Letter from the ARLIS/NA President

Dear ARLIS/Texas-Mexico Members,

As ARLIS/NA Vice-President/President Elect this past year and President this year I’ve heard various concerns from our membership about the state of the Society’s chapters. So, it seemed appropriate to share some thoughts on the state of chapters generally and what we might consider specifically to keep us viable for many years to come.

One thing is clear: our chapters vary significantly in their size, activity level, and aspirations for the future. Some chapters number in the hundreds in terms of members and have a wealth of resources, not only financially but also in terms of professional development opportunities, membership base from which to draw on for expertise and new leadership, as well as fundraising potential. Other chapters have numbers that linger in the teens and may have financial concerns, but more critically are faced with challenges in drawing new members and developing new leaders, which threatens their very viability. Our Texas-Mexico chapter seems to fit somewhere in the lower to middle end of the spectrum – with numbers of members hovering in the mid- to upper-thirties for some time. That said, it seems that we should give some thought to ensuring this stability.

It seems prudent to step back and review the elements at play in chapter sustainability levels before launching into any musings on membership retention or growth.

The following elements pose real challenges that are largely tied to economic realities and have resulted in flat or decreasing numbers of positions in the art information field in recent years:

  • Down-sizing or closures of visual resources centers due to budgetary crises, especially for those tied to art and art history departments
  • Merged positions and/or responsibilities in academic libraries (such as expanding roles to include drama, dance, classics, and so forth, causing membership and travel dollars to be reallocated to other organizations)
  • Moves toward generalization in public library services, resulting in diminished fine arts departments, impacting positions and travel dollars
  • General decreases in funding by institutions for memberships (if ever funded), conference registrations, and travel expenses.

The question then for us as a chapter is how can we encourage membership retention or even growth when there are a flat or decreasing number of positions in the field? Not an easy question to answer, but here goes nonetheless.

I would suggest we consider some of the following:

  • Keep membership fees at a reasonable rate (which I believe we do)
  • Further underwrite student membership fees (ours are already quite reasonable)
  • Create content and value that will encourage membership and visitation to our chapter site (i.e. dissemination of rich programming through virtual presentations for those unable to attend physical events, interviews with chapter members or luminaries outside the chapter on our site, etc.)
  • Leverage the knowledge and experience of other chapters by consulting them about successful methods of retention and growth (i.e. chapter mentoring programs)
  • Host joint meetings with other chapters or regional associations to enhance the value for our members and raise awareness for potential members
  • Continue to raise awareness for students and faculty in MLS graduate programs in our state by presenting at sessions devoted to library organizations, subscribe to their listservs, and distribute marketing information about the Society and the chapter
  • Encourage the usage of Society resources, such as travel awards, special funding opportunities for chapter projects, marketing information, GoToWebinar software for virtual events, etc.

While I’m certain that each of you has suggestions of your own, I’m hopeful that your ideas combined with some of these will bolster a chapter that has been and I believe will remain vital for many, many years to come.

Sincerely,

Jon Evans
Director, Hirsch Library
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston