You should continue to pay your dues and remain a member of the ALA because you can accomplish much more in a number of areas through a national association of 60,000 members than working on your own. ALA lobbies Congress for legislation favorable to libraries and library users. It can provide fine backup to librarians and libraries who need help in any of a variety of ways: such intellectual freedom issues as fighting censorship mandates (e.g. the Children's Internet Protection Act), UCITA and its threat to fair use; providing assistance with building programs, plus volumes of information from each of the operating divisions and the other ALA units and offices.
It provides wonderful opportunities, through its national meetings, to meet with colleagues doing similar work from all over the country.
Personally, I benefited from the professional meetings far more than from the professional literature -- I could speak directly with or hear at meetings those people who were doing things I was interested in, months, if not years, before any of it reached publication, if it was published at all. What I value most about my membership in ALA is what I learned from the people I met and the programs I attended at the ALA conferences over the course of my career.
I also know that there are reasons people aren't members. They're frustrated with the slowness with which ALA can act -- if it acts at all -- on given member concerns, or they're angry because ALA acted on matters that they felt were wholly inappropriate for a library association in the U.S.
All I can say is that you can stand on the sidelines or get into the fray. In significant part that's what my career has been about. The ALA has afforded me the opportunity to express my views and work for what I thought would be of greatest benefit to my colleagues, the library community, and all of the people who should be served by libraries (not just the ones who are currently served.)
Like many, I've been frustrated, but I also know I never would have accomplished the many things I did on the various jobs I held, nor met the many wonderful friends I've enjoyed over my professional lifetime, had I not been a member of ALA.
Postscript: I was confronted by this issue during my campaign for ALA president. Interestingly, a number of people who felt that ALA wasn't worth the dues because it "never did anything for librarians," expressed that thought to me in-person and via e-mail. They said that my identifying librarian salaries as an issue that ALA should take up convinced many to vote for me and at least one person to renew a membership that otherwise was going to lapse.
Overall, I am deeply committed to the issue of better salaries and pay equity for library workers, and now as the elected President-Elect/President (2001-2003), I have made this my highest priority.
ALA president-elect Mitch Freedman is director of the Westchester Library System, and has worked at LC, the Hennepin County Library, & NYPL & taught at Columbia U's library school. He is a staunch defender of intellectual freedom and a committed socially responsible librarian, has been a consultant on technology & tech services on four continents, and, along with his wife, Paula S. Freedman, publishes The U*N*A*B*A*S*H*E*D Librarian, the "how I run my library good" letter. This article originally appeared as part of an ALA presidential candidate interview on LISNews.