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Andromeda Yelton's picture

thoughts on dues increase proposal messaging

Pursuant to the dues increase working documents:

If we are going to approve a dues increase, it's critically important that we communicate with the members in advance and demonstrate that they're getting increased value.  I went through all our programs a while ago and identified things we've started doing since our last dues increase.  I drafted it as a a blog post, but I never got around to posting it, and honestly it's the sort of content that should be coming from official LITA channels, not my blog.  Someone asked at Annual that I post it here, so here you go!

What do you all think about messaging?

[intro text that works only on my blog cut]

One of the first questions anyone asks with a dues increase proposal is, why should we pay more if we're not getting more? So I decided to interrogate that question. What is LITA doing now that it hasn't since 2004? I was pretty sure I'd find some things; I found more than I expected. Since 2004, new things LITA has done include:

In chatting with some prior LITA presidents at Midwinter, I also heard about how LITA has been a leader in pushing ideas that other divisions or ALA as a whole later adopt (like interest groups, which we've had since the mid-1980s!). The examples which stick out in my head, and which I believe postdate 2004, are a streamlined program planning timeline (you used to have to get conference programs approved a year and a half in advance, which means no timely topics for you; LITA sped up its process starting 4 years ago, and ALA has since followed suit) and the expectation of wifi throughout the convention center (we crazy tech people kept insisting on having it for our sessions until it became the default). And, of course, we're actually paying less; $60 in 2004 dollars is $74 in 2013 dollars (Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator), but we're still paying $60. And we don't have more staff.

and what haven't you?

I expect there are things we were doing in 2004 that we're not doing now; I haven't researched this as thoroughly. I know we haven't offered regional institutes in several years; that we experimented briefly with LITACamp but are no longer doing it; and that some IGs are no longer active (getting an exact count would be quite time-consuming; on the other hand, since IGs are driven by member interest, I'm not concerned when they go extinct - it lets us refocus energies on places where people are more motivated).


I'm still thinking about this, and I want to hear your thoughts. The Financial Strategies Task Force report is quite clear that a dues increase is not a panacea, and the Board should not do only a dues increase and not push for other strategies as well. I am absolutely persuaded by this recommendation; a dues increase by itself would be at best a bandaid that presented the Board with the same problems a few years later. LITA needs to do some things genuinely differently to be financially viable. And I mean that without hyperbole. I am from the startup world, where we care deeply about runway and burn rate; in the discussions I've had with other board members we disagree on exactly how long we think that runway is, but a decade is not an unreasonable estimate. If you're not from the startup world, what I mean by runway is the length of time we have before we must be aloft or we will crash and burn. As LITA is presently constituted, its revenue typically exceeds its expenses. And we are in a challenging environment - like many nonprofits, including big ALA, our membership is declining, and the macroeconomic slowdown has done us no favors. External factors won't help us here; we need to help ourselves. So I want to hear your thoughts about that too. The task force recommended investigating entrepreneurial possibilities -- what would that look like to you? What would a soaring, aloft LITA look like to you?

Andromeda Yelton's picture

Oh, and --

  • A couple of these bits of info were hard to verify from the web site, so by all means correct them :) IG approval and PPC timelines in particular are kind of a guess.
  • I've sent the link to this (public) post to Nina McHale, who is slated to be the Communications chair once we properly charge that committee.

LITA Board of Directors, 2013-2019; President-Elect, 2017-2018

Andromeda Yelton's picture

LITA Board of Directors, 2013-2019; President-Elect, 2017-2018

Rachel Vacek's picture

I agree that something like this should be communicated through the blog, social media channels, and even the listserve and not through your blog.  I think what you have is good, and I think it's good that you would leave the reader with the following thoughts: "So I want to hear your thoughts about that too. The task force recommended investigating entrepreneurial possibilities -- what would that look like to you? What would a soaring, aloft LITA look like to you?"

However, I think we can take it a step further and also mention some of the ideas we have been tossing around -  whether entrepreneurial or traditional - so it emphasizes that we aren't just sitting around wondering what to do.  I do think we have a lot churning but as a Board, we aren't always as good with follow through.  For example, a member benefit that isn't a new concept and has been done (both successfully and not as much) within other divisions is a mentoring program of some kind.  It was VERY clear that at last year's forum, when we put together a last-minute "open house" to learn about LITA, having some kind of buddy or mentor program was pretty high on the new LITA members and "interested in but not quite yet LITA members yet" folks' list.


The other thing I wonder, Andromeda, is of all those things that we HAVE been doing, what have we done to improve them?  How much has LITA Happy Hour really changed over the past decade?  I'm not criticizing it at all (Happy Hour is my favorite LITA event!), just wondering if we should be doing more assessment on many of the activities we are currently doing, and our motivations for doing them.  If the purpose of LITA Happy Hour, for example, is to network, catch up, and have a good social time, then great, I think we are on top of that.  BUT if it also serves as a tool for recruitment of potential LITA members, what are the objectives and how can we tell if we are successful in those goals?  

I guess what I'm getting to is this.  I agree 100% that we can't just raise dues without explaining to the LITA membership:

  1. What are the benefits? - Include the benefits that anyone in the world can pretty much get, like social events, networking, the journal, attend Forum and educational opportunities.  But also what are the benefits that you get with being a member that you can't get if you aren't, which to me currently only seems to be the following: able to vote in LITA elections, can get appointed to committees or be the chair of an IG, get discounts on LITA education and Forum. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
  2. What are our goals? - Personally, if I like the goals of an association, and I can relate and see where they are headed (a clearly communicated vision WITH a plan of action on how to get there), I am more likely to support that association and not be upset with a dues increase.  Those goals have to improve the overall health of the organization as well as improve or add new services that are of interest to me.  And we have many channels (surveys, Town Hall, social media) for members to give us input on the direction we should be heading, and assuming we've taken that into consideration when planning our goals for LITA, we should be fine with a dues increase.

I like that Andromeda takes a more retrospective approach, and that can be helpful, but I think it's important that we emphasize the forward momentum and looking ahead at where we want to go.

I'd still like to hear other people's thoughts about this...


Rachel Vacek

Cindi Blyberg's picture

What do others think?

Aaron Dobbs's picture

not to be a curmudgeon, but here goes anyway... I'm still loath on dues increases.

I'm not arguing we (LITA or any other Division or the mothership) don't need one, I'm aware several others have increased (including ALA), Andromeda's retrospective are good points, Rachel's look forward are good poinits... and yet, I'm still loath.

There's no good answer, for me, here. Can LITA take another 3-5% dip in membership? (iirc it was almost a 5% dip in membership the first year after the last increase?) We're already the slowest growing (largest negative membership growth) division if I remember the PBA documents from Annual '14.

I remember the $TF spreadsheets, but even that factual data didn't resonate with me. The big factor in support of an increase, now, is casual environmental scans suggest that now is better in terms of potential members' abilities to absrob an increase than it was the first time this was brought up that I remember (2010? 2011?).

Staying the same is risky. A dues increase is risky. We are effectively doing the same thing we've been doing without much in the way of structural change. I'm not persuaded that this action/choice is sustainable going forward whether there is a short-term increase in dues or not.


"Always remember everyone is working to make the organization better in their own way."
-Eli Mina, ALA Parliamentarian

Andromeda Yelton's picture

This was part of my thinking about the organizational, rather than personal, dues increase I proposed. Would organizations be as likely to cancel as individuals? (My hunch says no, but I haven't seen any data, and would LOVE to.) And in the case of organizations, we can readily offer more in exchange for the money.


I agree that more change is necessary, but an organizational dues increase potentially raises enough revenue to cover the magnitude of operating expense gaps we've seen over the past few years, which is an important possibility.

LITA Board of Directors, 2013-2019; President-Elect, 2017-2018

Jennifer E. Taylor's picture

I thought I replied to this thread, but maybe it was on the email list.

But yes, organizational members will drop.  There was quite a large drop several years ago when ALA raised and redefined organizational rates.  So much so that they temporarily reduced rates for smaller libraries--and extended the reduced rates several times.  

I could probably dig up the data from my time on the membership committee (which is where dues issues originate), or Ron Jankowski probably can speak to it as well.  I don't have time to dig for the data today.

I think Andromeda's estimates are fair, but I can see not a steady decline in organizational membership if we raise, but a doubling of the decline the year rates increase.

I also think it is harder for an organization or library to justify LITA membership because we don't have a clear organizational audience like PLA or ACRL do, but that's just my opinion.

Jennifer E. Taylor's picture

I've been looking through my ALA Membership Committee minutes, and can kinda piece together some evidence of this.

ALA Organizational membership after a Council vote at Annual 2009.  At Annual in 2010, it was reported that ALA expected a decrease of 4%, but it was actually down 8%, which "means a decrease in money".

At 2012 Annual, the committee approved a plan to reduce the cost by 50% of an organizational membership to small and very small libraries.  At Midwinter 2013, it was extended.  The report from MW 2013 indicated that 800 libraries dropped in the past 48 months, representing lost revenue of $150K.  The target was to get 10% of these dropped members to renew, for approx $15K in revenue. I do not have any assessment as to if the discount worked.

From 2010 to 2011, organizational membership dropped 7.34%.  From 2011 to 2012, it dropped 7%.