The SEPTLA Membership Task Force was established during the fall 2017 SEPTLA meeting on October 4 and comprised of James (Jim) Sauer, Samantha Rice, and Elizabeth Young Miller (serving as chair). The Task Force met via conference call on October 25 to brainstorm. The group decided to survey the 18 ATLA regional groups listed on ATLA’s website (https://www.atla.com/Members/divisions/regional/Pages/default.aspx), as well as the following regional professional groups:
- ACLCP (PA)
- New Jersey Library Association, College and University Section
- TCLC (Tri-State College Library Cooperative)
- VALE (Virtual Academic Library Environment of New Jersey)
The list was divided up with each member of the Task Force contacting six (6) ATLA groups and a couple of regional professional groups, encouraging the chair/president of each organization to complete a brief Google survey by the middle of December. On January 15, 2018, the Task Force met via Zoom to discuss survey responses and draft recommendations.
Survey Findings and Recommendations
Eight (8) organizations responded to the membership survey—six (6) ATLA regional groups and two (2) other regional professional groups. Several of the responding organizations sound like they are struggling, giving the task force the sense that SEPTLA is a healthy organization. Only one (1) organization offers individual membership, in addition to institutional membership.
Membership criteria varies and is based on the following:
- Geography (2)
- ATLA membership (2)
- Institution offering advanced study in theology/divinity
- Librarians whose work includes religion, theology, biblical studies
- Christian university, seminary, college
- Organizations willing to participate in leadership
Recommendation: Broaden SEPTLA’s membership criteria
Survey responses indicate that some ATLA organizations are not limited to institutions offering graduate degrees in religion and theology. Currently, five (5) SEPTLA institutions (Cairn, Lancaster Bible, Moravian, Summit, and Valley Forge) offer both undergraduate and graduate programs. Therefore, the Task Force recommends expanding membership to organizations that offer both bachelors and graduate degrees, as well as broadening the cognates of graduate degrees to include counseling and ordination.
Jim Sauer compiled a list of potential new members, which was shared with the Executive Committee.
The survey also asked about dues. Three (3) organizations do not have dues. Two (2) institutions base dues on a library’s total budget. One (1) institution sets dues at $75—the same as SEPTLA—and another $100 per institution. In comparison to TCLC and PALCI, SEPTLA’s dues are modest.
Recommendation: Increase dues to $100.
By increasing dues, SEPTLA could explore grants, scholarships, and/or special events. Perhaps this money could be used to sponsor a library student who would like to attend a SEPTLA meeting. Additionally, the money could be used for stipends for members of the Executive Committee, such as the president; see below for more information. The Task Force recommends surveying the membership to see if the proposed increase in dues would preclude any institutions from membership.
Survey responses indicate an overlap in mission and purpose of each organization, with five (5) organizations mentioning both professional development and resource sharing. Other survey responses included collaboration (2), collection development, and community building.
In terms of programming, most organizations offer some kind of meeting. A couple responses highlighted interest group meeting and one mentioned virtual meetings.
Recommendation: Explore alternate approaches to programming
- Since geography can be an issue for some SEPTLA institutions, offer virtual meetings, providing live streaming of speaker presentations, which could then be posted to SEPTLA’s website. Virtual meetings may also be a selling point for new and existing members and expand our professional development reach.
- Consider combining meetings with different groups in the area, e.g. joint NYATLA/SEPTLA meeting.
- Look at special interest group events planned by other organizations for ideas and inspiration.
Organizations also answered a question regarding the benefits of membership in their respective organizations. Five (5) mentioned professional development, two (2) networking, one (1) resources, and one (1) cooperative licensing.
The survey included a question about leadership, and two (2) institutions mentioned that convening, hosting, and/or leadership rotates among institutions.
Recommendation: Consider new leadership models
Filling leadership positions in SEPTLA can sometimes be challenging. For this reason and based on survey responses, the Task Force suggests examining the following:
- Offer a stipend for the president of SEPTLA
- Alphabetically rotate leadership, with someone from each library serving one year terms, first as secretary, then president, and then past president.