Friday, 30 January 2015

A gap in the market? A virtual caucus for SLA #slaleads

I was at SLA Leadership Summit in Baltimore last week - a really fantastic opportunity to network, plan and learn from leaders in our profession.

What's SLA?

SLA is a bit of a misnomer - it stands for Special Libraries Association but actually my experience suggests that the 'libraries' bit (in the traditional sense) is in the minority.  The tagline 'Connecting people and information' is more appropriate, painting a much larger picture.  Through SLA I've met a really wide range of people from corporate and academic contexts, ranging from knowledge managers and vendors of information products through to user experience librarians and library/information service directors.

What about Leadership Summit?

The Engineering Division was well represented...
I was there as Conference Program Planner for the Engineering Division.  This involves identifying topics of interest to information professionals in engineering departments/organisations for inclusion in the programme for the 2016 SLA Annual Conference in Philadelphia, identifying speakers, managing budgets and generally coordinating things.  If you have any topic suggestions let me know!

This would be a daunting task, but Leadership Summit was hugely reassuring.  My main reason for going was so that I could attend the planning meeting that kickstarts the whole thing.  The message I got from this session is that I am definitely not alone - there are lots of dedicated, creative and inspiring people planning sessions for all the other divisions of SLA and collaboration is encouraged to ensure a practical, relevant programme for all attendees.  The other Engineering Division members were also hugely supportive - I'll be working closely with Chair-Elect Giovanna Badia on this and already have a volunteer willing to talk about copyright issues in the corporate sector (thank you Gabriele!) was the Leadership and Management Division
This and other business meetings formed just one aspect of the conference though - there were keynote talks by Steve Denning on Radical Management and James Calvin, Associate Professor and Faculty Director of the Leadership Development Program (LDP) for Multicultural and Multinational Leaders at the Carey Business School, Johns Hopkins University.  Programme sessions included SLA 101 (how it's all put together), fund-raising tips and strategic thinking as well as update sessions on the Member Preferences Task Force and the State of the Association.  I came away with lots to think about, tools that I can put into use within my library and renewed enthusiasm for getting involved with this professional association.

Just to make me feel at home, one of the evening receptions took place in Tír na nÓg, bringing a whole new angle on the conversations about my name, how to pronounce it (Nee-uv) and its meaning and origin (a totally normal Irish name, there were four of us in my class of 30 in primary school and Niamh Cinn Óir was the Princess of the Land of Youth in a well-known Irish legend).

So what's this about a virtual caucus?

During one of the sessions, someone suggested in passing the idea of a virtual caucus as the first step towards developing a Chapter that is not geographically based, reaching members in any part of the world whether or not they belong to a local chapter.  (See here for more on SLA Caucuses, Chapters, Sections and Divisions.)  If you know who that was, please let me know in the comments - I'm a strong believer in credit where it's due!

I loved this idea and a main reason for putting this blog post out here is to get a feel for whether or not we could make this happen.  Are you interested in getting involved? Do you have thoughts on how we could make it work? What kinds of things could a virtual caucus or chapter do?  Maybe we can start this conversation in the comments of this blog post and develop it in an #SLATalk Twitter chat at some point?  I'll be talking to Kate Arnold, Past-President of SLA, about the logistics of it all as well.

Looking forward to your feedback!


  1. Niamh, thanks for this wonderful blog post. This idea certainly has merit for expanding SLA's reach more virtual and to enhance their already virtual presence (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and other social media channels/outlets). Tom

  2. I think it's great to create opportunities for members to connect on an international level, as SLA is an international organization. That's what I enjoy about summit and conference. Also, we learned at summit that social media, twitter specifically, has brought in new members. (Thanks @librarysherpa)

    I'm wondering if the new members caucus you mentioned in your tweet, Niamh, is something the First Five Years advisory council could take part in? And, would the virtual caucus be able to assist in getting members for individual divisions together or could this be a place holder for new members who are unsure of which division to join, but who would still like to network within the association.

    1. Hi Marrette, I'm sure the virtual caucus could help with both of those things, and I think it's important that it would be open and welcoming to all stages of career and SLA membership.

      I think the new members one was in something I retweeted from someone else, I don't know much about that idea but it does sound like something the First Five Years advisory council would want to be involved with.

  3. Excellent idea Niamh. I was certainly one of those made aware of SLA through discussions on Twitter so I can say that the associations online presence is having an impact that way.

    I would welcome the idea of a virtual group. As Marrette has commented this would allow international information professionals to connect, something which is one of the main selling points of SLA for me personally. Something that has maybe stopped me from being as involved as I would like in some aspects of the association is geographic restriction - international trips are out of my budget and even trips to London for events can be difficult to work around work schedules (this is in no way a complaint - I completely understand why events are held where they are!).

    I think a virtual caucus could really help those who feel unable to get involved as much as they would like but who have a lot to give - those new to the association, those who feel they don't really fit with any of the existing groups or those who maybe work in smaller organisations and don't have access to as much professional support. With the development of new technologies a virtual caucus could offer its members a lot, especially the international networking aspect.

    You know that I'm always keen to get involved with projects like this so feel free to include me when (I'm sure not if!) it gets off the ground. Really look forward to seeing where you take it.

    1. Glad to have you on board Claire! I wonder at the use of the word 'you' in the last sentence though, you know it'll be more like a 'we'!

  4. Niamh, this is a great idea and I'd really like to get involved with this.

    As an SLA member of 8 years standing, yet who has never actually made it in person to Conference, the idea of a virtual caucus appeals to me for a number of reasons:
    1. It allows me to get involved in the organisation in a way I could not before. I have restrictions on travel and the ability to contribute in other ways would be great.
    2. It's a good avenue to explore the benefits and downsides of virtual communication, which could be applied to a fully fledged virtual option for conference attendance.
    3. Despite sterling efforts by @katefromUK, @librarysherpa and others to show that SLA aims to grow its international presence, the fact remains that most members are in North America. Regional chapters outside N America may not meet critial mass, but a virtual option may do so, which in time can create the connections that lead to more active local physical Chapters.

    In my view, a caucus with an aim of supporting a virtual stream for the conference (possibly with separate programming) would be great. I've blogged about the benefits of attending SLA virtually in 2010 here:

    Just a though on a point of definition, a virtual caucus could be interpreted as a group interested in the *subject* of virtual services, virtual libraries, virtual teams, etc. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but would need to be defined.

    1. You've never been to conference? We need to remedy that right away!

      I hope a virtual caucus would lead to more local activity in general - we found that CPD23 generated lots of real life meet-ups so I'm sure this would have the same effect.

      I like the idea of the virtual caucus organising an online stream for annual conference. In my role as program planner I'm seeing how astronomically expensive it is to stream a session live at conference so maybe actually running it remotely using equipment available through our workplaces would be a more realistic alternative.

      Good point about definitions, we'll need to make sure we have a very clear statement of purpose before doing anything else.

  5. Hi
    I would love to be a part of this idea. I am already part of uklibchat and we virtually meet for team meetings and run the twitter chats virtually so it can work.
    I would welcome the idea of engaging with new members as I am a recent graduate and I joined SLA last year because I was partime in a Law Library and one of the girls I worked with was very engaged with the Legal Division, but because I was super busy last year I didn't engage with anything and was confused as to where I fitted in within SLA.
    I hope this year I can engage with everything but the true fact is I won't be able. I can't afford to attend conferences in Dublin mind say England or America but I know I don't have to miss out if there is a virtual group to allow members not to miss out on events.
    If we can get a group together I would welcome a Google chat, open up and share a Google Doc and brainstorm for an hour or two, because working with people virtually is motivational and inspiring and it has opened up so many opportunities for me that I would never have been able to do because of my financial situation and the geographical restriction. #virtualLIS

    1. Hi Siobhan, delighted you're interested! A chat and shared doc are really good suggestions, and Tracy is also open to having an #SLAtalk on the topic as well. Sounds great!