SLA Conference highlights – #SLA2014

I spent a solid portion of June on the other side of the world, on the West coast of North America. Visiting Vancouver for the annual SLA Conference was incredible – what a setting.

The view of Vancouver harbour

The view of Vancouver harbour

I can confirm the stereotype of friendly Canadian is true. I felt incredibly welcomed to Vancouver. This extended to the conference too. A representative from the First Nations, from just across the harbour, was a special guest at the Opening Session. He chanted over us, and very favourably compared information professionals to medicine men plucking information to guide people to where they need to go. What a fantastic way to start the three days of the conference in a city with so much cultural and ethnic diversity.

A welcome at Vancouver airport!

A welcome at Vancouver airport!

The conference theme was Beyond Borders, and it lived up to that. Kate Arnold, SLA President, opened the conference, crossing borders herself as SLA’s first non-North American president. Several SLA Europe members received awards in the Opening Session, and the beyond borders theme was present in many of the sessions – working across cultures and time-zones, and moving careers between sectors, for example.

Attending SLA this time round was quite a different experience. I attended the conference two years ago in Chicago as an SLA Europe Early Career Conference Award (ECCA) winner, and it was a whirlwind. This year was a little bit calmer (…but only a little bit).

I knew/knew of/got to know quite a lot of people, especially the SLA Europe lot. It was very comforting to see familiar faces some eight time-zones from home, and especially in a crowded conference centre.

I attended fewer sessions than in 2012, but this was because I prioritised quality over quantity. Avoiding getting wiped out was key – I may miss out on a session to load up on caffeine and doughnuts instead, but it means I’ll take in more at the next.

Some of the stand-out sessions included:

  • The SLA Fellows and Rising Stars round-table was a new format to me, and had a lot of food for thought.
  • “I am not a brand!”: Building your personal and professional profile. Mary Ellen Bates’ sessions are always popular. She is an engaging speaker and I enjoyed this presentation on ‘owning your brand’.
  • Due to some session-hopping, I ended up in the Tuesday’s Contributed Papers. I walked in to a discussion about what national library associations do, don’t and should offer, followed by more fascinating presentations. It was an unexpected highlight of the conference!

I have written up my impressions from a couple of the sessions in more depth.

Session hopping is liberating, I wish it was acceptable at British conferences. The same goes for swapping business cards (rather than the awkwardness when you’ve been chatting with someone for half an hour and forgot to ask their name).

The final day of the conference coincided with my birthday. It was an odd experience celebrating my birthday on another continent, and especially so being several time-zones away from my twin. But a Canadian breakfast, and a cheeky couple of local craft beers in the evening, just couldn’t be beaten. And the ‘It’s My Birthday!’ badge on my conference lanyard was a conversation starter.

IMG_1032I was fortunate to be awarded a travel grant from the John Campbell Trust which allowed me to attend this fantastic conference so far from home. My final word, similar to Rosie’s, one of this year’s ECCAs, in her SLA Europe blog post, is if you see opportunities for bursaries or awards, just go for it! Many of SLA Europe were able to get to Vancouver thanks to various awards and funding, so it goes to show it’s worth applying.

Crossing boundaries: Corporate and academic librarians – #SLA2014

I was intrigued to see this session in the SLA conference schedule. I was keen to see if the panel’s experiences of changing sector were similar to my own.

A view of Yaletown, Downtown Vancouver

A view of Yaletown, Downtown Vancouver

I’ve been in my new role as a healthcare librarian for about six months now. Enough time to feel settled and start reflecting on the time passed so far, but short enough that my academic library days are still fresh in mind.

Crossing boundaries: Corporate and academic librarians

Chris Ewing, EWU-JKF Library; Tasha Maddison, University of Saskatchewan; Valerie Tucci, College of New jersey; Jim Van Loon, Wayne State University; Christie Wiley, University of Illinois

This session was a series of individual presentations, in which many of the themes were similar. So these are the key points and advice I found most interesting or useful. The slides are available on the SLA Online Planner.

  • Learning the ropes

Coming in new to a sector is obviously where you feel the differences most keenly. Jim Van Loon pointed out the differences in the workflow and tasks/responsibilities; in the corporate world, they are well-defined and well-documented, whereas in academic libraries they are often loosely structured and changeable, which can be difficult for someone new to the setting.

I’m not sure how fully I agree, as the size of my current library (small) and previous library (large) meant the local induction (small = informal, large = more structured) was sort of the reverse of Jim’s theory.

Jim suggested “process mapping” to determine how things get done, and by who. Enlisting colleagues and mentors for guidance can also help, and you can learn a lot just by watching. Although I have found all of these useful to varying degrees, it is tricky adapting to a new organisational culture which is markedly different to my previous library – more hierarchical, but less formal. Val Tucci also found there is a flatter organisational structure in academic libraries, and felt there is less room for growth. I did ask the panellists for further advice about adapting to a new organisational culture, but unfortunately didn’t get a satisfactory answer – so I welcome any thoughts in the comments.

  • “Other duties as assigned”

In a corporate environment, Jim felt information professionals have specialised roles in order to achieve more efficiency. In comparison, academic librarians will have a broad range of duties, for several academic departments, requiring adaptation and new skills.

Again, I’m not convinced it’s this clear-cut (though he did point out every organisation is different), but maybe that’s because I’m not in a corporate library. In my experience, in a large university library there are teams for functions (cataloguing, acquisitions, etc), though staff themselves usually worked in one of these teams but also had a subject-liaison role. In a smaller library, I do ‘a little bit of everything’.

  • Bringing a bit of the corporate sector into the academic library

Tasha Maddison presented on her career story so far. I found Tasha’s talk the most interesting and personable. She spoke about applying her experience in a corporate firm (EBSCO) to her current work as an academic librarian.

Customer service:
Tasha admitted she is the kind of person “who sends a thank you to a thank you”. She always follows up emails, even if her full answer might take a while. This is common sense, but it’s very ingrained in the culture in a corporate setting.

Sharing files and documentations makes it easy to find out what people have done and how they solved problems. She delegates a lot to the team of assistants, who are excited to take projects on, and it frees up her time to innovate and get involved in more.

Basically, this means ‘How do you cope under the threat of being laid off’? Tasha’s positive approach, having been laid off in the past, is this:
I will always work until they tell me otherwise, and I try to work so they will miss me when I’m gone.

I felt there was a lot of commonality between my experience of changing sector and the presenters’, in the step-change of organisational culture, structure, and adaptation process. It’s hard enough starting a new job, let alone in a new sector, so it’s comforting to know others have similar experiences.

Library outreach and the Italian beef sandwich – #SLA2014

I couldn’t resist this session at the SLA conference last month, with its intriguing title.

What on earth has library outreach got to do with a beef sandwich?!

We had to wait an agonisingly long time to find out the beef sandwich analogy.

The speaker, Eugene Giudice, Research Librarian at law firm Latham & Watkins, is from Chicago, where this particular style of sandwich originated and is still a classic. The point was this:

The beef of an Italian beef sandwich is cooked slowly in stock. The meat is the heart of what librarians do. The juice/stock is the outreach; it adds spice, flavour, and value to what we do.

A ‘classic’ Italian beef sandwich will taste slightly different from different places. It might have more gravy, they might dip the bread in the stock – but there’s a certain, traditional way of cooking the beef that makes it a Chicago style Italian beef sandwich. Outreach will look different in different libraries, depending on our consumers ‘tastes’, but it shares commonality across libraries, so we can learn from each other.

A moody sky over Vancouver Harbour and Stanley Park, from the conference venue.

A moody sky over Vancouver Harbour and Stanley Park, from the conference venue.

I’ve been musing on what I learnt from this session, from which there were many stories and much advice about outreach. A great write up is on the SLA First five Years Blog. There was a wealth of examples and tips, but one thing particularly struck a chord:

Inject personality, make friends, show something of yourself

On Eugene’s desk, there is an impressive trophy, won at the firm’s sports day. However, it’s not for first place. Instead, it’s a ‘dead last’ trophy. The trophy gets people asking questions, and then gets them laughing.

This was just one example of how Eugene gets people chatting and makes friends in the firm, and by extension builds a network and performs outreach. He had lots of other examples of really simple things we can do to get known out and about, like asking about someone’s photos on their office wall, or chatting about a sports game the night before. It may not feel like ‘work’, but it’s about creating connections and alliances with people who will advocate on our behalf. It’s about embracing opportunities for engaging in conversations.

On the pin board above my desk are two postcards of poppy-filled fields, which were there when I arrived. One person has asked about them, but because I didn’t put them there all I could do was agree that they’re pretty. Inspired by Eugene, I’m going to personalise my desk a bit more to have a conversation-starter, maybe a postcard from one of my own trips.

This, along with many of the other examples Eugene gave, are about find an excuse, or creating permission, to talk to your users and get yourself known. If they come to the library to chat about the football, they know where the library is when they have an information need.

At the time, I thought “this is all really basic, obvious stuff. Where’s the ground-breaking idea?”, but actually, having had some time to think about it more, I took an awful lot from this session. It also made me realise: not only is it okay to inject a little personality into your work, it can actually be a very good thing to make yourself and your service more memorable, and therefore people are more likely to use your service in future.

I’m Chartered!

Back in April I wrote the post Chartership submitted, and now the wait, but thankfully CILIP didn’t make me wait too long to find out that I’m now a Chartered Librarian!

However, I did have an agonising wait for about a week and a half – I wasn’t in when the postman needed a signature for my certificate, so my neighbour kindly signed for it. But we didn’t manage to cross paths before I jetted off to Vancouver for the SLA conference! I could see an envelope from CILIP through his window – so close yet so far away! Thankfully, a friend spotted my name in CILIP Update and put me out of my misery.

The Chartership process was valuable and I’m glad I’ve done it, although it was hard work at times. It formalised my continuing professional development activities, encouraged me to reflect on my work, and gave me an excuse to pursue activities and training that weren’t strictly related to my job but were an area I was interested in or felt I needed to develop.

I got through Chartership fairly quickly, taking a little over a year. I had a good motivation to tie it all up, having started a new job partway through the process – wait too long, and I’d need to re-do a lot of my PPDP. In the end, the majority of my portfolio was from the time in my old job, with a smattering of things from my new post. In fact, comparison of the two provided a nice structure for parts of my statement.

So what’s next? I’ve put a reminder in my diary for about a year’s time, to look into revalidating. I’m keeping a log of my CPD to make it easier when that rolls around. I also want to become a CILIP mentor, so I am excited for when training dates are announced.