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.