Numbers about You

I’m the lead person on our ALA Connect project to create a collaborative, online workspace/professional network for our members, something I’ve been working on pretty intensely for the last year. One of the most difficult pieces was synchronizing the site (which uses Drupal software) with our membership database (called “iMIS”). In making that connection, we came across some interesting numbers as we figured out which pieces to synchronize.

For example, we learned that at the end of 2008, ALA members have an average of 2.1 participations, which are essentially affiliations with an official ALA group (committees, discussion groups, divisions, events, interest groups, member initiative groups, round tables, and sections). If we narrow down the scope to members who have at least one affiliation, 42,000 members have an average of 3.2 participations.

I’m heartened that the majority of members have more than one affiliation, because I think it means they’ve found at least one small slice of ALA that is relevant to them. Where the numbers get even more interesting is when we look at the full range of participations across all members. Clearly, some people have found quite a few areas of interest to them in ALA.

Participations Number of Users
30+ 21
20+ 127
10+ 1794
5+ 6956
1+ 33390
0 21821

One of our main goals with ALA Connect is to help members find the other interesting and relevant pieces of the gooey, amorphous cloud that is ALA. Personally, I hope Connect helps those 21,821 members find ways to get more involved (should they want to), because as the person categorizing the more than 1,000 active groups in the Connect subject tree, I can honestly tell you that ALA is so big that it truly does have something for everybody.

3 Responses to “Numbers about You”

  1. jessamyn Says:

    That’s sort of interesting that almost exactly half of the ALA members dont have any “participations” I’d be inteersted to know what membership category they fit into, whether they’re low income members, affiliate members, corporate members. Is the data crunchable that way?


  2. Jenny Says:

    Hi, Jessamyn —

    I don’t have access to that granular level of data, but I’m trying to find out the category they fit into. I’m also curious about the 21 folks who have 30+ affiliations, as I didn’t even realize that was possible.

    Admittedly, I’m no statistician, but isn’t it closer to a third of our members who don’t have any participations? Am I missing something with the numbers? (This is why I don’t bother balancing my checkbook.)



  3. Mary Ghikas Says:

    Yes — About two-thirds of members belong to at least one division or round table. That number has been reasonably stable over a long period of years. As the definition of “participation” has changed, it’s become harder to “pin down” statistically. There are approximately 5,000 names in the index to the ALA Handbook — and you get listed in the index because you’re a member of a member, board, task force, Council, etc. listed in the Handbook. That’s been one historically-used “participation” number. I have speculated — though I don’t at this point have all the hard data to back it up — that if you added in people who speak at conferences and institutes or participate in discussion groups, people who write articles/columns/books, etc. and deduplicated the list, you might find that 20% of ALA members were active participants. It may well be much higher if you then add in all the members who attend a conference or workshop. That’s would, historically, be a pretty good percentage. But, the understanding of “participation” has been changing — both the scope of things that constitute “participation,” the cost of participation to both the member and the association, and the importance of that participation. So, the question I am increasingly wrestling with is “what would ALA be like if we flipped that 80/20 ratio and 80% of ALA members were active participants?” It may not be realistic — most organizations have members who belong to support the mission, to get information, etc. That’s a valuable and significant role — and most of us play that role in one or more organization over the course of our professional and civic lives. It might be an interesting quest, however. We might end up with some very different perspectives on “participation.” How do you “count” the person who sends in the perfect library story for an advocacy message? We may be closer to 100% than we think.


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