SLA 2014 Conference

This past week, I attended SLA’s (Special Libraries Association) annual conference and received a Rising Star Award. Thanks to a generous nomination from the DC/SLA chapter (in the words of Mary Talley, “you can give back to us by having a successful career”); support from my new home chapter, CTX/SLA (who awarded me the Chapter Stipend and tweeted this); and an incredible show of confidence from my new employer, made for a great conference experience.

SLA 2014 Award Recipients

In this post, I look back on this year’s conference, but also offer my thoughts on next year and what could be.  Some of my write ups on specific sessions have been posted by SLA’s First Five Years: Digital Government Strategy: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve Our Constituencies and Government Information Access in the U.S. and Canada: Implications for Librarians.

My take in one line (or my non-Tweet, tweet)

The 2014 SLA Conference was the right mix of new frontier topics and traditional library interests

Takeaways and trends

Beyond Borders. SLA Treasurer, John DiGillio, illustrated how the “sun never sets on SLA” via a world map marking the location of SLA’s membership. It captured the conferences theme of “Beyond Borders.” It was also remarked by Janice R. Lachance (CEO/SLA) that growth in SLA’s membership can be found in regions outside of North America, namely the Middle East and Asia.


Trending: Intelligence
Trending: Intelligence

LIS Intelligence. The theme of intelligence has reached a critical mass at the conference. This topic has moved from talking about basic concepts and comparisons to more in-depth discussions on applying intelligence methods and analysis. This was seen through the CI (Competitive Intelligence) panelists who discussed intelligence cycles, strategies, and analytical tools. However, aside from the CI perspective, the momentum that was found within other divisions and disciplines were missing and with that an absence in perspectives and contributions.

Open Access. This topic now has “meat on the bones” at SLA, with the Sciences community taking the lead. The Chemistry Division sponsored two sessions on open access, with other sessions discussing closely linked issues and topics; including the open data initiatives and access to government information panels. All these topics places librarians and information professionals in our more traditional role as information brokers, but at a very important time and within a very strategic position.

What They Got Right

Professional-grade sessions. Very little “chaff” to sift through, with regards to session offerings. A good complaint is one where there are too many sessions worth attending.

Right-sized. SLA’s conference remains a Goldilocks fit: not “too big, or too small, but just right.” Conference planners continue to address different learning styles and are quick to change or add different ways of presenting sessions. From spotlight sessions to TED talk-style talks, to Quick Take sessions, speed geek knowledge cafes, un-conference sessions, and even the upcoming crescendo format sessions. A few roundtable discussions along with some “public library programming” formats would also be welcomed.

Back to our roots. While SLA continues to deliver on new frontier topics, like big data, social media mining and analysis, and open access, there was a nod to what makes library conferences just that. The Museum Arts and Humanities’ Division’s Meet the Author session, along with a number of book signings should get program planners thinking about how else they can incorporate sessions that are not only good for our job, but feed the librarian mind and soul.Its the type of “public library” programming that would support conference goers by facilitating connections and networking across divisions, regions, job titles, and even age. Concepts like the book club and author discussion (e.g., on books like “The Information”), language meetups, or maker spaces (i.e., “building your intelligence cycle” or “crafting your social media strategy”) could be the way of “going back to our roots” in a smart way.

Vendor-friendly, vendor smart. SLA continues to appreciate their vendors, while also making full use of this strategic partnership. Vendors should have a seat at the table and (want to be) in the audience.

What Could Be

Big Tenting. SLA had a number of co-hosted sessions, but even greater consideration should be given to the variety of perspectives that should be represented on the panel. How these different perspectives are connected and are addressed should be accurately highlighted and guided by the moderator. Some gap analysis may also help to ensure that even if a perspective is missing from the discussion, it’s addressed and commented on by those that are present. And this is not just a responsibility to the planners or presenters, but the audience. If you’ve ever had the thought, “I know someone who should be here,” consider making the connection and being the liaison. That’s the only way these discussions continue to build up to something worthwhile.

Strategic Liaisons. Last year, the Maryland Chapter of SLA invited Deb Hunt and ALA President Maureen Sullivan to speak at an event entitled, “Strategic Liaisons: Game Changing Conversations.” Taking this idea to the next level could be done at the next conference. A roundtable with leaders or leadership from not only ALA, but IFLA, SCIP, and ASIS&T (and maybe newer organizations like OKFN, among others) to discuss common efforts to common challenges and interests.

Putting SLA under the microscope. In an effort to keep moving SLA forward, perhaps a look inward would be worth considering. A sort of “putting SLA under a KM microscope” or viewing SLA through KM lenses. SLA certainly can and should tap into their knowledge base for knowledge managers, organizational analysts, social media strategists, and the like. Couple this with a “Speakers Corner” style booth for members to record their own feedback and there could be something there to work with.

Check It Out Checklist

(This is essentially a list of  the sessions I did or wanted to attend)

60 sites in 60 minutes
60 government sites in 60 minutes
Open Access Resources
Open Data Initiatives
Scientific Open Access
TRAIL: Technical Report Archive and Image Library
State Government Information and the Copyright Conundrum
Government Information Access in the U.S. and Canada
Digital Government Strategy: Building a 21st Century Platform…
Intelligence Roles for Information Professionals
Borderless CI: Researching International Intelligence
Staying in the Game: New Roles for Libraries in Research Support
Monitoring Social Media: Beyond Lurking — Data Mining…
Practical Tips on How to Aggregate Intelligence Information
Analytical Tools Overview
Analytical Models that Deliver Value

Post will be updated when slides are made available