving Value of Information Management, published in conjunction with the Financial Times.

Notwithstanding these and other efforts, the information profession's associations, like associations in other industries, are struggling to prove their relevance to practitioners in the field. Their struggles have prompted business and management consultants, academicians, think tank researchers, and association members themselves to propose solutions. For example, futurist Jim Carroll, in an interview with The Membership Management Report (Wolfe 2013), said that associations must do three things to support their members:

* Conduct small, issue-focused events during the year. "We still need to do the annual events--for a lot of associations, that's their bread and butter--but you also have to fill a smaller, more strategic role."

* Help members manage technology. "I should be able to look to my professional association or chamber of commerce to help me deal with ... new technology."

* Question your purpose. "I go to a lot of association events, and they're just doing the usual. Are you really thinking through the strategic purpose of your events?"

Looking ahead, Carroll says associations must focus on providing what he calls "just-in-time knowledge" to their members. Just-in-time knowledge is, he says, "the right knowledge at the right time for the right purpose for the right strategy, all revolving around the fact that the knowledge is instant, fast and transitory." (Weeks 2011)

Some association strategists say bigger, broader changes are needed. Rebecca Rolfes, an association consultant and founder of a content marketing group, advocates for an "open-source association" that emphasizes collaboration and flexibility. …

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