Joining a professional organization is a great way to make connections, get involved, and gain access to exclusive benefits only available to members, such as newsletters, professional development, directories, discussion boards, and discounts. As a student, you may be unsure whether joining a professional organization is right for you. Though you may not be a professional quite yet, there are a lot of great benefits to joining a professional organization while you are still working on your degree.
As a student in the iSchool’s MLIS program who is interested in academic and research libraries, I am a student member of the American Library Association (ALA), the Ohio Library Council (OLC), and the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), so I am speaking mostly from experience with these particular organizations, but there are numerous other organizations that meet the interests of students in all programs and pathways at the iSchool. I have listed many of these organizations at the end of this post.
The American Library Association (ALA) is probably the most well-known LIS professional organization. This is a great organization to get involved with, especially if you are still figuring out your path in the LIS world and aren’t quite sure which areas of specialization you are interested in. ALA does a great job of seeking out student members and offering resources that cater to their specific needs. Additionally, the Ohio Library Council and ALA offer a great discount for students enrolled in an MLIS program: joint membership in both the American Library Association and the Ohio Library Council costs only $42. For reference, ALA student membership costs $39, so for only a few more dollars you can also belong to your state library association. Most state library associations participate in the joint membership offer, so this deal does not only apply to Ohio residents. You can learn more about joint membership and sign up here.
Regardless of which organizations you decide to join, most groups recognize the value of student membership and offer some great perks to members who are still earning their degrees.
Benefits of joining a professional organization as a student include:
- Reduced membership fees
Student membership fees are usually a small fraction of the regular membership fees. For example, I joined ACRL for five dollars. The regular membership fee for ACRL is $68, and many professional organizations charge much more than that. Some cost hundreds of dollars. Take advantage of the student discount while you can!
- Discounts on events and professional development opportunities
Like with the membership fees, students also often receive discounts on events and other programs presented by the organization (admittedly, some of the price tags on these are exorbitant even when drastically reduced for students, but there are still great deals to be had). One of the biggest lifesavers is reduced conference registration costs. For example, ALA Midwinter is free for student members this year, while regular members must pay $130. This is another discount that you will sorely miss when you graduate and have to pay hundreds of dollars if you want to attend a conference.
- Opportunities to make connections with professionals in the field
In addition to the great networking opportunities available at conferences, some professional organizations also provide their members with opportunities to connect virtually. For example, ALA offers “ALA Connect” on their website, where members can go to discuss ideas, seek advice, announce opportunities/programs, etc. This is a great resource for students to keep up with library trends, gain advice from professionals, and hear about job opportunities and programs that are being offered. Networking is a big part of belonging to professional organizations, so this is a good way for students to get their feet wet in making connections with professionals in their field of interest.
- Subscriptions to newsletters and magazines
As a member of a professional organization, you will usually be subscribed to the group’s mailing list, which often includes a virtual newsletter. These newsletters provide updates on related news in the field, professional development opportunities that are being offered, scholarships, and job openings, to name a few.
Some organizations also offer members the option to subscribe to their magazine for free. This is kind of a bonus that I wanted to throw in because you may or may not care about receiving magazines from your professional organizations, but I felt so excited and official when I got my first issue of ALA’s American Libraries magazine in the mail!
- Familiarity with involvement in a professional organization
Professional organizations are a big part of life for information professionals. Many of the benefits of belonging to an organization (keeping up with news and trends in your field of interest, participating in workshops and webinars, and forming connections with other members of the organization) are also the key to developing yourself into a well-rounded, successful information professional. Joining now, while membership fees are significantly lower, is a great opportunity to begin exploring what professional organizations have to offer as you get more established in your career.
Below are some professional organizations organized by the iSchool’s MLIS pathways and other programs. This is not an exhaustive list, but includes many of the major organizations.
Applied Data Science
Cultural Heritage Informatics
Data, Information and Technology
Information Access and Discovery
Information and Knowledge Organization
Organizations Based on Other iSchool Programs:
K-12 School Library Media