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My vision for SLA

16 Jul

The following is the text from the speech I gave at the Washington, DC Chapter of SLA at their conference recap event on July 14, 2014. I was asked to speak about my vision for SLA and my impressions of the conference, and I confess that I focused more strongly on the former. The event was webcast and recorded, and I’ll post a link to that recording when it’s made available.

Thank you all for coming out tonight, and thank you to the DC Chapter for inviting Tom and me to speak with you this evening.

I’ve been asked to talk about my impressions of the annual conference in Vancouver, and my vision for SLA. To me the most amazing part of the SLA Conference in Vancouver was getting the opportunity to speak with so many SLA members from all over the world, from such a variety of information professions. We spoke at receptions, at open meetings, between sessions, at trivia night and at Military Division breakfasts. (Which were excellent!) I even tried to speak to some of you at Karaoke and the IT Dance Party, but it was a bit too loud.

I love these conversations, be they with past board members or first timers or the rank and file members who attend our conferences any year they can, because they always give me a bigger picture, a broader perspective on SLA. I came into my candidacy with the conviction that our Association needs to move forward, together, and the annual conference helped bring that into tighter focus.

Now, some of you have heard this story, or will read it on your chapter blog. But when I was in college, my grandfather — the original Jim DelRosso — would send me notes in the mail, usually with a bit of cash. (For some reason, he never wanted to reveal the latter to my parents, telling them that he was sending me “stamps.” This confused them, and made them even more upset that I never wrote home.)

Almost all of these notes were just short and heartfelt words of encouragement, the most common of which were simply, “Move forward.” That was also how he ended our phone calls, and he’d often say it to me when we were together, and talking about what I was working on in school, or my plans for the future: “Move forward.”

My grandfather passed, the notes became keepsakes, and the words have stayed with me ever since. To me, “Move Forward” means accomplishing something with each day, each month, each year, even if it’s not what you’d initially planned. It means not succumbing to complacency, nostalgia, or the fear of failure. It means doing your best to see things as they are, not as they were (or as you wished they would be) and then taking steps to make them better. Moving forward means leaving things better off than you found them, and doing right by those around you.

What “Move Forward” means for SLA is recognizing the challenges and opportunities that we currently face, and focusing our energy on meeting the needs of our members. It doesn’t mean ignoring the past; rather, moving forward means honestly acknowledging what has come before and taking steps to progress beyond it. Moving forward doesn’t imply an obsession with the future at the expense of the present, either; you need to know where you’re standing before you can take a step.

We need to move forward to engage the challenges of our profession as a whole, not just as individuals. We can’t rely on training our members to fight harder for ever smaller pieces of an ever shrinking pie. We have to grow our profession. Has anyone in this room added an information professional position to their organization in the last three years? You are the people I want to SLA put on a panel, so we can learn how you did that, and how we can replicate that achievement in our own organizations.

On a related note, we also need to move forward past the question of our relevance as a profession. I say this because when I look at user surveys and talk to my peers — at annual conference and elsewhere — what comes through again and again is that our relevance is never questioned by those who work with us on a daily basis, never by those whose lives we change. Be they students, faculty, lawyers, doctors, business people, citizens… they know our value. They never doubt it, never question it. Nor should we.

Unfortunately, all too often the people who recognize our value are not the same folks who control our funding. My vision of SLA is an organization that continues to teach its members how to turn our supporters into advocates to our funders.

We also need to move forward and acknowledge the challenges that new information professionals face, and look to make changes to so they can keep up their SLA memberships in their first years after leaving school, and attend our conferences during the most crucial time of their career. Those first few years look a lot different now than they did a decade ago, and we need to recognize that and look for ways to offer our support.

We need to move forward and listen to our members about questions of cost, and recognize that there’s a difference between being unwilling to invest in oneself, and unable to afford rising prices during tough economic times. We cannot price members out of our Association, let alone potential leaders. That was my priority when I altered my chapter’s reimbursement policy for the leaders who would come after me, and it’s still my priority today.

We must move forward as an organization that embraces our code of conduct, knowing that no anti-harassment policy has ever stifled discourse and engagement even the smallest fraction as much as harassment does.

We need to move forward as an SLA that knows its one true purpose is to support its members, to advocate for them and for their interests, whose actions are taken in the spirit and practice of transparency, and whose leaders listen to members even when the message is tough to hear.

We need to move forward, knowing that we will never be the SLA of 2006 again. But we move forward confident that together, we can make the SLA of 2016 something even better, and the SLA of 2026 something amazing to behold.

We’ve gotten to the part where I ask you to vote for me. I’ve had some people make it very clear to me, that I should end every conversation I have with a member by “sealing the deal”. But I’m not here to sell myself. I’m not a product, and neither are any of you. You’re people. You’re librarians and information professionals. That means you are powerful, and you are what makes SLA great. So regardless of who you decide to vote for, please vote this September, because the more engaged you are with SLA, the stronger SLA will be.

I’ve shared with you my vision for SLA. If you also share that vision, then yes: I will ask humbly that you consider giving me your vote for the office of President-Elect. I will also challenge you, all of you, all of us here today and all of you listening remotely, to step up in any way you can, and join me in helping the Special Libraries Association move forward.

Thank you.

SLA Vancouver post-game

23 Jun

I ran out of cards Monday night.

That’s one of the most tangible pieces of evidence of just how many members I got to talk to during the SLA annual Conference in Vancouver. New members and veterans, former leaders and up-and-comers, first-timers* and folks who’d been to every conference for decades. It was a tremendous, wonderful, and nigh-overwhelming experience, and I want to thank all the members who took the time to speak with me about their lives, their work, and their relationship with SLA.

Of course, the other tangible piece of evidence is the pile of other folks’ business cards that I came home with:

biz cards

I will friend you all, I swear.

As someone who’s putting myself forward as a potential leader of SLA, I don’t think there’s anything more important for me to do than listen to our members. As I’ve said before, we currently have an unprecedented amount of data on our members, and have gotten feedback from you all on so many important issues. It’s the responsibility of our leaders to listen well, and respond honestly, to your needs.

And honestly, I think we can do better. I think we need to do better. We need to answer concerns members have about the sale of the headquarters building. We need to provide better support to our conference planners. We need to be more transparent with the financial state of the Association. And we need to acknowledge that your concerns about the cost of the conference are not a question of your willingness to invest, but of your ability to do so.

These are all things that people spoke to me about in Vancouver. As a candidate for President-Elect, I was honored to hear them. I’ll do my best to make sure they get answered.

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* Can I just say how much I love that SLA holds a dedicated event for first-timers? That’s something that more conferences should emulate.

National Library Workers Day

15 Apr

NLWD LogoToday — April 15, 2014 — is National Library Workers Day, a day “for library staff, users, administrators and Friends groups to recognize the valuable contributions made by all library workers.” Established by the ALA-Allied Professional Association (ALA-APA) in 2003, it’s now celebrated on the Tuesday of National Library Week.

It’s never the wrong time to be thinking about advocacy for libraries and libraryfolk, and that’s something that transcends the boundaries of professional organizations. For the SLA folks, I especially recommend checking out those portions of the Galaxy of Stars dedicated to works from special, academic, and government libraries.

And we should all take some time to think about what we’ve done lately to stand up for the folks who help make our organizations run. Especially those whose positions are, all too often, the most vulnerable.

A terrible keynote, but a very solid DrupalCamp

6 Dec

On Monday, I attended DrupalCamp here at Cornell. Overall, the event was great. Though I was hindered by a nasty cold that had set in over Thanksgiving break, the sessions I attended were excellent: one talked about web accessibility, providing both historical and legal context and then providing practical advice for using the tools of responsive web design to create accessible sites. Another talked about preparing for Drupal, and again gave an excellent overview of what was involved in the creation of a Drupal site before digging into the pragmatic needs of such an endeavor. Wonderful stuff, and just the sort of thing that got me to sign up in the first place.

The keynote, sadly, was another story. For whatever reason, the organizers gave over this important task to a representative of one of the vendors, and it was disastrous. I documented this on Twitter:

(NOTE: I am not sure why WordPress won’t let me embed the Storify. I’ve tried several times and no longer care.)

Like I said, the rest of the event was excellent. In fact, I’m willing to assume at this point that the speaker — or more likely, his employer Acquia — promised the organizers a very different speech. But the “you need to think like a business!” rhetoric we got was wholly inappropriate; whether or not you think that mindset has any validity*, it’s certainly not new thinking. We’ve been living it for as long as I’ve been working in academic libraries, and playing buzzword bingo*** with us isn’t inspirational, it’s insulting.

I went to DrupalCamp to get a bit more insight into using Drupal; I’m not a developer, but I wanted a better context for working with the developers on several upcoming projects. I got that, and would attend similar events in the future. I also got a good story out of it, so all in all I’d call the event a success.

——-

* Note: I don’t. It’s better served in another post, but the short version is that academic institutions aren’t businesses, and the principles that currently drive business in Western society don’t even produce successful businesses, so we can’t expect them to produce a viable academy. Not to say there aren’t things that can be learned from other sectors and spheres, but we can’t expect success by pretending that they aren’t other sectors and spheres.**

** Actually, that might be my whole post on the topic. We’ll see.

*** I almost shouted “BINGO!” when he put up the “THE FUTURE IS AGILE!” slide, though to be fair that might be the free square in the middle of the board.

NYLA: Repositories and Open Access

30 Sep

Last week, I got to go to my first New York Library Association conference, and it was a blast. As I mentioned previously, Amy Buckland and I gave our workshop on digital repository strategies and practice. It’s a workshop I love, because no matter how many times we’ve given it it’s never the same: Amy and I always have new experiences to relate, and the groups we work with are always so different that their questions and insights are new and revelatory each time.

Items of note this go-round: it was the first time that just about everyone in the room seemed to have adequate or nigh-adequate staffing for their repository projects — hallelujah! — and the folks running Digital Commons @Brockport are doing some amazing things.

I also had the honor of sitting on a panel with Amy and Jenica Rogers, talking about Open Access in scholarly publishing. We went with a simple format: we put what we hoped would be a provocative statement up on a slide, and then got a discussion going with the audience about it. There were six statements in total, and if you read Jenica’s blog*, you’ve likely seen them already. I’ll reproduce them here because they got great discussion at NYLA, and great discussion on her blog, and I’m curious to see if we can pull off a great discussion trifecta. Or hat-trick.  Or similar sports metaphor for something happening three times. In any case, here they are:

  1. A child born today will use nothing but open access materials for research in college.

  2. Textbook companies will go out of business as faculty realize they can write, compile, and publish their own customized open course texts.

  3. Future discussions of the quality of library collections will focus not on the collections a library owns, but on the collections a library creates.

  4. The adoption of open access collections will obviate proprietary discovery layers.

  5. It is irresponsible for federally-funded researchers not to make their work available in an open format.

  6. True change in the scholarly publishing system will come from smaller liberal arts colleges, and not the big guys.

Oh, and Amy provided what’s probably the best opening slide ever.

So, discuss in the comments if you have a mind to, or head over to Jenica’s and jump in the discussion there. In any case, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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* And if you don’t, why the hell not?

Refusal anxiety

1 May

It’s a gorgeous Wednesday afternoon. I just ate lunch out on the quad in the sun, enjoyed a delicious iced coffee, and am feeling reasonably prepared for the rest of my work day. And yet, I’m oddly anxious.

Why? Because the annual call for committee volunteers ends today, and I’m not putting my name in for anything. And it is freaking me out.

This decision wasn’t taken lightly, nor is it an issue of procrastination. It’s a planned refocusing of my time for the next year. I’m still on or otherwise involved with a couple of committees at the Cornell University Library level. Within the Hospitality, Labor, and Management Library, I still sit on the leadership group and an ongoing search committee; it’s likely I’ll be leading a search committee of my own before the year is out. I’m the president of UNYSLA until December, then I’ll be past president and nominations chair for a year, and I plan to stay on the (admittedly casual) steering committee for SLUSH for the foreseeable future.

I’m not exactly avoiding group work, is what I’m saying.

There’s plenty of other stuff to occupy my work time over the next year, too; I’ve got at least two major projects that I’ll likely write about here when they’re better fit for public scrutiny, and the possibility of another that’d be even bigger. And that’s not even touching the three — three! – outstanding research projects I should be working on. All of these things, taken together, indicate that not only will I have plenty to do, but the chances of anyone (even the promotional committee of my darkest nightmares)  looking at this decision askance are slim to nil. Plus, it’s not like these committees won’t be around next year.

And still, I’m twitchy about this. Let’s see if I can make it the next few hours without caving and throwing my name in for something.

EDIT: Oh gods, the call’s open until Friday. I’m doomed.

Mea culpa

14 Mar

Who’s the ass who wrote a post about male privilege in librarianship and didn’t include specific thanks to the women who gave him feedback on it? That’d be me.

Thank you, Nina Piccoli, Charlotte Williams, Amy Buckland, and Aliqae Geraci. Your comments and corrections made the post far, far better than it would otherwise have been.

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