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Reflection: Want a Career Booster? There’s SLA for That

Reflection: Want a Career Booster? There’s SLA for That

By Megan Smith

It seems like every time I hit a pivotal moment in my career, SLA is lurking in the background with exactly what I need to move forward. Here are five examples of how SLA rocked my world just when I needed it.

  1. I returned to the library world after five years in a non-traditional job and SLA got me back on track

I took a non-traditional job in research administration while I was finishing up my last semester in library school. Although I found the job rewarding and was still able to use many of the skills I learned in school, I wanted to return to working in libraries for the same reasons many of us go to library school: to serve a community and provide access to information.

After five years in research administration, I found a job in an association library and quickly discovered that I had failed to keep up on trends in library and archives. I attended my first SLA annual conference in 2011 in Philadelphia and was blown away by how much had changed since I was in school. I remember feeling so inspired after the conference by the ways librarians were innovating their services. The big take-aways for me were to think outside the box and always demonstrate your value. Applying these two things set me on a career path that has been extremely rewarding.

  1. My association restructured and SLA helped me define my role in the new organization

Only two years after starting work in my current organization, we underwent a major restructuring. I was moved out of the library and into our public policy area. It wasn’t clear what my new role would be and I viewed this as a major sink-or-swim moment. Around the same time, I was reading an issue of Information Outlook and came across the SLA 2011 contributed paper, “Communicating Value through Strategic Alignment.” The article motivated me to draft a value statement for the services I could provide and create a proposal to conduct an information needs assessment for the public policy unit. My manager and leadership appreciated this proactive approach and gave me approval for the project. I figured out how to do the needs assessment by reading more articles in Information Outlook, the result of which was the formalization of me as an embedded librarian in the association and the opportunity to develop new customized services for staff.

  1. I was appointed to lead a staff workgroup on metrics and SLA had just the webinar I needed

The only way to describe this moment was serendipity. One of our association vice presidents asked me to lead a staff workgroup that would create a standard process to report metrics for continuous quality improvement and demonstrating value. I was excited about the opportunity but really scared about how I was going to lead a team and accomplish this goal. Like magic, an e-mail came through the SLA listserv advertising a free webinar titled, “Metrics 101: Proving Your Value.” I registered right away and was not disappointed. It was the perfect primer on metrics and exactly what I needed to lead the workgroup. I was able to use what I learned to educate the team and set up process for the group to accomplish our goals.

  1. I needed training in knowledge management and SLA’s KMKS certificate was the perfect solution

I was always interested in the theory of knowledge management but really struggled with how you put it into practice. I decided that this was an area I wanted to focus on for my professional development and enrolled in SLA’s Knowledge Management and Knowledge Services Certificate courses. The entire program gave me the language and framework to describe what I was already doing, what I wanted to do, and how I was going to do it. It gave me a way to talk to non-librarians in a language they understand and demonstrate how librarians can help an organization achieve its goals. Which brings me to my last example…

  1. My CEO asked me what I thought state of the art knowledge services would look like and I was ready

After five years of professional development and growth with SLA, I found myself in a meeting with my CEO explaining how Knowledge Services has helped the organization and what we might be able to do moving forward. At the end of my presentation he asked me what I thought state of the art knowledge services would look like and gave me two weeks to think about it. I went back to my office, took everything I learned through SLA, and put it into a concept map (something I picked up from an SLA webinar). Then I pulled it all together and presented it to him. Could I have done that in two weeks without SLA?

Today, I am that association’s Manager of Knowledge Services and knowledge management has become one of the association’s top priorities. I thank SLA for that.

[Photo credit: “Career-Mind-map-Chalk” by www.flazingo.com per these terms:www.flazingo.com/creativecommons]

[You can read other chapter member Reflections here]

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Reflection – Discovery, Connection, Opportunity

Reflection – Discovery, Connection, Opportunity

By Elizabeth Lieutenant, MSL(I)S Candidate

As a current library school student, my history with SLA is relatively short. Prior to the start of my first semester at The Catholic University of America (CUA), I attended my first CUA/SLA planning meeting in August 2013. Being a new student, I was interested in learning more about what CUA/SLA had to offer. While I had no intention of assuming a formal leadership position at the start of that meeting, I agreed to serve as Secretary thanks to the encouragement of CUA/SLA’s leadership team. Unbeknownst to me, my attendance at that meeting would set me on a path to discovery, connections, and opportunities at the student chapter, chapter, division, and association levels.

SLA has helped me rediscover my natural leadership abilities. Coinciding with my term as CUA/SLA Secretary, I was a writer for the Social Science Division’s “What I’m Learning in Library School” blog series. As the only writer who was in their first semester of library school, I was grateful for the guidance and mentorship provided by my fellow bloggers, our blog series coordinator, and the Division’s Social Chair. In an effort to pay this mentorship forward, I have actively encouraged new students to embrace connecting with other SLA members online.

As CUA/SLA Secretary, I enhanced my experience in program and event planning, communications, and team-building. While each of our officers have official titles – President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer – our team-based, collaborative leadership styles ensured that everyone contributed to our events and initiatives. As but one example, I organized a tour of the Pentagon Library with a librarian whom I had met at a DC/SLA Open House after a fellow officer expressed interest in visiting a military library. Our leadership team’s collaboration was essential in organizing a number of well-received programs, for which we were graciously recognized with a Certificate of Merit from SLA’s Student and Academic Affair Advisory Council.

In fulfilling my CUA/SLA Secretary responsibilities, I recorded our meeting minutes and assisted with meeting organization and facilitation, student leadership recruitment, and communication with the CUA student body. This was invaluable preparation for my responsibilities as a Graduate Assistant, which included co-reestablishing the LIS Advisory Board with the CUA LIS Department Chair (currently on leave). The Board was inactive for more than 2 years, and I capitalized on the opportunity to diversify the Board’s membership by recommending a DC/SLA leader, who graciously agreed to serve on the Board. In preparing the Board’s meeting agendas, recording its minutes, and facilitating member feedback and input between meetings, I was able to apply the skills I had enhance through SLA/CUA to fulfilling my professional responsibilities.

This symbiotic connection between DC/SLA and the CUA students is one of the CUA LIS Department’s greatest strengths. DC/SLA is a welcoming community that actively encourages CUA students to engage in the life of the association. I had the privilege of attending the SLA 2014 Annual Conference and Military Libraries Workshop 2013 thanks to the generosity of DC/SLA and the Military Libraries Division, respectively. As a current student, I could not have afforded to attend the Conference or Workshop without financial support. I believe strongly in the need for LIS professionals at all levels – managers, practitioners, students, and support staff – to receive professional development support and have actively sought to extend this type of support to my fellow CUA students. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of our students, staff, and administration, students are now eligible for conference funding from CUA’s LIS Department and student organizations. I hope they will take advantage of this financial support, along with applying for DC/SLA’s Annual Conference Stipend Award, to attend the SLA 2016 Annual Conference in Philadelphia.

While I’ve been fortunate to have so many opportunities extended to me by the SLA community, I know that this will is only the beginning of my engagement in SLA. The path of CUA/SLA’s faculty advisor serves as an exemplar of the continued professional development and leadership opportunities SLA provides its members. After more than 25 years of involvement in SLA, he has agreed to serve as Chair of the Professional Competencies Task Force, which has, in the words of one of SLA’s Presidential Candidates, “struggled for a few years.” I will personally be paying close attention to how the Task Force’s community-driven approach will be used when the CUA LIS Department revises the School of Library and Information Science Professional Competencies Statement, which was adopted in 2008 and scheduled to be revised in 2011.

At this point, I’m unsure what opportunities I’ll pursue in SLA. I’ve been observing, albeit from a distance, how the association is addressing its various challenges and capitalizing on opportunities to improve. As a new SLA member, I lack the institutional knowledge many other members bring to these conversations and initiatives. In many ways, my situation as a new SLA member mirrors the experiences of many library school students. We are entering an environment that is simultaneously facing employment and funding challenges and abundant opportunities to advance the future of the information professions. While I do not know what the future of SLA will hold, I am confident that the support I’ve received from SLA and its membership has played an invaluable role in my professional preparation.

[Photo credit: “Compass Study” by Calsidyrose used under CC BY]

[You can read other chapter member Reflections here]

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