SLA: Speak up, I can’t hear you.


flickr photo shared by Ape Lad under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

Update: On 21 May, 2015 SLA signed on to the COAR statement. Way to go, SLA!

This morning an announcement hit my inbox from ARL about a number of library groups denouncing Elsevier’s new sharing and hosting policy.  (I wrote about it recently, so I won’t really address the issue again now.) I looked at the list of signatories to COAR’s statement hoping to see my library association of choice (SLA), but wasn’t really surprised when I saw they were absent.  It reminded me of FASTR and how they were slow to speak out against it, though after some prodding they did. This situation is different because this isn’t directly about legislation or regulation, but about a major publisher’s policies (that kind of relate to regulation).

The realist in me understands why SLA hasn’t yet (and likely won’t) comment on the change in Elsevier’s policy. This has been a somewhat tumultuous year for the association as we collectively figure out what SLA means and what the way ahead will be. If you’re a member of SLA, please go read the SLA Recommendations Report and comment on it! These sorts of advocacy issues may be relatively straightforward and require little effort, but they are not really a priority for SLA right now. We have bigger issues. There’s also the fact that it’s difficult to speak against a large “vendor partner”, especially when SLA needs to strengthen its relationship with vendor partners for survival reasons.

At the same time, I want to belong to a professional association that speaks up about these kinds of issues. I want them to advocate for access to information. It’s in the interest of many of SLA’s members and our library users. Not only would making these statements support members who are working on these issues, it would also position SLA alongside many other library associations like ALA. It’s a form of publicity or marketing, showing that we are interested in access to research that impacts everybody. If you’re a member and want SLA to do something on the issue, I recommend contacting the Board of Directors. I wrote them this morning.

And this is where it gets difficult for me to see how I fit in with SLA if they don’t speak up on these kinds of issues. After reading the recommendations, I felt somewhat out of place within the association structure, but I am used to that. I’m also used to SLA being conservative when it comes to policy positions, but I’m tired of it. I think this constant inward focus and reluctance to push back against policies that negatively impact the core mission of library and information centers needs to stop, but I also don’t think SLA is in a place right now to do it. That makes me sad. Many SLA members look to the association for professional development opportunities. Advocacy, for the profession and our services, is one of these opportunities we’ve been neglecting. It would be great if members could cultivate the skills to speak up when issues directly affect our professional interests, and learn to communicate respectfully with our vendors partners to establish mutually beneficial relationships.

I’ve seen many energetic and enthusiastic SLA members drop their membership in recent years because the association wasn’t for them. I understand there will always be churn, but it shouldn’t be from Rising Stars and Fellows. When the people who were heavily involved with making the association strong and viable for the future fade out because they feel their energy would be better spent elsewhere, it’s worrying. Everybody has reasons – money, time, other commitments, but the disagreement on direction is I think the most troublesome because it’s the easiest to do something about. Unfortunately, this might be the thing that makes me fade away. I hope not because I truly do value my membership with SLA and have benefitted greatly from my involvement with the association, but if it continues to go in directions that go against my values I will probably go elsewhere.

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