Lessons from SLA 2015

It’s conference season! Kara wrote about her experience at ALA for us all already (sounds like a fantastic conference!) so I thought I’d talk about my time at SLA 2015 in Boston last month. Though smaller than ALA’s conference with just over 3000 attendees, the conference was still far, far bigger than any I’d gone to before – with about 40 times the number of attendees, at a conservative estimate. I’ve gone back through the pages and pages of notes I took (colour coded pens were the best idea ever) to pick out the practical tips and encouraging messages I picked up over the three days of the conference. This is an eclectic list, you have been warned.

  • Our field is changing rapidly, but we’re going to be okay
    This theme came up a lot – in the (fabulous) opening keynote, in the closing keynote, in all sorts of sessions, at networking events and even in conversations with vendors. While people might differ on how they adapt to the changes we’re seeing, one mindset kept coming up that struck me as particularly useful. Kim Dority described it as thinking of your career as being in permanent beta mode – whatever you’re doing at the moment doesn’t have to be what you do forever. Sideways moves and sector changes are what we all have to do at the moment to gain experience and find that role that fits.
  • We are freaking awesome
    Similar to the above, really, but it bears repeating (over and over).  The opening keynote was delivered by Leigh Gallagher, Assistant Managing Editor of Fortune Magazine, who spoke at length about how the work of the librarians at the magazine take their investigations to the next level (and they get a byline on stories they work on!). I heard from librarians who curated collections of graphic novels and made them indispensable to academics when funding was threatened, librarians who experimented with depositing their digitised material outside of the library, on sites like Pinterest (top tip – animals are popular. As a regular internet user I am completely shocked by this and did not immediately think of Maru or Princess Monster Truck). We are doing some incredible work and sometimes we just need to take a minute to appreciate that.
  • You can learn a lot by stepping outside of your comfort zone
    I attended the conference thanks to an award from SLA Europe and the Competitive Intelligence Division so I went to a lot of sessions the CI Division ran that I wouldn’t have considered before. Neither of my current jobs involve CI, and as it’s not quite as developed a field over here in the UK I might never move into a role where it’s my primary responsibility. What I can take with me, though, are the mindsets of CI experts (or at least a very good curated list of resources and a good network of people who can steer me out of muddy waters!). For example, Jaye Lapachet talked about how CI isn’t a plug in and play activity – you have to carefully consider how it will impact your organisation, what it will mean for your staff and what you’ll actually get out of it. Wise words for anyone, really – are you implementing a new system or software because you think you should, or because you genuinely believe it will be beneficial?
  • Who’s your champion?
    Another great bit of advice from a CI session, this time from Fred Wergeles. This was actually about starting a CI function at your organisation and finding a senior level sponsor to lend their support (and hopefully their budget). This is something we can all do in our own jobs – are you starting a new project? Can you approach someone higher up the hierarchy and get them to notice what you’re doing? In a lot of sectors this won’t come with a budget, but senior level approval can still be vital.
  • Job hunting? Pick a power song
    I LOVE this advice. And no, I’m not telling you what mine is, because that’d be like telling you my birthday cake candles wish. The idea is that you pick a song that gets you fired up, and listen to it while writing your applications or on your way to an interview. Something that makes you stand a little taller or walk with a bit of a strut is perfect. This tip’s courtesy of Margaret Smith of New York University Libraries from the Career Connection Seminar on the Sunday.
  • You Americans are totally bonkers
    I mean this in a kind and loving way, but wow. I have never seen people party so hard until the small hours and then turn up to a 7am session with a massive smile and a spring in their step. I’ll admit to sitting in the corner with my hideous cold and my jetlag and wondering if chucking my emergency teabags into Boston Harbour (conveniently close to the convention centre) would help me absorb some of that can-do attitude. It’s fantastic.

The vast majority of presentations from each session are available to download through the online planner so have a browse and check out anything that interests you – some extra summer reading for you all!

So – was anyone else at SLA 2015 and feel like sharing their key lessons? Got a great idea for power songs for other people? Extra points for classic rock…

Categories: Conferences

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