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.

#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!