Special Libraries – Respected, but not always thought of… sort of like the Bundesliga?


Photo source.

The looming Government Shutdown reminded me how little most librarians actually interact with the federal government on a direct level. This all came about when Chris Zammarelli asked in the LSW Friendfeed room if any feds/fed contractors had plans for the shutdown. The silence was deafening. Well, OK, people liked talking about the possibility of a peanut butter-chocolate cocktail, but nobody had anything really to add about the shutdown. I was intrigued, so I posted serious thought about the lack of engagement with/awareness of government librarians.

This isn’t the first time I felt somewhat disconnected from The LSW due to the general lack of understanding about anything other than public/academic librarians, and I doubt this will be the last. It’s just always surprising, and disappointing, that so many intelligent people who seem clued into the professional really have such weird misconceptions about a century old association for librarians. Of course, a lot of my understanding and familiarity comes from being involved in the association, but I would hope those that aren’t involved with SLA won’t try to make assumptions about how “strange” we are, rather than listen to how we’re not that different than your average librarian in a “normal” public or academic library. Tomorrow or later this week I will blog about how I think special librarians and their libraries are ignored in some more detail, but for now let me use a bad football analogy. (Come on, it’s week! You knew it was coming!)

Let’s liken library associations to football leagues using the UEFA coefficient. If ALA is the Premier League, I would say ACRL could be considered something like La Liga (I know… this isn’t totally accurate, but work with me…), SLA is the Bundesliga. You could add LITA as Serie A, maybe AALL as Ligue 1 and MLA as the Premeira Liga.

So why would I say SLA is the Bundesliga? It’s good. It’s been around. It has quality. It’s not as sexy as the others, nor does it have the money, but it performs well. Take Tuesday night for example. FC Schlake 04, who are currently 10th in the table and won’t even qualify for next year’s Champions League, beat reigning CL champs Inter Milan at the San Siro. Nobody really expected them to win, let alone like that but they dug in and did it. In this football crazed age, where people can follow all the leagues, it’s hard for the Bundesliga to gain the attention of fan when it has to go against the flashy Premier League and La Liga. But look at the German National Team, who came in third in the 2006 World Cup, second in the 2008 UEFA European Championship, and again in third (losing to champions Spain… again…) in the 2010 World Cup. Most of those players are from the Bundesliga. So while they might not campture the fancy of the casual fan or neophyte, they are respected by enthusiasts.

So really, librarians… stop acting like SLA is some weird alien planet or strange. It’s been around for ages and been consistently doing interesting stuff, you just need to keep it on the radar. (And if I can extend the horrible analogy a littler further, let me stake my claim as the FC St. Pauli of SLA. SANKT PAU-LIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!)

4 thoughts on “Special Libraries – Respected, but not always thought of… sort of like the Bundesliga?

  1. For the most part I think us S Ls just don’t care about the A because there’s no reson for us to care. We get nothing out of it other than a sense of enormous well being. Our bosses don’t care if we do that stuff, so why bother? I beg to go to conferences just so I can see people and feel somehow connected to the profession, but that’s just me.

    I’m not at all dismayed. I don’t care if anyone ever acknowledges me. I don’t deal with crazy public patrons. I don’t deal with crazy acadmic tenure and meetings. I’m well paid. The people I work for seem to think I’m useful. They’d never care about any “A” or anything else, it just matters what I get done. I go to work, do some stuff, and go home. It gives me a sense of enormous well being.

    (Quoting obscure Blur songs makes me a cool hipster wannabe)

    1. I’m really in the “you get what you give” mode out of SLA. If you want something out of SLA, you put something into it. The association isn’t going to come to you. I’ve gotten so much out of it (and it really has helped me in my career) because I decided to put the time into it. It’s really the point of a professional organization: it’s not the people who run the association that make it worthwhile (although a good staff certainly keeps it running as smoothly as possible), it’s the people who make up the membership. I figure, why spend the money on membership if you don’t have the time or the inclination to actually contribute to the organization (say, in a division or round table or what have you). I mean, it’s certainly why I’m not in ALA anymore.

  2. Blake, you raise a very good point but the issue of SLA’s marketing and value to its members. I think that’s why it is constantly trying to redefine itself.

    I also think there is a lot of value to not being so emotionally tied to your job and needing outside validation. (Damn I can’t counter with an Oasis quote!) It’s just frustrating that so many people who love talking about broad issues facing libraries and librarians actually just mean public and academic libraries. Maybe if they were more honest about that, I’d have less of an issue.

  3. Nobody said SLA was strange or special librarians were strange within that LSW thread. Nobody: That’s a deliberate red herring. I said that the SLA conferences I attended were the strangest library conferences I’ve been to, mostly because they felt like a bunch of tiny little conferences that happened to be in the same building. I’ll stand by that–and note that Zamms essentially said the same thing. I never, ever, once said that special librarians are strange, and don’t in fact believe that.

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