SLA 2018: Diversity in the profession

If I had to sum up my SLA 2018 conference experience in one word, it would be diversity.

It’s all about the ribbons, stickers, and pins.

New this year at the conference were ribbons showing years of membership. I did the math and realized I’ve been a member of the Special Libraries Association (SLA) for 20 years, and have attended every annual conference for the last 15 years. That’s a long time — I’ve never even lived in one place for that long.

With my transition to an academic job in the humanities this year, I’ve done a lot of thinking about where I will be professionally active. I joined the American Library Association (ALA) and the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL). I even attempted to attend the ALA Midwinter Meeting in February, but I was thwarted by (surprise!) a midwinter blizzard. (I will try again next year.) SLA is not the obvious choice for me, and there aren’t a whole lot of other Germanic and Slavic language librarians in SLA — but one of the benefits of SLA for me is the opportunity to talk to and learn from information professionals with many different backgrounds.

Yes, it is good for people doing similar jobs to talk to each other, and I got some good practical ideas at the Academic Librarians Roundtable. But it’s also important to connect with people doing different jobs in different kinds of organizations, because that is often where innovation begins.

I started the conference by getting to know my fellow candidates for the SLA Board of Directors. SLA’s announcement summed us up: Board Candidates Span Wide Range of Library Environments. We work in a subscription management firm, a large academic library, a banking software company, a specialized academic library, and two law libraries. We come from different parts of the US, and even from outside of it with a candidate from Ireland. (Last year’s slate included a candidate from New Zealand, and our President-Elect is from the UK.) During the conference, SLA inducted the first member from India into its Hall of Fame (PK Jain), in part for his work to grow the SLA Asian Chapter. SLA’s current board includes a member without the traditional library school credential, Zena Applebaum, and she recently wrote about her experience as a non-librarian, non-lawyer working in a law library for 3 Geeks and a Law. I attended the interactive session “A United Vision: IFLA’s Global Vision for the Library Field,” and one of the topics my group addressed was whether the ALA-accredited MLIS was a necessary credential, and the various ways librarians are credentialed in other countries. One of my favorite sessions at the conference was a panel called, “Choosing Your Partners: Strategic Choices for Successful Librarians,” which included both academic and corporate librarians talking about their experiences as embedded librarians.

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden gave the opening keynote.

I’m aware that I’ve only touched on a few aspects of diversity. Like most organizations, we in SLA still have work to do to be inclusive and accessible. This conference featured the first session presented by the new Diversity, Inclusion, Community, and Equity (DICE) Caucus. We were reminded that this conference was originally slated for Charlotte, and moved to Baltimore after North Carolina passed discriminatory legislation. The conference included a session on transgender information resources (which I unfortunately had to miss due to a conflict, but I met one of the presenters later and he gave me a link to his list of transgender information resources). Not one of the three keynote speakers was white. I believe SLA is committed to doing this work and making progress on it.

Leading with kindness

Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind. —Henry James

Kindness is an essential component of leadership.

When we think about leadership, kindness is not usually the first word that comes to mind. Nevertheless, several speakers at SLA’s 2015 Leadership Summit mentioned it, leading me to begin writing about it and to the conclusion that kindness is essential to leadership.

Being kind doesn’t mean we have to agree. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask tough questions or push for change. Being kind means treating each other with respect and working toward a goal, not toward a fight.

Of course, we all probably think we treat our colleagues respectfully. By taking a step back, though, I’ve found that my initial reaction to hearing a viewpoint I disagree with or witnessing behavior I don’t like is often more angry than empathetic. Read this blog post from Teacher. Reader. Mom. for some great examples of this in everyday life.

How can we change our reactions? These strategies have helped me:

Try this: when someone does something that irritates or angers you, start from the assumption that his or her intentions are good. See how it changes your view of the situation. You can now separate the irritating action from the person and try to figure out why the person is doing this, and how you can work with him or her.

Try this: start with questions, rather than statements. Make them true open questions, not statements disguised as questions.

For both of these, I found an excellent guide in Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most.

I also found this series of questions (for which I was not able to find the original source) a good reminder:

Before you speak, THINK. Is it

True?
Helpful?
Inspiring?
Necessary?
Kind?

In my own experiences—in my professional life and in my personal relationships—I’ve found that approaching situations with kindness not only gives me a better sense of well-being but contributes to more success.

No more static web sites in academe?

Steven Bell, writing on ACRLog, says that static personal web sites are becoming less common among academic librarians as they are replaced by blogs, social networking profiles, and other interactive web tools. He argues, however, that a static site can still benefit librarians. Brock Read, writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired Campus, asks, “Should professors and librarians delete seldom-used personal pages, or keep them around for posterity?”

More important than whether your site runs on WordPress or Drupal or hand-coded HTML is whether visitors can find out about your professional accomplishments. (I’m assuming here that your blog is not anonymous or pseudonymous, and that you consider it part of your professional self.) Is there a link on your blog to your academic credentials? to awards and honors you’ve received? to your publications and presentations?

In my roles as a conference and program planner for professional associations, I often look at personal and staff pages of all varieties looking for information. And I do sometimes rely on web searches to help me identify potential speakers. I’m much more likely to give you a call if I can find that you’ve already presented on a topic I’m interested in. In this day and age, why not also add video of yourself speaking?

I think (though I’m not as immersed in the culture) that other academics benefit from enhanced personal sites as well. I regularly research potential speakers for lectures and symposia sponsored by my organization, as well as prospects for open faculty positions. I can give the committee a much more detailed profile if I can find a recently updated profile (or CV or resume or whatever you want to call it). If I can’t find a profile, I have to rely on what I can find through web searches and literature searches, which is probably not as complete, nor as focused.

The bottom line: a personal web site, of any variety, gives you some control over how people view you. Here’s mine, also linked from the sidebar of DIY Librarian, and from my employer’s web site. OK, the design won’t get me hired as a web designer, and it’s nothing revolutionary, but it is up-to-date.

Supervision

In addition to the house-buying, a couple other things are keeping me from blogging as much as I might like. One of them is a semester-long class on supervision I’m taking through my university human resources department.

Many librarians “fall” into supervisory roles and do not have formal training. (See, for example, Rachel Singer Gordon’s The Accidental Library Manager.) I only took the management courses in library school because they were required, but I do remember one professor telling us that almost all librarians are supervisors—if not of full-time staff, then of students or volunteers. That woke me up, because I had no intention of being a supervisor.

I’m glad I was forced to take the courses, because here I am, a department manager. Even so, I felt unprepared for my first supervisory job, and still feel like I have a lot to learn.

Staff are the majority of my budget. I’ve spent a lot of time honing my tech skills and learning my subject matter, but relatively little time on improving as a supervisor. I come away from the keynote speeches at leadership events feeling really empowered—but that feeling fades after the event. With a weekly class and homework assignments, I’m forced to apply the things I’m learning.

I’ll try to report on the things I learn that are especially relevant for librarians. My first discovery is that I have shifted from Introvert to Extrovert on the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator. What a long way from the kid who was so shy her teachers wondered if she could talk! I’m sure that my supervisory experience and leadership roles in professional associations played a part in this transormation.

One of the issues I hope to investigate during the course of the semester is how delegation is different in libraries than in other departments because of the separation between MLS and non-MLS staff.

SLA 2006

I don’t know whether SLA conferences are getting better, or I’m just getting better at attending them, but this was a great conference for me. I have been appointed program planning chair-elect for the Social Science Division, so I ended up attending planning meetings when I could have gone to more sessions. On the other hand, having some insight into the planning process makes me even better at navigating the conference, so I think it will be a good experience for me. I seem to be making a habit of this conference planning thing…

Things have been hopping over at the SLA 2006 Conference Blog (and we seem to have inspired SLA CEO Janice LaChance!). My SLA Blogger ribbon was a great conversation starter, and hopefully I inspired some more people to take a look at the blog. I’ve found that as a blogger I take more notes at the sessions I plan to blog, but fewer notes at things like the general sessions that I know other people will blog about. Way to share the workload!

I have arrived in Baltimore, hon

RavenI have arrived and checked into my hotel for SLA 2006. So far I have activated my internet access, upgraded Firefox, deleted 82 spam comments from this blog, created a flickr account, and uploaded some photos from my camera. This is all so much more fun when I’m not using dial-up.

Before checking in and getting into conference mode, I got a taste of Baltimore. We started the day at Honfest in Hampden, which just has to be seen to be believed:

Pat Benatar lip synch contest

After we’d had enough kitsch, we headed over to the Maryland Zoo, which seems to be under a lot of construction, but had some nice exhibits, including an underwater view of the polar bears and three baby chimpanzees—plus, of course, the raven pictured above.

I’ll be doing most of my conference blogging over at the SLA 2006 Conference Blog.

tag: sla2006

Conference planning

Much has been written in recent months about conference planning, costs, and speakers. I’m not going to rehash all of the discussion, but I wanted to add my two cents after leading the planning for APLIC-I’s 39th Annual Conference, held this past March.

Just the other day, Caveat Lector discussed the difference types of speakers and conferences in Conference Economics. Each speaker and conference has their own culture, which affects costs, location, speaker fees, timing, and so forth.

APLIC-I is a very small group, with close ties to the Population Association of America (PAA), an academic group. The conference is technically a preconference to PAA’s annual meetings, so we don’t get to choose our dates or our location, but we do get to take advantage of the hotel meeting rooms, conference rate on rooms, and the possibility of overlap for both speakers and attendees. On the downside, we sometimes end up in locations that are not ideal for our membership. For instance, this year we were in Los Angeles, and I think our closest attendee came from Seattle. Not only does this increase travel costs for members, but not having a local contact makes it difficult to plan tours, banquets, and to provide local information to attendees. On a professional level, these things might be less important, but travelling to an interesting destination is important if I’m making a personal investment (monetary or time) to attend the conference. And I think the tours, banquets, and unofficial gatherings are where the best networking happens.

Perhaps because we are a small group that (institutionally) remembers how we got started, and perhaps because of our ties to an academic organization where members submit conference papers, we do not typically pay our speakers, although we have occasionally offered small honoraria. Some speakers might reject us because of this, but we do try to select local speakers and we do invite them to attend the conference without charge, including a sit-down dinner. APLIC-I members who speak are expected to register for the conference. This might rub some people the wrong way, but if you want to hear a big-name speaker, this is not the conference for you. If you like to be able to have a lively discussion during a session, then this is a perfect conference for you. I presented this year, and the questions and comments I got, both during and after the conference, were invaluable.

After that, it’s all in the details. For a conference like APLIC-I, that means the volunteer labor of our Board of Directors, who make arrangements with the hotel, restaurant, tour site, and speakers. They also maintain the conference web site, provide local information, and publicize the conference. Meredith at Information wants to be free likens conference planning to wedding planning:

Just imagine planning the equivalent of a three-day wedding for more than 2,000 people.

This is very true (although APLIC-I was more like planning a three-day wedding for 30 people). Yes, some cities might be more expensive than others, but hotel catering is going to seem ridiculously expensive no matter where you are. Next time you pay a conference registration, remember that the conference organizer may be paying $4 a bottle to provide water or soda at a session.

I would add that once the conference starts, it’s like planning a wedding where everyone has the potential to turn into bridezilla. Thankfully no one did at my conference, but I can see the potential. Every attendee has made sacrifices to be there. Every speaker has the spotlight for a while, and may well have made sacrifices too. Everyone needs to use the restroom or get something to eat. No one wants to interrupt their networking to come back to a session.

It was a lot of work, but in the end it was well worth it. I love APLIC-I for the opportunity to meet others in my small field and for the opportunities to engage with speakers and colleagues during the sessions. Next month I’m headed off to my Big Conference for the year, SLA, where I look forward to meeting librarians outside of my specialty, to attending a lot of different sessions … and to plunging into conference planning yet again!

Blogging SLA 2006

SLA 2006 is next month, and SLA is once again hosting a conference blog. I think they’re still tinkering with the setup—some of the sidebar links are broken, and I think the “Subscribe to my Podcast” link is wrong (unless they are going to podcast SLA too…). I’m planning to blog the conference again this year.

The SLA Maryland Chapter has had a great pre-conference blog going for a while now: Quoth the Raven. And the SLA IT Division Blogging Section is, naturally, also blogging and hosting a bloggers get-together in Baltimore.

Happy Un-ISLD!

Plenty of things to celebrate this week:

Me, I’m celebrating a partial recovery from jetlag/Daylight Savings Time and catching up on work, laundry, blogs, and other excitment.