#SLAleads Tips (not just for first timers)

SLA Leadership is next week in Memphis. I’m excited about it because Memphis is the home of Stax, Sun, and Goner records. I’m also excited because I get to hang out with the new crop of SLA leaders and get energized for the association. For newer SLA leaders (or not), here are just a few tips to get the most out of SLA Leadership.

  1. Be present. Participate a dine-around, make it to breakfast, and be sure to attend the Mid-South Chapter Welcome Reception. This is a small conference where you can make connections easier than larger conferences.
  2. The Buddy System. Chances are you will know some people at the Leadership Summit – somebody from your unit, a board member, or somebody you happened to click with previously – but you might not. Making a connection early on in the conference can help you navigate all of the information about SLA governance. I suggest Tom Rink. That man knows everything SLA and is usually very happy to share. Or you can hang with me. (I don’t bite!)
  3. Make a new friend. One step beyond the buddy system is making sure you talk to new people. Actively try to mingle. Yes it can be difficult, but this a mix of people who have shared interests and goals. If you are new to SLA Leadership, this is how you can meet you conference buddy. If you’ve been around a few years, this will help you get new ideas and new connections.
  4. Listen! A lot of information about how SLA runs and operates is presented at this conference. It can be confusing at times, but listening can give you great insight into what the SLA board and HQ are up to.
  5. Speak up! Have a question? A suggestion? Share it with the wider group. Chances are you’re not alone, so speak up.
  6. Be in the room. Attending the sessions and meetings is important, but so is paying attention. While there often is a good back channel discussion on Twitter, don’t get too bogged down in your screen and be active in the room.
  7. Connect with new Chapters or Divisions. If you hear another unit doing something that you think sounds interesting, follow up with them about it. Or maybe you have a similar problem and can work together on a solution? SLA has a broad range of groups, connect with them to make your unit thrive.

So I’ll see you in Memphis!

Always Forever – Thoughts on SLA Leadership

Last week I went on down to Dallas to attend the SLA Leadership Summit. It was a pretty packed couple of days where most of the SLA Board of Directors and unit leaders met to discuss the organization and inspire us to roll up our sleeves and get some work done. I enjoyed reading the recollections of Chris Zammarelli and Aileen Marshall and you should check them out. Despite all of us being in the same odd-shaped room (or even at the same table in the back corner), we all have our different take-aways.

Although I think we’re all really excited about the new SLA website. Actually… I’m only really excited about it because it’s the first step to a new AMS which is very much needed. More on that later.

One of the big differences form this year’s Leadership Summit is that they really seemed to listen. Parts of the presentations and discussions really seemed to be a kind of reconciliation after Alignment and some other issues. The Board was open and listening, and it felt great.

The thing that has stuck with me since my return home, and I’m still ruminating about right now has to do with the relative size and strength of units. This year I’m chair of the Transportation Division – one of the smallest divisions. A lot of the discussion about successful units focuses on chapters and divisions that are quickly growing or ones that have a larger base to pull from. While there definitely is room for our division to grow, it’s limited by our scope. Let’s face it – there aren’t a bunch of transportation librarians floating out there who aren’t already members of the division. Somebody, maybe Zamarelli or maybe it was Tom Nielsen from Solos, talked about the different tiers of units, and that instead of every unit trying to be the biggest and best in some abstract ideal, we should be the best we can be for what’s our right level. It’s common sense. The hard part will be figuring out what that means for us, which unfortunately nobody’s really got the answer for at this time. That’s what this year will be about though.

And… something else Zammarelli mentioned – starting the *ahem* World Football Caucus. What’s that? Well… there’s already the Baseball Caucus, because librarians love baseball. (I’m a member!) This year we’ll be petitioning for the World Football (read in the US: Soccer) Caucus so we’ll be ready to kick it off with the 2014 World Cup. We still have to get the paperwork in order, but it’s coming soon!

SLA Annual: The numbers, the enthusiasm, and the law of two feet.

Lone Udinese Fan
Last week Udinese played a match against Sampdoria in Genoa. The takeaway from the match was the single Udinese fan named Arrigo Brovedani in the stands. The lone voice cheering his team on to a 0-2 victory. By all accounts he had a pretty great time.

Brovedani is sort of my hero.

Which sort of also brings me to some follow up from my most recent post. Last week I echoed my good buddy Chris Zammarelli’s concerns about the registration fees for SLA 2013. Friday Deb Hunt, 2013 SLA President, responded to the SLA Blog that looks beyond the numbers. She addresses many of the common concerns raised – the number of sessions and length, the cost of conference halls, paid registrations, and shrinking (or nonexistent) professional development budgets. I really appreciate her response of the openness and understanding. The part worth noting in my opinion is this:

Notwithstanding these and other improvements to the conference experience, SLA staff and conference planners recognize that some members simply will not be able to attend SLA 2013. Employers are cutting professional development funding, salaries are being frozen or cut, information professionals are being laid off—the list of barriers to conference attendance is long and stubbornly familiar. We’ve tried to compensate by offering a virtual conference option, but even those who took advantage of it admit there’s no substitute for immersing all of your senses in the sounds, sights, ideas and energy of a few thousand of your peers. I speak from experience when I say that you come away from an SLA Annual Conference feeling exhausted and energized at the same time.

And that’s why you simply cannot leave conference attendance to your employer. Your professional development and, ultimately, your career are too important to put in someone else’s hands. One of the most important virtues that SLA (and, for that matter, any good professional association) teaches is self-reliance, which includes taking charge of your growth and advancement. By putting aside money to attend an SLA Annual Conference, you demonstrate that you value your career and profession.

Chris also received a response from SLA’s Director of Business Development and PR John Walsh, which he posted on his blog. Go read it. Really. Do it now.

So this is where I stand – I’m not happy about the $529 (though I can’t complain about the airfare since it’s in my home state for once!), but I understand it. To use a tired metaphor, the ship has sailed for this year… and probably until 2015. It’s easy for us to call for more cost cutting and responsiveness, but I really don’t see how much more can be cut. I know from my experience as a conference planner we really are trying as a group to bring engaging and relevant programming to the conference on a shoestring budget. (Oh man… the cost of planning… that’s a whole other story.) Which then sort of goes to the heart of the matter.

$529 is a not an insignificant amount of money. It’s about 1/3 of a the costs of printing 500 7″s on colored vinyl. It’s roughly 1/2 to a 1/4 of most people’s professional development budgets (if they exist) and it doesn’t include the travel and hotel expenses. Attending conferences is expensive. There’s not other way around that. At the same time though, what are you going to do for yourself and your profession? Hunt’s point about you taking control of and responsibility for your career, I think that’s the most important point. I have several dear friends from SLA are fortunate enough to get reimbursed for most if not all their expenses. I also have several friends who pay mostly out of pocket. I think most people, myself included, are somewhere in the middle. Work pays for some, I pay for some. I feel I get so much value from SLA that I continue to volunteer and will continue to attend. I do it for myself and for my career. It’s a choice I can afford to make. I understand not everybody can afford that though, and that’s where we as a group need to work together to find sustainable solutions. Other venues, such as the Library Society of the World are other options that might work for some people, though I also worry about the self-selecting nature of these groups. (But aren’t all groups?) I still don’t have an answer really other than you need to do whatever professional development you decide on for yourself. If work pays for it, great! They’ll benefit from it, but really it’s your responsibility. What are you going to do if you lose your job? I hope you don’t have to experience that, but it’s worth thinking about. I’m not saying everybody SLA is the only option. We all know there are other options, and if that’s a better fit for you then go for it. It’s sort of like the “Law of Two Feet” from unconferences. If you’re not getting what you want out of the organization, then find one that meets your needs. Or… get involved. Sitting at home on the sidelines, pointing fingers, and complaining doesn’t really work. Do something!

So in the end, nothing’s really changed but SLA’s responsive transparency in this situation has helped make me feel better. I wish we had the numbers back when the $529 was announced, but it’s not going to change the fact that as 2013 Chair of the Transportation Division I have to be there. I also still really like SLA, a lot. So I’m not ready to throw in the towel. If I’m the only person in San Diego, I’ll enjoy myself like Arrigo Brovendani. As long as SLA continues to work on being open with the membership, I’ll continue to be a member.

How do special librarians/info pros really fit in the big tent?


(Photo source)

This is Chris Zammarelli and his son Kieran cataloging something for the Department of State. I love this picture on many levels, but today I’m using to put a face on government librarians. This is a follow up from my sloppy and somewhat ranty post last week comparing SLA to the Bundesliga. I meant to really focus on the role of SLA on the professional association landscape, and how it’s often misunderstood or ignored. I think I botched that job, though I still believe it to be the case. Today, I’m talking about the libraries and librarians. This sort of fits with all the discussion of Big Tent Librarianship recently. The ever energetic Andy Woodworth wrote about it for Library Journal in December, the Annoyed Librarian addressed it as Public Library Privilege, and Andy responded to that with the Harper Collins frame. Hack Library School also weighed in on it. The thrust of this all is that if Big Tent Librarianship is going to work, we need to build relationships and communities that go beyond our job at hand. I find it interesting that Hack Library School illustrated the power of social functions to break down the barriers. The trick is to take it beyond happy hour.

I’m torn about this all, if you couldn’t tell. I like the idea of Big Tent Librarianship, but I also think it’s just another gimmick with a brand to empower some, enable others to talk the game, but really accomplish little. I also do sort of agree with the AL that it’s a reflection of the privilege public libraries have in the library landscape, though I would extend that to academic libraries as well. They make up the numbers and dictate the discourse. Look at ALA. Look at the library “thought leaders”.

This of course all started with my FriendFeed post, but I also know it doesn’t stop or end there. Steve Lawson commented that he felt Zammarelli, myself and Margaret Smith represented the special librarian view point, but really that’s still a narrow view. (It could also be argued that Zammarelli could be considered the only really legit representation of a special library since he works for the Feds, while Smith and I are academics.) As the public sector finally starts to address its budget issues in earnest, lots of small libraries are going to be under the axe, though they won’t conjure up the same outrage and indignation of public and academic libraries. Is it because it’s harder for most librarians to grok without any personal reference? Is it because people don’t see the practical value of these libraries? What about all the disappearing corporate libraries? There is a lot of information being lost and whole populations of people not being served, but since it’s not kids, students, or old people it’s hard for people to get too upset it seems.

Of course this is all coming from my weird corner of libraries. Though I work for a research institute at university, we serve the institute and public agencies throughout the state. My users encompass a wide range of people, from undergrads to post-docs, bus drivers to policy makers. My peers in the community work primarily for state and local agencies, though there quite a number of private companies and non-profits as well. Some libraries have staffs near 10 people, many are solos. We are a community. I know that as soon as my students graduate they will be working for a state agency or private consulting firm, and it reinforces that we’re in this together. A result of being a small, interdependent community is that I am very concerned with the existence of these government and corporate libraries. What’s the point of throwing money (ok, those days might be behind us) at research if you can’t tell what’s been done before? Libraries have played an important role in the research/analysis landscape for decades, but that’s changing due to funding, awareness, and apathy. I don’t think we’ve really begun to feel the effects, and the sad thing is I don’t think they will be as obvious as no story hour or 24-hour libraries during finals. That doesn’t mean they’re not as important.

So what do I think can be done? Well, the special librarians need to get out there and be more vocal. We need to make it harder to be ignored. What’s the impact of losing an agency library? Remember the EPA Libraries closings? Of course SLA had a lot of good coverage about it. It’s a tough situation as states are squeezing more and more, they are relying on the federal administrations, like the EPA or USDOT, to really help with the information needs of the community. We all need to be more aware of the costs and benefits all the time, not just when it’s a major crisis. It’s about communicating the value of information, but it’s hard when there’s really poor language about it. (Makes me think of SLA Alignment…) The thing is, special libraries don’t have the same language as public and academic libraries. For example look at this FriendFeed discussion about agony and apathy of advocacy in public libraries. It’s going to be framed differently with different language. (I have yet to meet a research administrator who cares about “patrons”.) We can learn a lot from each other. Listen and learn from one another, and hopefully we’ll sort this mess out.