Monday, March 14, 2011

Barriers to Participation in Library Associations: a Quick and Dirty Literature Review

Susan Gilmont (Past Chair, OLA Support Staff Division), March, 2011

I tried to look at works on barriers to participation in professional associations for librarians and library workers. There is a dearth of literature on this subject. I did find some work on the broader topic of professional development, including professional development in libraries, in which library associations were mentioned. Some rewarding insights may be found in these writings.

I found two studies that addressed release time and travel support for committee meetings and other activities associated with library associations. A 2001 study of small colleges (125 respondents) showed that 63% of librarians received travel support for committee meetings of national associations while 14% of “non-professional staff” received similar support. 78% of librarians received support for committee meetings for regional associations, while 42% of “non-professional staff” received support (Gaskill and Morrill, 2001) A study of academic librarians in Oklahoma found important correlations between employer-provided funding and/or release time and meeting attendance, association membership, committee service, and other professional development activities. (Havener and Stolt, 1994)

Quite a bit of work has been done on the topic of release time and support for professional development. A recent (Dec.2009) ARL study reported that 90% of academic libraries (70 respondents) offered paid leave for conference attendance. As for travel funds, the same study reported that 92% of responding libraries gave “some financial support for conference registration and/or travel” (Martyniak and Keith, 2009). A 2006 study of Florida libraries (136 respondents) found that “98 percent of the full-time librarians may apply for funding” but only 37% of part-time librarians were eligible for travel funds. Similarly, 86% of permanent paraprofessionals and only 25% of part-time library support staff had access to support for travel (Neville and Henry, 2006). The 2001 survey of small colleges showed that 85% of these college librarians got travel funds for national conventions, and 84% were funded for regional conferences. “Non-professional staff” got travel funding at 26% for national events and 57% for regional meetings (Gaskell and Morrill, 2001). A 2005 study of the training needs of library assistants in Western New York State found that release time and funding significantly correlated with participation in training, especially off-site training. This article also listed some of the barriers to continuing education shown in the chart below. (Buchanan, 2005) I was interested to note a study of a non-library professional association showed a significant correlation between members’ proximity to the location of the annual meeting and member retention (McIntosh White, 2005).

The rising cost of membership dues in professional associations is a well-recognized issue, especially for newer and lower-paid employees. Only 7% of responding libraries in the 2009 ARL study gave financial support for membership in library associations (Martyniak and Keith, 2009). The 2006 Florida study found that 74% of academic librarians were expected to pay their personal dues for association memberships. In contrast, 43% of public librarians and 19% of public library support staff in Florida had their state membership fees covered by their employers (Neville and Henry, 2006). The 2003 American Library Association’s 3rd Congress on Professional Education: Focus on Support Staff addressed the issue of dues and advocated for a dues structure (subsequently adopted) that would allow more support staff to participate in ALA. Many authors have addressed this issue. (See, for example, Neville and Henry, Berry, and ALA Student Forum.)

Organizational climate and managerial support are important components of staff development. A supportive environment leads to more staff participation in development activities. Yet, as a 2003 study of skill updating by Canadian librarians pointed out, rewards for updating activities may be lacking. Part-time librarians in particular are left out. Managers interpret organizational policies for employees and give recognition for good work. They are often better informed about development opportunities, and can “act as gatekeepers” for their staff. Managerial support is critical (Chan, 2003). As Gregory A. Smith points out, “The role of the leader as a steward of organizational culture suggests that academic library administrators should concern themselves with fostering an environment conducive to their subordinates’ professional development.” (Smith, 2004)

I particularly appreciated work by Cross (1981) and Darkenwald and Merriam (1982) on barriers to participation in adult education. They defined these barriers as:

Situational barriers:
barriers that arise from one’s situation in life (e.g., lack of time, family demands, etc.)

Institutional barriers:
practices and procedures of the institution (both place of employment and OLA can be considered here) that hinder participation (inconvenient scheduling, cost, lack of support)

Dispositional barriers:
attitudes and dispositions towards participation (disinterest, workplace culture, health)

Informational barriers:
lack of knowledge about the association and/or its activities.

These categories offer a useful way of looking at the obstacles our members face. I know they were designed to talk about continuing professional education, but many of the same obstacles apply to participation in OLA and professional development. This is the best tool I found, and I’d like to try to use it.

Using the above categories as guidelines, the obstacles to professional development I encountered in the literature fit in this way:

Situational Barriers:
Lack of time
Lack of money
Family constraints, second job, etc.

Institutional Barriers:
Lack of release time
Lack of funding
Unsupportive organizational climate
Unsupportive manager

Institutional Barriers:
Educational Provider (Association)
Inconvenient schedule, location
Boring topic, unrelated to job, goals
Cost of dues
Conference/meetings too far away

Dispositional Barriers:

Informational Barriers:
Unaware of the Association, conferences, opportunities, scholarships, etc.

Lack of time and lack of money were the most frequent obstacles cited. Part-time employees were mentioned in two studies as an overlooked group. Organizational climate, both in terms of support and recognition, and on the level of the individual supervisor, is extremely important.

3rd Congress on Professional Education : Focus on Library Support Staff. Report of the Steering Committee. June, 2003. Retrieved February 15, 2011.

American Library Association. 2004. ALA Student Forum: Pratt Institute. April, 2004. Retrieved February 16, 2011.

Berry, John N. III. 2005. ALA is a Business! Library Journal. Feb. 15, 2005. 130, 8.

Buchanan, Robert A. 2005. Library Assistant Training: Perceptions, Incentives, and Barriers. Journal of Academic Librarianship. 31, 421-431.

Chan, Donna C. 2003. Factors Contributing to the Professional Development of Reference Librarians. Library & Information Sciences Research. 25, Autumn 2003, 265-286.

Cross, K. Patricia. 1981. Adults As Learners. San Francisco : Jossey-Bass.
Darkenwald, Gordon G. and Sharan B. Merriam. 1982. Adult Education: Foundations of Practice. New York : Harper & Row.

Gallemore, Sandra L. and Li, Ming. 1997. Perceived Barriers to Involvement in Professional Associations: Views of Physical Educators in Georgia. Physical Educator. 54, 20-30.

Gaskell, Carolyn and Allen S. Morrill, compilers. 2001. Travel, Sabbatical, and Study Leave Policies in College Libraries. (CLIP note #30) Chicago: ACRL.

Havener, W.Michael and Wilbur A. Stolt. 1994. The professional development activities of academic librarians: Does institutional support make a difference? College & Research Libraries, 55, 25-36.

Martyniak, Cathleen, Keith, Brian and Association of Research Libraries. 2009. Leave and Professional Development Benefits. (SPEC kit 315) Washington: Association of Research Libraries.

McIntosh White, Judith. 2005. Influence of involvement, institutional affiliation, and geographic location on membership in voluntary associations. Journal of Applied Communications..89, 39-55.

Neville, Tina M. and Deborah B. Henry. 2006. Support for Research and Service in Florida Academic Libraries. Journal of Academic Librarianship. 33, 76-93.

Smith, Gregory A. 2004. The Professional Development of Academic Librarians: How Should Institutions Contribute to the Process? [unpublished manuscript] Retrieved February 18, 2011.

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