This week, my thinking has been dominated by a Major Decision (caps required). As a first-year MSLIS student, Syracuse U will purchase a membership for me in either the American Library Association, or the Special Libraries Association. Both organizations have storied histories, but how am I supposed to pick?
I'm reminded of an anecdote in Marilyn Johnson's This Book Is Overdue (A must-read for anyone considering the library field, found in Bird Library here, for other iSchool students): When asked the difference between librarians and archivists, the response was simply "different gang colors."
That's the kind of thinking that seems to permeate the ALA/SLA decision--Each organization works hard to promote librarianship and to support their membership, but each one tackles totally different areas of the field.
The American Library Association is the oldest professional organization of librarians, library workers, and libraries in the country. Founded in 1853 (!), ALA has used the intervening century and a half to advocate tirelessly for libraries and those who love them in every arena.
For me, ALA comes coupled with a host of related organizations. The Public Library Association (PLA), the Reference User Services Association (RUSA), and a host of other sub-organizations fall under the ALA banner, and with an ALA membership I'd be able to network with library professionals in all of them.
The Special Libraries Association, on the other hand, is an international organization that supports members in corporate, medical, law, music, and other non-traditional library fields. As I'm interested in a brand of librarianship that focuses on doing library-like activities outside of the classic library setting, SLA would likely be a great source of contacts for me, even now.
...isn't helping. While I greatly respect the fact that the iSchool faculty, other librarians I've talked to, and the second-year library students have all been neutral in their advice, not trying to sway me to one side or the other, it's not exactly giving me the information I need to pick one over the other.
It seems like most of the other first-year iSchoolers I've talked to are planning to join ALA, and, admittedly, ALA does offer some great resources for students. (Plus, ALA Annual is in Anaheim next summer, awfully tempting as I'm toying with the notion of an internship in CA.)
I need to do some more digging, but feel free to tempt me to one side or the other in the comments!
...Or I could join both.