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.

SLA conference first-timer tips: what I did, and what I wish I did

I can’t believe it’s been nearly a year since the Special Libraries Association conference. Next week, library and information professionals from around the world will be gathering to discuss, debate and network in sunny San Diego. I attended SLA Chicago last year, as a first-timer, and here are my tips for those first-timers attending this year – what I did that paid off, and what I wish I did.

What I did

  • ECCA's adding ribbons to their name badges

    ECCA’s adding ribbons to their name badges

    Tie a knot in your lanyard, or clip your name badge to your top, where people can see it.

  • Absolutely leave a session early if its not for you, or you have a few things you want to attend at the same time. North American conferences are a very different atmosphere to British ones; no one will mind if you leave, and it is honestly liberating!
  • Use your British accent as ice-breaker. I honestly had a Canadian librarian say to me; “You’re from England?! Say something!“.
  • Get business cards and a holder. Again, it’s not very British for junior/new professionals to have business cards, but they’re so useful for networking, and many competetitions will require one. I actually wish we did more business card swapping here, it’s just so much easier than trying to slyly find out someone’s name from sideways glances at their name badge. (if they have one!)
  • Conference award winners at the ITR Division party (Photo credit SLA 2012 Photographer)

    Conference award winners at the IT Division party
    (Credit SLA 2012 Photographer)

    Hang out with the other ECCAs. This was probably the most rewarding aspect of winning the Early Career Conference Award (ECCA) for me. We were all first-timers to the States, and a jet-lagged evening of queuing for the Willis Tower is a shared experience we will never forget.

  • Attend the IT Division party. In fact, attend as many open houses, networking events and parties as you can.

What I wish I did

  • This thing would not stay put

    Would not stay put

    I only saw this idea after the conference – Write on the back of your name badge your name, job/institution and Twitter handle. Those things love to spin around. Genius.

  • Take breaks. The first couple of jet-lagged conference days were amazing, but draining. I wanted to pack in as many sessions as possible, but remember to take time out to see the sights.
  • Attend sessions that are unrelated to what you do. Some of the sessions were about things which I already knew quite a bit about. I now wish I’d skipped those (left early!) and attended something completely new to me.

I hope this year’s ECCAs get as much out of this year’s conference as I did last year. Have fun!

Apply now for SLA Europe Early Career Conference Awards 2013

Applications are now open for the SLA Europe Early Career Conference Awards (ECCA). Go apply now!

The awards, co-sponsored by four Special Libraries Association divisions (Business & Finance, Leadership & Management, Legal, and Pharmaceutical & Health Technology) offer new professionals an amazing opportunity to attend the SLA annual conference and INFO-EXPO in San Diego, and covers conference fees, flights, expenses and accommodation.

I was extremely fortunate to win an ECCA this year to attend SLA 2012 in Chicago, co-sponsored by the Business & Finance Division. It was an unbelievable experience and an incredible opportunity as a new professional. I met LIS professionals from around the world, experienced a country I always dreamed of visiting, and joined a welcoming and enthusiastic community.

More information about the awards, including how to apply, is at the SLA Europe website. I urge you to apply. You have nothing to lose, and you could end up in San Diego!

SLA 2012 preparations

It is only 10 days now until I fly to Chicago for the Special Libraries Association annual conference, courtesy of SLA Europe and the Business & Finance Division.

“If I take one more step, it’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been”.

This is going to be my first:

  • conference
  • time in America
  • solo flight (though the other ECCAs are on the same flight).

So you can probably imagine I’m a teensy bit nervous, but also incredibly excited!

My preparations so far have been scheduling my time at the conference itself, which quite handily can be done online. You set up a sort of ‘profile’, to which I just add the sessions I’m interested it. This doesn’t count as signing up to the sessions, but its a useful way of building up your days, and seeing what your friends are going to!

Currently, I’ve added everything that I’m even vaguely interested in (there’s so much!), and I’ll narrow it down closer to the time. Though, it apparently doesn’t hurt to have back up choices, as it’s ok to walk out of sessions at American conferences if they’re not for you (not sure whether I’ll actually do this, I’d feel too mean!).

Something else I was sure to do was getting business cards. Having not worked as a professional, this had never even crossed my mind. But now I have them, I quite like it! Vistaprint had an offer for 250 cards for just the P&P, so I have loads! I wasn’t really sure what to include on them, but I settled on my email address, blog and Twitter, as well as a short ‘tagline’ under my name.

My business cards, and a little holder for them

I’m sure I’m not the only one to also worry about what to wear. I was actually in need of a wardrobe revamp, as I wanted some smart-casual clothes for when I finish library school. I’ve heard from many sources that American conference centres turn up the air conditioning to combat the high temperatures outside, so I’ve tried to layer!

I just need to get a significant chunk of my dissertation done before I go. I’d rather not be working on it while I’m out there, but I do have a couple of long flights, which might be the perfect opportunity…

So with only 10 days to go, I am definitely counting down now! Expect lots of blog posts when I get back (and a few more before I go, as I try desperately, and futilely, to catch up with CPD23)

Library Marketing & New Professionals

On Tuesday eveing I attended my first SLA event; Library Marketing & New Professionals, with speakers Ned Potter and Bethan Ruddock. It event was hosted by SLA Europe, and was also my first time in Leeds!

Ned Potter: 6 things you, yes YOU, can do to market your service

The slides from Ned’s presentation can be found here. I don’t want to just reproduce the presentation as notes, so I’ll just mention a few things that stood out to me.

  • We are all marketers. But what can we do as new professionals? In terms of face-to-face and online interaction, it’s important to give a positive impression and good service. Word of mouth is very powerful!
  • New perspectives. Senior people will LIKE it if you come to them with ideas!
  • Social media is a huge way for new professionals to get involved, as we can bring expertise. But you need to consider what social media does for the institution which isn’t happening now. How can you help solve an existing problem?
  • 1-in-4 rule: With Twitter, for example, of four tweets only one should be about your organisation. The others should be retweets, @replies, or just tweeting something your audience might find interesting. Which leads on to…
  • The ‘at a party example’: If you were at a party, you wouldn’t stand in the corner, making announcements. The same goes for social media; you need to interact with your audience.
  • Benefits, not features. Focus on what the library can do for your audience. A course titled Advanced Search would be better marketed as ‘Getting the most out of Google’, for example.

Bethan Ruddock: Marketing yourself

Bethan’s website for the LIS New Professionals Toolkit can be found here. Instead of presentation slides, coloured cards were distributed around the room, with various terms on them. We waved them in the air, and Bethan spoke a little about each one.

The cards were divided into three criteria; Motivation, Medium, and Message. Again, I’ll just pick out a few things that I found particularly interesting or useful.

  • Be authentic: Your message has to engage people, it has to get across different media and audiences. It has to be who you are. Otherwise, you’ll get caught out eventually!
  • At work: This is the best place to market yourself. The best way to advocate for yourself is to do your job well.
  • Flows from your activities: It’s much easier to share ideas and projects when it’s something you know about and are enthusiastic about.
  • Success criteria: Make goals for yourself; ‘I want X number of views for this blog post’, for example. Then celebrate meeting these goals!
  • Marketing yourself is not something to be scared of! It should be part of what you do, not something extra. Once you start thinking of opportunities to build a profile and project yourself a certain way, you’ll start seeing them.

Once the presentations were finished, COMPETITIVE UNSEEN-SLIDES BATTLE-SUMMARISING took place. Two brave souls, Katie and Laura, volunteered to live out my worst nightmare; giving a summary of the two presentations with slides they had never seen before. They both did fantastically! Well done!

I really enjoyed this event, and it’s always nice to meet people from Twitter in real life! I’m looking forward to my next SLA event, the Summer Social, in a fortnight’s time, and then it’s onto the SLA Annual Conference in Chicago!