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.