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Reflection – The conversion of James the Geek to James the Librarian

Reflection – The conversion of James the Geek to James the Librarian

By James King

I was born as a Navy ‘brat’ and spent most of my life following my dad from base-to-base-to-base, moving at least 25 times before graduating high school. In college, I pursued the then-new field of computer graphics but also focused on the help desk aspect of the job as my career. My first full time job was as a contractor at the Naval Research Lab’s (NRL) Library in Washington, DC where I provided desktop support in their new Microcomputer Software Support Center.  I was fortunate to join a forward-thinking library that was at the forefront of technology. I got to ride the wave of the internet, the digital library birth, and the explosion of the web.

The library director was a great mentor and encouraged me to pursue a library degree and to get involved in professional associations. These two activities forever changed my life and career direction. I started volunteering with ALA and SLA while in library school, helping to build websites, manage discussion lists and other tasks that my technical skills could be applied to. I still appreciate how networking with other students and graduates through professional associations helped me to see the great diversity of libraries and roles within libraries.

Eventually, I became the library director at NRL, building upon past successes to address the changing needs of researchers and engineers. Leaning on the collective wisdom of other special library contacts in SLA through networking and the conference proved invaluable in discerning the future direction for the library and justifying the services to upper management. At the end of my term, NRL management and researchers viewed the NRL Research Library as the best library in DoD and credited our services as positively changing the research process at NRL. This was all done while operating more efficiently under a flat budget for five years with 25% less staff.

In 2009, a lot changed in my life.  First, I successfully ran for the DC/SLA presidency, my daughter Sarah was born, and I was invited to jump over to the National Institutes of Health Library to build a new Custom Information Solutions service. As a new Information Architect at the world’s largest biomedical funder in the world, I finally found a job title that fit what I had been doing for my entire career – blending technology and librarianship in the creation of customized services for our customers. Custom Information Solutions is a “geek squad” for the NIH Library’s Informationists (embedded librarians) and is focused on building cost-recovery partnerships to meet the information needs of clinicians and intramural researchers through the application of information tools. To date, we’ve built a collaboration site for pandemic influenza researchers (http://pida.nihlibrary.com/), a research funding portfolio site for global Alzheimer’s research (http://iadrp.nia.nih.gov/), and a chronic pain research portfolio (http://paindatabase.nih.gov/). Our team has received several awards and the word of mouth of these projects has spurred several new funded projects.

I have no doubt that the friends that I’ve established through my professional activities in SLA have helped me to develop new skills that I’ve applied to my job, have helped me to find new jobs, have broadened my thinking about what is possible, and has validated risky decisions on future actions. My participation in the SLA Annual Conference is a high priority and I gladly give my time to volunteer with SLA to this day, because I want to give back to this community that has given me so much. I’m honored to be called a member of SLA.

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Reflection – Explore, Engage, Evolve: Growing Through SLA

Reflection – Explore, Engage, Evolve: Growing Through SLA

By Mary Talley, Principle, TalleyPartners. SLA 2016 Chapter Cabinet Chair-Elect

I’ve always had an adventurous side and am even a bit of a risk taker. But no explorer succeeds alone; taking risks requires a strong network of support. Throughout my years of exploring new approaches to information professionals’ roles and evolving my own career, my engagement with SLA and DC/SLA has rewarded me with a constant source of support.

In the mid-1980’s, I ventured off the traditional career path and into the unknown of entrepreneurship to start an information management consulting and staffing business in LA. When my work took me into industries beyond my experience in academia and law, I turned to my primary association for help. But I was surprised to discover it was uncomfortable with non-conventional librarians. So I went looking for a new professional home – and found the Southern California Chapter (SoCal) of SLA and the welcoming, generously supportive group of professionals that I had been missing. I also met a life-long friend, mentor and supporter, Doris Helfer.

Doris pushed me to go to my first conference, in Atlanta, and, then, took me by the hand and introduced me to the LMD Consultant’s Section. Where else would I have found a group of potential competitors who were actually invested in each other’s success? My giddy enthusiasm for this supportive group led me to say “yes” to becoming program chair for the next year and chair of the section the following. Looking for a panelist for one of my programs that second year, a consultant I didn’t know, Rebecca Jones, was recommended as a good speaker. We met in person, late the night before the program, when a hotel fire forced us down 17 flights of dark, smoke filled stairs. Outside, I introduced myself to my fellow evacuee and we began an animated conversation that continued in the bar for several hours more and is still going 20 years later. Shared adventures form strong bonds.

Through the years, I’ve found no safer place to explore and evolve ideas and roles than SLA chapters, with their on-the-ground support and ability to connect members to one another. And no place has been safer for me than DC/SLA. My DC/SLA friends and colleagues have embraced new approaches and worked with me to introduce different programming formats and content from speed-mentoring to alternative career paths to interviewing local leaders as models of leadership.

Presenting at the chapter level also gave me the confidence to take it to the next level at the Annual Conference. Participating in the conference, I honed my presentation skills – watching and learning from the great and not-so-great presenters. What I learned I applied to my work, improving my client presentations (It is far scarier to present to a hundred or more of my peers than to a room of executives). Many of my clients have told me that my leadership, speaking and writing and research activities in SLA enhanced my qualifications in their eyes.

I came to SLA to learn. But, I found something more – a community of fearless, generous and open professionals who have embraced and supported my explorations and risk taking and kept my unconventional career path moving forward.

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

[You can read other chapter member Reflections here]

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Reflection – Learning and Leaning Into the Curve

Reflection – Learning and Leaning Into the Curve

By Jill Strand, President, SLA

When I first started riding a motorcycle with my husband, one of the first things I had to learn how to do was that when you go around a corner, you have to lean into the curve so as not to tip over. It felt so wrong and several times while doing this, the fear of falling over almost made me straighten up which would have been a disaster because we certainly would have gone down. Yet I had faith in my husband’s safety skills and our ability to ride together as a team. So I challenged myself to move past the fear and focus on the fact that leaning into the curve would get us where we were trying to go. While I’ve been using this “leaning into the curve” theme all year long, it is only now that become clear to me how much it relates to our shared experience as an association exploring options for sustainable change over the past year.

Much like a motorcycle journey (or any journey) the process of change always comes with elements of fear; what does this mean for the future, how will this work, what will it cost; how will it change our association / profession and how do we feel about that? Being able to move through change, to receive and absorb the consultant’s recommendations without judgment and to discuss them with members and answer questions to the best of our ability required the board, staff and consultants to learn how to be truly vulnerable. While there were times when this was incredibly hard, it was ultimately an experience of liberation. Because once you decide that you’re not going to let fear of the unknown stand in your way, anything is possible.

Lao Tzu said that “if you do not change direction, you may end up where you’re headed.” We’ve all known for some time that SLA needed to change direction so we could be more proactive in responding to trends in the industry. Exploring possible change has given us a rare opportunity to review options that we may not have thought of or even considered otherwise. For this I’d like to thank the board, staff and consultants for “leaning into the curve” with me this year as we studied, investigated, engaged and discussed our way to creating a Roadmap and Implementation plan with goals and objectives to guide SLA toward a bright new future.

Additionally, I’ve had the good fortune to talk with a wide range of members throughout the year. Most of them understood the challenges we faced and are grateful to the board for their willingness to lean into the curve, not give into the fear of failure and make difficult decisions. So I’d also wish to thank our members for leaning into the curve with us, asking questions and showing how much you care about this association. Several have reached to offer their support and expertise in working on the Implementation plan which is fantastic because we’re going to need the support, input, expertise and passion of our members to make this vision a reality.

A long-time SLA leader asked me what else members could do to support these efforts. My answer is pretty simple because it involves skills we all apply in our daily work as info pros. We continue to engage, ask questions, and verify information through authoritative sources before drawing or sharing conclusions. As with any process or plan, we have to give it a fair shot to work before shooting it down. We also prioritize, pilot and pivot, making adjustments and applying new insights as we go. But most importantly, we work to be a productive part of the process by keeping our focus on finding the best solutions and basing our decisions on facts, not fear.

We may be an incredibly diverse group of info pros and librarians in the work we do and where we do it but what we have in common is the relationships we’ve built and the inspiration we gain from them. I am and will always be forever grateful for what SLA and its members have taught me and for the opportunity and the honor of serving as your president. Thank you for an incredibly challenging yet ultimately rewarding year!

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Reflection – Management Lessons I Learned as DC/SLA Chapter President

Reflection – Management Lessons I Learned as DC/SLA Chapter President

By Lyle Minter, Past President of DC/SLA

Plan your work—work your plan.

When I started my year as Chapter President, I met with the President-Elect and Past President, and we planned our programs for the entire year. The President-Elect was in charge of programming and I shared with her all the evaluations I had collected the year before when I was managing the programs. This gave us good ideas of what had worked, what hadn’t, and what members wanted to see in the new program year. We also planned the major agenda item to be covered at each of the monthly chapter board meetings, for example, budget in January. That way board members and advisors could think about the issue to be discussed and prepare questions and requests.

Be inclusive and consult with others.

As we were planning our programs, we tried to make sure of a balance between lunchtime and evening activities, free and for-fee events, and in-town and suburban locations. That way we hoped to make chapter activities accessible to the greatest number of members.

Put first things first.

Board meetings had gotten very long in the busy years before I became a leader as the Chapter flourished and grew. Many people regretted that the board meetings could last from 6:30 to 10:00 p.m., with new business considered after all the reports–when we were tired and eager to get home on a work night. So the year I was president we reversed the agenda, handling new business first when we were fresh and had everyone’s undivided attention. After we had dealt with the budget, or the strategic plan update, the awards nominations, or our major decision item for the month, we turned to hearing our reports. Board members appreciated this streamlined approach and we got through the reports efficiently enough to make an early departure. I think our longest board meeting that year was 90 minutes! People appreciate that we’re organized and value their time as well as our own.

Stay in touch.

Since the internet was still an academic domain, I spent a lot of time on the telephone. I spoke at least weekly with the President-Elect and the Past President, to hear about what chapter members were saying and to make sure we were staying on target with our plans. I also talked to members who had volunteered for a task or who had asked a question at a program. Keeping in touch with people shows them they are important, and there’s no better feeling in the world.

Reach out to partners.

The year I was President-Elect and the next as President I met with the District of Columbia Library Association (DCLA) in the summer before the DCSLA program year began. We shared program ideas and set the dates for our annual joint programs, the holiday party that hosted both groups and the Joint Spring Workshop. That way the groups had two shared events in the year, one a social event and the other an education and training event. Then throughout the year as we set program dates and particulars, we shared them so as not to set up possible conflicts for members.

You can’t do it alone.

I learned to delegate to other board members and committee chairs/members. It’s just impossible to stay on top of all the details of membership, programming, hospitality, finance, etc., all alone. I had a tremendously capable group of colleagues to help with all these tasks. So I set goals and deadlines, and checked in frequently to make sure everything stayed on track. It’s hard to trust others this way, but it surely works when you do try it. Of course you have to accept that there is usually more than one way to complete a task, and sometimes force yourself to relax as you let others try it their own way!

Say thank-you.

When I was Chapter President I tried to say thank you as often as I possibly could–in board meetings, at Chapter events, in newsletters. I sent holiday cards to each board member and committee chair to acknowledge my great appreciation for their work. It’s wonderful to receive positive feedback, and it’s just as gratifying to give it out.

Our DCSLA chapter is a strong and proud organization that has been helping us grow as information professionals for more than 75 years. The lessons I learned working with other SLA leaders carried over into my work as a librarian in the Department of Defense and at the Library of Congress. I am deeply grateful for that!

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Reflection: Weaving Together An SLA Story

Reflection: Weaving Together An SLA Story

Dee Magnoni
Research Library Director, Los Alamos National Laboratory
2016 SLA President-Elect

Why did I join SLA? Professional development, networking, and a great student membership rate. I was a student at SUNY-Albany, and joined SLA along with ALA. I wanted to learn about my chosen profession outside the classroom, at the practitioner level. Every i-student should, and my early involvement provided outstanding development and learning opportunities.

Why have I remained a member for nearly twenty-five years? Professional development and networking, sure. But my friendships, my stories, my experiences are the true threads that weave my SLA story. During my earliest days of membership the Internet was developing as a professional tool. I brought my own computer from home to the office so that I could explore technology while working. Individual employees did not yet have their own machines. IT division members were exploring Internet possibilities, and I became familiar with two names: Hope Tillman and Trudy Katz. Each of these pioneering SLA tech members would become friends. Hope Tillman became a friend and mentor. I met them personally when I attended one of my very first SLA conferences. Reading the conference program, I noted an IT Division meeting and stepped into the room. I had walked into a board meeting, and was embarrassed by my mistake and wanted to quickly leave. Instead, I was warmly welcomed by Hope, Trudy and others, and asked to stay. By the end of the meeting I had my first volunteer position.

These warm welcomes continued. Years ago I visited the DC area in December, and decided to attend the DC Chapter Holiday Party and Annual Meeting. I went alone, and was quickly greeted and invited to join others at a table. Nancy and Lyle Minter were at the table with me, and before long we had gone from work and professional conversations to holidays and baking. Nancy shared a recipe site — the Internet had long evolved from a professional tool to a professional and personal oasis. Another year, when Anne Caputo was President of SLA and attending ALA Midwinter in Boston, where I was living, she graciously agreed to meet me for tea. She had a whirlwind schedule, but we had a lovely afternoon and I gained a personal perspective of Anne’s position and SLA’s Board. I carried the lessons of these members’ willingness to reach out, spend time, and create relationships with developing members on through my member years.

A modest salary was another wonderful relationship tool. I paid for much of my conference attendance over the years, and needed to share rooms. Suzi Hayes and I roomed frequently. At one point I went from rooming for financial reasons to rooming for friendship reasons. Suzi let me know that I had become an “SLA junkee”. What a fabulous role! Rebecca Jones and I shared rooms and parenting stories, growing our friendship through the joys and pains of the teenage years.

The cloak I’ve woven over the years includes volunteer and development opportunities at every level. Saying “yes” has helped me continuously grow. Recently at work I was asked where I had learned to run meetings so well. My answer, of course, was SLA. I was also asked to run for President-Elect of SLA this past year. This is a role I could not take on by myself. Through years of networking, of building friendships, and of family support, I knew that I would have the infrastructure to step up. As I head into my President-Elect and President years, I look forward to the many conversations that I’ll have with members, and the bridges that we’ll build together as we work to strengthen SLA’s future.

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