More coherent thoughts on the SLA Consultants’ Recommendations.

flickr photo shared by Royal Free Archive Centre under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

It’s June, which means the club football seasons are over and it’s time for cricket! (At least in my narrow view of the world.) I’m using the sport metaphor here to haphazardly say I like being part of a club/team/squad, and I’m a team player. In footy I’m a defender (outside back is  one of the least glamourous positions despite people like Dani Alves or Branislav Ivanovic), which reflects my mindset of helping out for the greater good of the whole team. So let me use this as a starting off point for a more concise, coherent follow up from my post yesterday about the SLA consultants recommendations.

I also want to state up from my SLA bona fides to demonstrate this is coming from a place of love and concern for an association I have been deeply involved with and benefited greatly from: I have been a member since 2006 (when I enrolled in library school). I have been a conference planner for the Academic and Transportation Divisions. I have been Chair of the Transportation Division and Secretary of the Academic Division. I have been on the SLA Nominating Committee. I was on the 2015 Annual Conference Advisory Council. I was a Rising Star in 2013. I am currently on the LMD Professional Development Committee and the SLA Professional Development Advisory Council. I am very involved and willing to speak up when I disagree or have concerns. So let me do it some more.

The biggest issue I have with the consultants’ recommendations is the fast pace for huge structural changes, namely consolidation of units and the probable dissolution of the Chapter and Division Cabinets. In my mind, this takes away the clearest mechanism for members to provide actionable feedback to the board. I’ve sat through some very tetchy and contested Division and Joint Cabinet meetings, and while they were painful in the moment I think they reflect the need for members to be heard. Frankly, most of the frustration in those meetings stemmed from members not feeling valued or included in the process. So the proposed changes seem to address the problem by just removing that outlet, which will further detach most members from SLA governance in the name of streamlined expediency. This will probably kill whatever goodwill exists with many frustrated members like myself. That’s a terrible route for a member organizations and that sends a message that it doesn’t value grassroots participation beyond benign efforts that make SLA look good and generate revenue.

This also goes back to the issue I tried to articulate yesterday about the proposed process to recruit new Board Members. Honestly, anybody who has the mix of self confidence and arrogance to apply for the board will make me suspicious but that’s because I really worry that it will attract glory hunters in search of branding their legacy, rather than helping the association. When I was on Nominating, I was keen to tap members who have demonstrated thoughtfulness, and capable dedication to SLA. I really don’t want self-appointed thought leaders and I really worry that a lot of great potential board members will never be nominated because they won’t play the game. We’ll probably end up with a self-selecting club that represents a narrow view of information professionals.

The lack of details about restructuring really worries me and other SLA members and I think creates concern that the Board and HQ will effectively rule by fiat. As I stated yesterday, I’m not against unit restructuring and I think it is required for us to continue. I think it will have to be done carefully and really be driven from participation and understanding from the members of the units so people can sit well with it. Being forced to make these alliances without clear benefits when it’s obvious what members and units will lose is a hard pill to swallow. This needs to be address and the process needs to be open and inclusive to all – not just people who know the system or larger units that will absorb smaller units. I mean, I’ve been a leader of one of the smallest and oldest divisions. I would be OK with us merging with other divisions, but we have to have input with how it goes down and not just be told “You’re part of the Engineering Division now because highways are engineering.” That shows a total lack of understanding of what we do.

These issues I think come from who wrote the report and I feel remiss in not stating that I do have an issue with the process to select the consultants. The whole timeline of Janice Lachance’s stepping down as CEO and the hiring of Ulla de Stricker and Cindy Shamel as the Change Directors (or whatever euphemism they’re using) was very quick and members were not aware of anything until they were in place. That generated a lot of suspicion for good reason. While I think they and the board have tried to be as transparent as (they love to remind us) they can legally be while still moving with a quick timeline, I really think they’ve done a poor job engaging members in the process. I understand that it’s very difficult to get the message out there and solicit feedback, but I think emails to the SLA Leadership list, a few to members, and the blog posts have not been enough. Some of this reflects the lack of resources at HQ for direct communication with members. There isn’t enough bandwidth to go around and SLA didn’t really have a PR person for a long time. I also think this reflects the disconnect a lot of people involved have with the grass roots. They have been involved long enough to know board members and are involved with large units that get it. But what about members on the fringes? How to engage them? I haven’t seen it happen, and the timeline to basically end the discussion at the Annual Conference, rather than start the discussion there, is a missed opportunity to really get the whole association involved. No. This really rubs me the wrong way because it smells like at best a clear disconnect from members and at worst cronyism.

It also shows the narrow view of “information professional” that tries to sound inclusive but really just reads as corporate information centers and independent information consultants. That explains the ham fisted proposals for division consolidation. It also reflects an outdated view of SLA membership. SLA used to be a bastion of corporate libraries but, especially since the Great Recession, many have disappeared. Membership demographics have shifted and there’s been a rise of academic involvement. Why? For one thing, SLA is great for subject specialty academic librarians to be involved in their subject areas and prepare students for researching after graduation. For another, academic librarians are required to be involved in professional activities for our jobs. When the slate for the 2014 Board came out many were upset there were so many academics on it. “It doesn’t represent SLA!” they cried. It’s true, but that’s who said yes because they need service for their job and their employers will support it. It reflects a change in the system and I don’t think the consultants and their recommendations see it as an asset. If ACRL got its act together to make it better for subject librarians (like myself), I wouldn’t be surprised if there was an exodus, but I also know lots of old school SLA members would be OK with that. These are also the same people who think that government librarians should just go join GODORT. Those attitudes reflect their lack of familiarity of what many special librarians actually do, which does not give me confidence in the final product.

So there you have it. I will probably email these two posts to my SLA leaders and the Board and they might read them because they know who I am. I really encourage more SLA members to write and speak up before and during the Board meeting in Boston. These changes are huge and I think we need to slow the process down so it’s more inclusive and represents all of SLA, not just a handful of old timers with their own vision and biases.


7 Things: Making Better Info Pros

photo source

I don’t talk about my job very much because it’s not that interesting, unless you’re into transportation in which case it’s fascinating. (Topics you should avoid around me: parking, air traffic control, bus routes, and traffic congestion.)

Last week at SLA 2009, the Transportation Division launched its new 7 Things, because 23 Things was too many. I say that somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but honestly 23 different things can be overwhelming.

For a while now I’ve tried to encourage my colleagues to engage with these new tools and see the value of using RSS feeds, blogs, and wikis, which has sort of become ubiquitous. Our 7 Things makes it manageable, contextualizes each concept, and gives the support from community which might encourage people who would otherwise find it too difficult. It’s too early to say whether or not our 7 Things will work, but if the response at SLA was indication I am hopeful. I’m also excited that we finally have a platform on which we can discuss how these technologies can impact our workflows.

Social Networking for Professional Development

I took that picture at Internet Librarian 2008. It was my first time meeting lots of people, like those in the picture. Four of the five librarians shown above were already my friends online, though, so it was more like catching up rather than discovery. These online friends have really helped me learn about the profession and I really encourage any LIS student to network, especially those earning their degree through distance education.

Sometimes I’m a little embarrassed when I have to admit that the only way I know somebody is through Twitter, Friend Feed, or their blogs. This is mostly the case when the person I’m talking to is skeptical of social networking. “Oh, how do you know them? Through Twitter? Hmmm…” (followed by a heavy sigh.) After attending the SLA Leadership Summit last week, I’ve decided online social networking is nothing to be ashamed of and should be considered just another valuable tool in professional development. I was speaking with an SLA chapter president about it and told her that it’s helped me have a more robust view of the what it means to be a librarian than I would have otherwise, since I never met my classmates and have only worked in one small, special library. She said that was a good thing, which I took as a compliment.

So to all my online library friends who help me everyday, thank you. I really don’t think I would be where I am today without you. I know one of my shortcomings is my lack of experience in other libraries, but through Twitter and The LSW, I think I have a better idea of where we’re going and how I can help. Librarians are a community, and nobody’s really in it alone. Social networking helps bridge the gap.

Being Annoyed without being Annoying?

When I first read the Annoyed Librarian, I really enjoyed it. I thought AL was cynical enough and a nice counter balance to all of the other library blogs that seemed to pat each other on the back and never really explain to me why I should care about all this web 2.0 stuff. There needed to be somebody telling us to step back and think about things, and I thought AL would do that. Well, I was wrong. As much as I love snark, and I do love snark, AL was just the same sort of negativity post after post, and didn’t really seem to offer any solutions to the ills of the profession, so I stopped reading.

Then AL “sold out” by blogging for Library Journal. Lots of people questioned LJ’s thinking on this matter, but I just took it as a sign that AL really jumped the shark. I never really paid much attention to LJ, but I’m even less inclined to now. It seems they’re out for money and page hits, which is understandable, but nothing I feel like supporting.

Well now AL has really broke it to the big time, by writing all of the articles for the new issue of The Journal of Access Services, v. 5, no.4. (found here). My first inclination was to think it was some sort of joke, but it’s not April. Understandably, a lot of people are scratching their heads wondering what’s up with this move. Anna Creech, the Eclectic Librarian, writes:

Seriously? An entire issue of a journal subtitled “Service Innovations for 21st Century Libraries” is now dedicated to an anonymous someone who’s best known for trashing any sort of innovation or philosophy that the Librar* 2.0 movement puts forward? What were they thinking?

What are they thinking? They want a bit of noteriaty. There’s no such thing as bad press, and pandering with the AL is going to get this issue talked about. Well played.

Chadwick Seagraves, InfoSciPhi, also writes:

You know, you come to expect some level of authority from peer reviewed journals. Does this mean I can submit articles under my own pseudonyms and be potentially accepted for publication in the Journal of Access Services? Apparently it does. For someone who complains so much about the degradation of the profession, what does this say about AL? HACK.

Since this follows the recent relocation of AL’s muckraking blog to an official Library Journal site, it means that AL has finally hit the “big time”. I’m sure she was promised that there would be no censorship and ramifications if she did her thing there. Plus, it makes all the folks she has been complaining about look like that are open to constructive criticism. But, in the end, it just makes AL a HACK. Give it up girl – you have lost what little credibility you had.

Good question about citation. If AL lost a lot of her credibility as a muckraker with the jump to LJ, than this new move pretty much eliminates what little she had left. You can’t rage against the establishment if you join it, can you? Or if you do it all seems really hollow. Perhaps this will help the AL get tenure, but then that would totally blow her cover, unless there’s a huge conspiracy that involves her supervisor. (I’m always a fan of conspiracies.)

As a relatively new librarian, who graduates school in a month, it makes me a little dismayed to see this sort of behavior rewarded. I don’t think it’s really constructive and it just angers people who really should engage in an open dialog with valid criticism about the profession. It was exciting to see AL discuss the profession’s sacred cows, but what was the outcome.

There’s also the issue of the AL backlash that seems to feed into another aspect of the library blogosphere that irritates me: the cult of personality. I think there are quite a few library bloggers who have been made celebrities, and people either love ’em or hate ’em, but won’t shut up about them. It seems like any time these people talk about something it carries much more weight than if some random librarian did, which can be good or bad.

Edited to add: Paul Pival, a member of the Journal of Access Services editorial board responds:

I’m on the editorial board for this journal and this was news to me; it just showed up in my mail Friday afternoon. I’ll skim through the articles to see how funny they are, but even if we’re having trouble scaring up contributors, I’m pretty sure this isn’t the path we want to go down with our peer-reviewed journals!

Wow. So I guess this isn’t a joke? It also raises lot of questions about peer-reviewed publishing. Clearly in this instance, the machine is broken.

Where’s the time for 2.0?

Michael Sauers, The Travelin’ Librarian, has an interesting post today about 2.0 and staff workloads.

Maybe at an institutional level adding the new social tools onto an already overloaded workflow isn’t the answer. Granted, I firmly believe that some of the new tools can be integrated successfully and streamline the existing workflow, but what about larger tools like blogging. Instead of expecting staff to blog for the library in addition to their existing workload, how about redistributing the workload so the staff that will be blogging on behalf of the library have a little less of what they did before and now have the time to blog?

I’m not saying this would be easy, nor could I possibly claim to have a “plan” for something like that that you could implement in your library. (How could I, each library’s solution would be completely different from every other.) However, maybe we should not look at this as an addition problem, but more of a rearrangement problem.

It’s nice that people are starting to recognize and acknowledge that it will take more than access to the technologies to get librarians to really adopt 2.0 methods and products. It will take lots of effort and time to incorporate it into the current model, and perhaps the current model is already broken.

Jezmynne Westcott commented:

As one of those librarians who manage subjects, ref desk, outreach, instruction, appointments, a building, staff, AND 2.0 stuff, I agree it is a challenge. For me, it comes down to 2 things – prioritization and well, prioritization.

I think that’s also true, as well as the need to examine what’s important for each individual library. I still don’t know that every library absolutely needs a blog. My library’s been trying to blog and I think it’s been far from a success, mostly due to time issues and lack of interesting content. The people who have the time to write posts aren’t the ones who would write the most interesting, in-depth, and informational posts about transportation information. I would include myself in the former. People would really need the time to devote to learning how to use the tools and then the time to implement them, similar to professional development time. Sauers is probably correct in assuming that more staff would be needed to free up this time, or some sort of restructuring in many libraries. It’s also clear though, that these sorts of changes would be hard to implement because they would affect everybody, but I still think it’s needed in this changing world.