SLA Annual: The numbers, the enthusiasm, and the law of two feet.

Lone Udinese Fan
Last week Udinese played a match against Sampdoria in Genoa. The takeaway from the match was the single Udinese fan named Arrigo Brovedani in the stands. The lone voice cheering his team on to a 0-2 victory. By all accounts he had a pretty great time.

Brovedani is sort of my hero.

Which sort of also brings me to some follow up from my most recent post. Last week I echoed my good buddy Chris Zammarelli’s concerns about the registration fees for SLA 2013. Friday Deb Hunt, 2013 SLA President, responded to the SLA Blog that looks beyond the numbers. She addresses many of the common concerns raised – the number of sessions and length, the cost of conference halls, paid registrations, and shrinking (or nonexistent) professional development budgets. I really appreciate her response of the openness and understanding. The part worth noting in my opinion is this:

Notwithstanding these and other improvements to the conference experience, SLA staff and conference planners recognize that some members simply will not be able to attend SLA 2013. Employers are cutting professional development funding, salaries are being frozen or cut, information professionals are being laid off—the list of barriers to conference attendance is long and stubbornly familiar. We’ve tried to compensate by offering a virtual conference option, but even those who took advantage of it admit there’s no substitute for immersing all of your senses in the sounds, sights, ideas and energy of a few thousand of your peers. I speak from experience when I say that you come away from an SLA Annual Conference feeling exhausted and energized at the same time.

And that’s why you simply cannot leave conference attendance to your employer. Your professional development and, ultimately, your career are too important to put in someone else’s hands. One of the most important virtues that SLA (and, for that matter, any good professional association) teaches is self-reliance, which includes taking charge of your growth and advancement. By putting aside money to attend an SLA Annual Conference, you demonstrate that you value your career and profession.

Chris also received a response from SLA’s Director of Business Development and PR John Walsh, which he posted on his blog. Go read it. Really. Do it now.

So this is where I stand – I’m not happy about the $529 (though I can’t complain about the airfare since it’s in my home state for once!), but I understand it. To use a tired metaphor, the ship has sailed for this year… and probably until 2015. It’s easy for us to call for more cost cutting and responsiveness, but I really don’t see how much more can be cut. I know from my experience as a conference planner we really are trying as a group to bring engaging and relevant programming to the conference on a shoestring budget. (Oh man… the cost of planning… that’s a whole other story.) Which then sort of goes to the heart of the matter.

$529 is a not an insignificant amount of money. It’s about 1/3 of a the costs of printing 500 7″s on colored vinyl. It’s roughly 1/2 to a 1/4 of most people’s professional development budgets (if they exist) and it doesn’t include the travel and hotel expenses. Attending conferences is expensive. There’s not other way around that. At the same time though, what are you going to do for yourself and your profession? Hunt’s point about you taking control of and responsibility for your career, I think that’s the most important point. I have several dear friends from SLA are fortunate enough to get reimbursed for most if not all their expenses. I also have several friends who pay mostly out of pocket. I think most people, myself included, are somewhere in the middle. Work pays for some, I pay for some. I feel I get so much value from SLA that I continue to volunteer and will continue to attend. I do it for myself and for my career. It’s a choice I can afford to make. I understand not everybody can afford that though, and that’s where we as a group need to work together to find sustainable solutions. Other venues, such as the Library Society of the World are other options that might work for some people, though I also worry about the self-selecting nature of these groups. (But aren’t all groups?) I still don’t have an answer really other than you need to do whatever professional development you decide on for yourself. If work pays for it, great! They’ll benefit from it, but really it’s your responsibility. What are you going to do if you lose your job? I hope you don’t have to experience that, but it’s worth thinking about. I’m not saying everybody SLA is the only option. We all know there are other options, and if that’s a better fit for you then go for it. It’s sort of like the “Law of Two Feet” from unconferences. If you’re not getting what you want out of the organization, then find one that meets your needs. Or… get involved. Sitting at home on the sidelines, pointing fingers, and complaining doesn’t really work. Do something!

So in the end, nothing’s really changed but SLA’s responsive transparency in this situation has helped make me feel better. I wish we had the numbers back when the $529 was announced, but it’s not going to change the fact that as 2013 Chair of the Transportation Division I have to be there. I also still really like SLA, a lot. So I’m not ready to throw in the towel. If I’m the only person in San Diego, I’ll enjoy myself like Arrigo Brovendani. As long as SLA continues to work on being open with the membership, I’ll continue to be a member.

How do special librarians/info pros really fit in the big tent?


(Photo source)

This is Chris Zammarelli and his son Kieran cataloging something for the Department of State. I love this picture on many levels, but today I’m using to put a face on government librarians. This is a follow up from my sloppy and somewhat ranty post last week comparing SLA to the Bundesliga. I meant to really focus on the role of SLA on the professional association landscape, and how it’s often misunderstood or ignored. I think I botched that job, though I still believe it to be the case. Today, I’m talking about the libraries and librarians. This sort of fits with all the discussion of Big Tent Librarianship recently. The ever energetic Andy Woodworth wrote about it for Library Journal in December, the Annoyed Librarian addressed it as Public Library Privilege, and Andy responded to that with the Harper Collins frame. Hack Library School also weighed in on it. The thrust of this all is that if Big Tent Librarianship is going to work, we need to build relationships and communities that go beyond our job at hand. I find it interesting that Hack Library School illustrated the power of social functions to break down the barriers. The trick is to take it beyond happy hour.

I’m torn about this all, if you couldn’t tell. I like the idea of Big Tent Librarianship, but I also think it’s just another gimmick with a brand to empower some, enable others to talk the game, but really accomplish little. I also do sort of agree with the AL that it’s a reflection of the privilege public libraries have in the library landscape, though I would extend that to academic libraries as well. They make up the numbers and dictate the discourse. Look at ALA. Look at the library “thought leaders”.

This of course all started with my FriendFeed post, but I also know it doesn’t stop or end there. Steve Lawson commented that he felt Zammarelli, myself and Margaret Smith represented the special librarian view point, but really that’s still a narrow view. (It could also be argued that Zammarelli could be considered the only really legit representation of a special library since he works for the Feds, while Smith and I are academics.) As the public sector finally starts to address its budget issues in earnest, lots of small libraries are going to be under the axe, though they won’t conjure up the same outrage and indignation of public and academic libraries. Is it because it’s harder for most librarians to grok without any personal reference? Is it because people don’t see the practical value of these libraries? What about all the disappearing corporate libraries? There is a lot of information being lost and whole populations of people not being served, but since it’s not kids, students, or old people it’s hard for people to get too upset it seems.

Of course this is all coming from my weird corner of libraries. Though I work for a research institute at university, we serve the institute and public agencies throughout the state. My users encompass a wide range of people, from undergrads to post-docs, bus drivers to policy makers. My peers in the community work primarily for state and local agencies, though there quite a number of private companies and non-profits as well. Some libraries have staffs near 10 people, many are solos. We are a community. I know that as soon as my students graduate they will be working for a state agency or private consulting firm, and it reinforces that we’re in this together. A result of being a small, interdependent community is that I am very concerned with the existence of these government and corporate libraries. What’s the point of throwing money (ok, those days might be behind us) at research if you can’t tell what’s been done before? Libraries have played an important role in the research/analysis landscape for decades, but that’s changing due to funding, awareness, and apathy. I don’t think we’ve really begun to feel the effects, and the sad thing is I don’t think they will be as obvious as no story hour or 24-hour libraries during finals. That doesn’t mean they’re not as important.

So what do I think can be done? Well, the special librarians need to get out there and be more vocal. We need to make it harder to be ignored. What’s the impact of losing an agency library? Remember the EPA Libraries closings? Of course SLA had a lot of good coverage about it. It’s a tough situation as states are squeezing more and more, they are relying on the federal administrations, like the EPA or USDOT, to really help with the information needs of the community. We all need to be more aware of the costs and benefits all the time, not just when it’s a major crisis. It’s about communicating the value of information, but it’s hard when there’s really poor language about it. (Makes me think of SLA Alignment…) The thing is, special libraries don’t have the same language as public and academic libraries. For example look at this FriendFeed discussion about agony and apathy of advocacy in public libraries. It’s going to be framed differently with different language. (I have yet to meet a research administrator who cares about “patrons”.) We can learn a lot from each other. Listen and learn from one another, and hopefully we’ll sort this mess out.

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!)

Identity crisis? No. Or why I think we need to move beyond “stealth librarianship.”

a&p DINOSAURS!, originally uploaded by kendrak.

This is one of my favourite pictures of my guinea pigs. They’re dressed as dinosaurs, but it’s clear they’re not really reptilian or prehistoric. (Also, I love how you can tell that they’re plotting to kill me in this.) I’m using this picture to illustrate the whole concept of impostors, and how we as librarians, particularly subject librarians, need to get over it.

I’m talking about John Dupuis’ Stealth Librarianship Manifesto. It’s like he’s reinventing embedded librarianship, only with an academic flavour. The usually verbose In the Library with the Leadpipe also weighs in. You should go read them if you’re interested, but it’s hard to pull out concise excerpts here. Suffice to say, manifesto (which might be the new word for 2011) urges subject librarians to integrate themselves in their subject and be a peer of their community. Apparently this is novel?

My frustration with this rebranding is just a part of the narrow vision many librarians have about the profession and its role in the information seeking world. This LSW thread from today sort of embodies it. What? There are other types of libraries besides public and academic? Now, as I did in that thread, allow me to put on my SLA hat. One of the greatest things about SLA, to me, is the diversity of its members and how very few are just traditional librarians in the narrow sense. There’s a very wide world out there, but it seems like lots of people forget that, which is our loss. When Dupuis notes that librarians should stop joining traditional librarian professional associations, I wonder if he’s actually been involved with SLA?

But back to the the concept of “stealth librarianship”. Basically, Dupuis calls for librarians to be part of their user community, not just observers but participants. I agree. I also know that several librarians already are and have done for decades. It’s not new. It’s also not as common as it perhaps should be, but making it as a new concept is not necessary and might just muddle things. Really, how is it any different from being embedded? Or just being a really involved member of your community? I am not seeing why we need a manifesto, other than maybe to empower those who felt out of place?

I touched upon this last month when I got back from the biggest transportation conference of the year, the TRB Annual Meeting. It’s one of the most productive and exhausting events on my calendar each year. I spend basically 5 days spending some time with my transportation librarian cohort (I know, shame on me!), but most of it is running from one committee to another being seen and hearing what is going on within the transportation research community. I make it a point to not go to the normal meetings and to try and make new partners not only for myself but the rest of the librarian community. I all my infiltrating and networking, never do I hide the fact that I’m a librarian. I’m proud of it and I also recognize I, and all the other librarians, are an important part of the transportation research community. Yes, we need to market ourselves better within that group, but I don’t think it means a whole new rebranding.

I wonder if really the Stealth Librarianship Manifesto should be less about extricating ourselves from the insular library community and more about changing how we engage our user community. How we fit into the larger information consumption/research landscape, and how we can reassert ourselves as the invaluable experts we are. I don’t pretend to be a transportation planner or engineer, but I sure know how to find research and data better than most, but that’s what I do. It’s my area of expertise! Maybe if we stopped designing systems and guides to do the work for us and did it ourselves, people would really recognize our value?

I guess it doesn’t apply to me? (Or most of the colleagues I can think of.) I am often reminded how special we really are in the transportation library world. I keep considering writing an open love letter to my colleagues, because they make it so interesting and make me proud to be a transportation librarian.

Staying posi: How I learned to care in a different way.

STAY POSI!, originally uploaded by bradwenner.com.

I want to start off with an apology. I am sorry that 95% of my cultural references are either from punk or soccer. It’s really all I got. Today it’s posi.

This post was inspired by this LSW FF discussion which was inspired by this Agnostic Maybe blog post. What started about “third-rails” of libraryland sort of veered into a discussion of the need for recognition and attitudes.

I used to joke that I felt like Rodney Dangerfield – I get no respect. It’s been like that for a lot of my life though. I am often one of the people who show up early, stay late, setting stuff up, making sure things work. I always volunteer for stuff. Recently I had to ask myself why I do this work what I hoped to get out of it. After some serious reflection, I recognized an attitude adjustment was in order and now I’m trying to carry it through.

See, I really wanted to be an SLA Rising Star. I don’t hide how much I respect SLA, and as such do spend a lot of time and energy for the association. I’m also relatively fresh on the scene, so I thought I would be a shoe-in for the Rising Star award. Hell, I felt entitled to it. And that’s where I was foolish and immature. I didn’t get the award in 2010 or 2011. What made my work more special than anybody else’s? Why was I entitled to anything? Truth of the matter is that I wasn’t, so it was arrogant of me to assume that they would just recognize how awesome and hard working I am for SLA.

Shortly after they announced this year’s winners, I was talking about my expectations and assumptions with an SLA veteran who reminded me that these awards aren’t why we do things. Yes, recognition is nice, it feels good, but that’s not why we’re in this game. I’m a librarian to help people access and use information. I’m involved in SLA to help the profession. I do these things because I think I should do them for the greater good and I enjoy that, and if I keep expecting adulation and lots of accolades, I’m going to be bitter, angry, and resentful.

So at that moment I made a promise to myself. I promised that I would not worry whether or not others recognize me as a great librarian or somebody who’s glamours and awesome. I would really say no to the sill rock star mentality. Instead I’m just going divert that nervous energy to being the transportation librarian I want to be, be the change I think we need, and embody my ideals to the fullest.

This is sort of in line with my new philosophy about collaboration as well, which I’ve also talked about. I will be a team player who compliments others, rather than the superstar who might try to overshadow or hog the limelight. I just want to do good work and help others do the same. If you feel like patting me on the back, I won’t say it’s not appreciated, but I’m not expecting it.

As I said in the LSW thread, “2011 is about execution and growth. That’s my mantra”