This Is Our Time to Shine: Opportunities in a Recession

Susan J. Beck, President

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As I begin my first presidential column, I believe what is upmost on everyone’s mind is the state of the economy. This recession officially began in December 2007, but according to the New York Times, it wasn’t officially declared a recession by the National Bureau of Economic Research until December 2008.1 Unfortunately, the effects of the recession will still be felt as you read this column.

In this column I will:

  • describe how librarians are helping users during the recession and why users need their libraries;
  • explain the affects of the recession on RUSA and how your leadership is responding to the current economic conditions;
  • show how libraries are being portrayed in the media and what professional resources the American Library Association (ALA) has created to help librarians face the increasing demands of the public;
  • conclude by reviewing the importance and value of being a member of RUSA today; and
  • remind you why you joined a professional organization in the first place and why it is important to stay a member.

Last fall we saw the stock market crash. Even if you did not lose a huge amount of money and you still have a house and a job, the current economic crisis affects you. Businesses are closing, including my favorite vegetarian restaurant. People have not only lost their nest eggs, many have lost their jobs and some have even lost their homes. By the time you read this article, I hope things will have turned around. I imagine you do, too.

The recession has changed our work, no matter what kind of library we work in. I work in an academic library, and I am seeing many more students searching for information about the economy. Just yesterday, I had a student who wanted to look at Texas newspapers to see what effect Texas’s budget has on the state’s economy.

How Is the Recession Affecting ALA and RUSA?

RUSA is not immune to the current economic situation. ALA is projecting a shortfall of 1.6 million dollars in the general fund, which does not include the divisions. RUSA is predicting an annual deficit as well. RUSA’s traditional funding sources—membership dues and advertising revenues—are declining. These two areas represent 71 percent of our income. According to the February 2009 membership report, our membership has fallen by 7.78 percent. Registration for preconferences at the 2010 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago was also down.

This year it also has been difficult getting volunteers for committees in RUSA’s sections. RUSA has 140 committees spread across its 6 divisions. One vice-chair told me that she had only had eight volunteers for her very large section, which has more than twenty different committees. Even the committees that have traditionally been considered plum appointments are falling short.

There is uneasiness among our members about how they will be able to fund their conference attendance, especially two times a year. They question if they will receive any library support to attend conferences or preconferences. Our vendors are scaling back on their donations, advertising, and exhibit space at conferences as they face the realities of the changing economy. While overall ALA membership is up, members are thinking twice about continuing with multiple divisions. All of these factors affect our ability to achieve our goals.

On a positive note, our continuing education offerings are growing, including registration for our online continuing education courses. We provide cost-effective means for our members to take quality coursework without traveling long distances to keep up with the current trends in our field. We now offer Genealogy 101, the Reference Interview, Business Reference 101, Readers’ Advisory 101, Marketing Basics for Libraries, and another course is in the making from our Sharing and Transforming Access to Resources Section (STARS).

How Is RUSA Responding?

RUSA leadership has been seeking member input to help us become more responsive to your needs. This year we contacted you to share your ideas on two important issues: our redesigned website ( and electronic committee participation.

Early in 2009 we conducted an online campaign called 14 Days to Have Your Say about how to improve the new RUSA website. We received many comments and then quickly acted on the most pressing issues. Improvements included better access to common volunteer resources, sections, and roster information.

Last spring we also asked our members to provide feedback about electronic committee participation.2 Our intention is to facilitate committee work and encourage participation for those members whose financial and/or time budgets do not permit attendance at two conferences each year.

We received many comments about members’ desires to move to a more virtual participation organizational model. In response to your concerns, we have established the RUSA E-Participation Task Force to make recommendations about the best methods of moving our division from an exclusively face-to-face model of participation to a more flexible mix of face-to-face and electronic participation. The task force’s final report is due at the 2010 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Boston. If you would like to provide additional comments, please contact Celia Ross (, the task force chair.

Most members are supportive of a move to electronic participation, although many commented they would miss the face-to-face discussion of current trends and issues. Others were concerned whether available software could meet their needs and if different time zones would create problems setting up virtual meetings.

RUSA staff is trying hard to help both members and staff use new technology to become more efficient and effective. In April 2009, ALA launched ALA Connect, a resource that provides a common virtual space for committee members to share documents, survey members, and participate in chats and discussion forums to facilitate committee work and networking. These types of tools will allow our organization to become more flexible. I encourage all of our committees to try it out at

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