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SLA: How YOU Doin’? Part 3: Fact, Fiction or Political Nuance? We Are Professionals?

My first posts about the SLA2014 conference in Vancouver focused on the environment, the business and more. What was interesting to me was that there was also an undercurrent of disquiet among a number of people who were either in leadership or had been in leadership positions at one time or other. A lot of it seems to stem in particular from whatever went on at the Leadership Summit earlier this year. I wasn’t there, so that’s where it gets a bit complicated for me at least.

Before I go any further, I have to say that I thought about all of what I am discussing in this set of blog posts with ideas thrashing about of how to work toward positive energy and solutions to issues with SLA. It can’t be done alone, but it also can’t be done with people overtly, covertly, and subversively  undercutting each other. With that in mind, here is a photo I took near the end of the conference looking out from the Convention Center.

Storminess in the distance almost a metaphor for some of feeling of the SLA Conference in Vancouver

Storm clouds in the distance almost a metaphor for some of the feeling of the SLA Conference in and around the Vancouver Convention Center

 

He said, she said, she said, they said…
Oh no you/they/she/he didn’t! Oh yes you/they/she/he did!

Apparently some things were mentioned about leadership responsibilities at the Leadership Summit in Memphis. All sorts of conversations have been going on since that time and during the conference where more discussion was held in all sorts of places about the financial, operational and governance situation SLA is now in. As I understand it the Division and Chapter cabinets also dealt with some of the issues but I wasn’t at their meetings this time around so I cannot comment on the proceedings. Perhaps those who were there can chime in, but here we go with he/she/they/you said whatever.

A few folks (who, like me, also weren’t at the Leadership Summit)  expressed thoughts during the Vancouver conference  of who said what, when and why. Others who were at the Summit have told me some of that was not true or never was said or was not heard as it was stated. <SIGH> This carried over into the Vancouver conference such that some people went to a dinner as a large group but did not go to a meeting of the same group the next day because of the topics to be discussed. In retrospect I think one or more of the topics should not have been discussed at that meeting and instead more appropriately at the annual business meeting. I got caught up in the discussion like everyone else, so tsk tsk to me too! Well, people from that group know exactly what I am referring to but this is not the forum for me to comment further on it. However, I will likely say more in an appropriate other place where they can discuss or ignore as they wish.

Anyway, in addition to those actions, some of the same people who skipped the meeting did show up at the annual business meeting. While there they dissed the proceedings about the very topics discussed or avoided at the business meeting – with a bit of validity, I am sorry to say. It was too bad we could not have some professional discourse during the business meeting, to agree or to disagree, but get on with solving the issues at hand instead of sniping and demonstrating skills at passive/aggressive behavior.

All I know is that I no longer can be confident in anything I’ve heard except when I have been witness to it – I know, simple logic, but I’d like to believe that my wonderful colleagues would be truthful with me one way or other. Apparently this is not the case, and that is disappointing.

We know there are issues and questions around the sale of the SLA HQ building, as well concerns about decisions being made about and for the Association by the SLA Board of Directors and SLA HQ. Well, that is what they are respectively elected and paid to do what they do. They all need to be held accountable, as do elected leaders of the recent past, and all of us as voting members who had some influence on the issues as well. I had hoped some of these concerns would be addressed during the annual business meeting in a concise, logical way and not dragged out. Well, instead of that potential lengthy discussion, it was avoided all together. Yes, things were gone over at Leadership Summit according to the summaries I have read, but many in the business meeting audience WERE NOT THERE or may not have had seen any of the summaries distributed by a few unit leaders. As I discussed in my previous post, in the business meeting nothing really happened. OK, let’s say it didn’t happen to the depth a number of us expected.

So where does that leave things? Up in the air I’m afraid, with factions of one sort or other holding their ground, being perturbed or even strongly ticked off about one thing or other. You would think we were talking about things in another well known and much larger library association. Let’s see what happens over the next few months, what the pending first annual report to the membership says, what actions do take place, the results of those actions, and hope that this all settles out over time for the best.

I’m sure I’ll have some more thoughts, so stay tuned for a possible part 4 though it could go in a completely new direction. Check in and see!

 

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SLA: How YOU Doin’? Part 2: The Business Meeting That Wasn’t

The Olympic Torch on the shore of Vancouver Bay. A fascinating sculptural site during the day.

The Olympic Torch on the shore of Vancouver Harbor. A fascinating sculptural site during the day.

The Olympic Torch at Vancouver Harbor. It looks best in the evening lit up like this.

 

 

 

 

 

Business Meeting, Business Meeting – Where are you?

According to many sources and many of our own personal experiences, we know that the essential purpose of the annual business and membership meeting of an association is to comply with by-laws to show accountability for finances and services provided to the membership. There is typically communication of accomplishments, challenges, and plans for the next few years to strengthen accomplishments and address challenges whether financial, operational or other.

This communication demonstrates transparency of operations to all stakeholders and helps to ensure confidence in the management and leadership of the association. The meeting also provides an opportunity for old business to be addressed if anything is outstanding, new business to be brought forward, and a forum for asking questions and clarifications of data presented and actions taken or planned. It also helps raise awareness of all the work done for the membership and shows the association’s value to them.

That is all well and good but there was not much of any of that in the SLA2014 annual business meeting in Vancouver. Attendees heard a revival type speech from the treasurer to all work as ‘one SLA’ with a mere smattering of data shown on charts but never spoken. The CEO and president gave well-deserved kudos to SLA staff and volunteer committee members and acknowledged that the SLA HQ building was up for sale. That was essentially it. There was no call for old business, new business, and no opportunity to ask questions at all. So let’s break it down a bit, shall we?

First off, I am sure we will be told that much information has been issued in reports or other documents available online. True or not, the audience deserved a summary of key accomplishments and an outline of key challenges and what is being done to address them. We also should hear what was discussed and perhaps voted on in the SLA Board meeting held the day before the conference began. Being told these are tough times brings no added knowledge to those of us willing and dedicated to stay to the end of the conference and attend the business meeting. I recall officially hearing the attendee numbers maybe once or twice in the past few years, so this is NOT a new thing done only by the current Board and SLA HQ and it is a very, very bad trend.

Let’s get specific. When the treasurer stood up to give his presentation, the audience saw 3 images of data over about a 20 minute span of time. The first was a map of the world sectioned to represent the chapters and that was an interesting graphic but didn’t tell us a whole lot. The second was a graph showing membership numbers in steady decline over the last few years where we are currently hovering around 8,000 members. At one time we had a membership of around 14,000 so that gives you an idea of the difference today.

The third image was a graph showing how expenses and revenue compared over the years, with revenue far exceeding expenses a while back but in the most recent past we are barely able to make enough revenue to meet expenses. The treasurer did make a brief comment to that effect with the graph displayed, but that what the extent of the facts we heard or saw at the meeting.

What I wanted to know and didn’t hear was:

* Attendance numbers for the conference – members, vendors, total. Why? The conference is often spoken about as a key annual revenue source for the association. Therefore the numbers of members and the numbers of vendors attending and participating in the conference have a direct impact on the economic health of the association. We as members and vendors cannot fully understand or assist in fixing a declining participation in the conference – or the association for that matter – when the facts are kept from us. Given that the business meeting is held at the end of the conference, the SLA staff clearly have those numbers handy. This is not the first time this has happened, so it more than the current Board and SLA Staff to call to question.

Be assured I feel the conference itself was extremely productive for me in many ways for my library and institution from a business standpoint, for me professionally in enhancing my awareness of what others are doing that I could do as well, knowledge of products and services, as well as for me personally in being able to see my many friends and colleagues and meet new ones.

SLA Past President and me checking out the scenery during a fun dinner across the bay from Vancouver

SLA Past President Deb Hunt and me checking out the scenery during a fun dinner across the bay from Vancouver.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So here is my anecdotal observation until we get an apparently forthcoming ‘first annual report’ to the membership, according to the Treasurer. Despite the lack of room availability in conference hotels near the ‘action’ due to being ‘sold out’, there appeared to not be a huge amount of membership attendees at this conference. I know the U.S. Government employees were unable to travel internationally, so that was one of perhaps a few key reasons. Nonetheless, I can recall in past years jostling through a crowd at the INFO-EXPO opening and it was a smaller crowd this time for sure.

While walking around the INFO-EXPO exhibit hall (ah, the questionable on-going need for a conference center exhibit hall — a topic I shall speak of again at another point) there was at least one entire aisle that was empty, there were several empty stalls to the back of each row of exhibit booths, and there were a number of ‘table top’ exhibits instead of full booths. It wasn’t as cavernous a feel as it was in Chicago or San Diego, but still felt a bit sparse. While thanking the vendors for their participation and getting good information on their products and services, I asked them about the customer traffic and their general opinion about the space and all. Many were very happy with the people they met and the business discussions, but said they did feel the traffic flow to be on the light side with few examples of large crowds at any one time. One vendor who has participated for years indicated that he felt SLA was ‘running on fumes’ and has been for a few years. He assured me that his organization would participate in the annual conference as an exhibitor through whatever SLA goes through even if it is to an endpoint – an endpoint that he thinks could come in a few short years or less. He thinks there is a core 20 or 30 vendors that would do that as well because of their loyalty to their customers and SLA. And for those of you who think you know who this vendor is, you would be wrong as it is someone else for sure.

Mind you, I know of several vendors who did not exhibit this year at all but did attend the conference. At least one significant vendor had their CEO in attendance and likely conducted individual meetings rather than exhibit. Hmmm… was that because of the booth expense, their own interest in cutting general travel and conference expenses, or ???

* Financial summary of the Association. Are we in a deficit (what time of day is it?), barely meeting expenses – apparently so, or making money (nope!). Many of us have budgets and run a ‘business’ so we can appreciate the challenges of revenues and expenses. We also know we work hard with our colleagues and senior management in our workplace to get things done with the limited resources available. So, stop playing shadow puppets and give us the skinny on the numbers! To hear a member of the Finance committee tell me in a side conversation at another point in the conference that we are barely squeaking by to meet expenses and had to make tough decisions on what to fund was enlightening but that should have been said by the SLA Treasurer, the CEO and/or the current President.

* The SLA HQ staff situation and what is really going on at SLA HQ – The CEO thanked her hardworking staff for their efforts in getting yet another conference accomplished. They are amazing indeed and we hear there are fewer of them, but this year we have no idea how many or the challenges. I recall that was addressed in more detail in the past and helped us understand the complexity and effort required to make the conference happen.

Many niceties were expressed by the CEO about cooperation of her and her team with the SLA Board of Directors and conference planners. She also mentioned the sale of the HQ building but that’s it – mentioned it. What else is going on with SLA HQ? How is the Association faring as compared to others? We know ALA has lost members as have many others. What does the ASAE membership say about their organizations? Inquiring minds want to know if we are an anomaly (doubt it) or one of the many in a crowd of struggling associations?

As an aside, it would have been nice to have a conference program booklet with all the maps of the conference center and hotels included. The Convention Center map was printed in the larger special conference edition of Information Outlook and there were no maps of the hotel locations or meetings held in them.

SLA CEO Janice LaChance speaking to the attendees at the Annual Business Meeting

SLA CEO Janice LaChance speaking to the attendees at the Annual Business Meeting

* The status of the sale of the SLA HQ building and the plans for the expected revenue from the sale. Oh, it was mentioned by both the CEO and President, but that’s it – mentioned. The sale is happening, though maybe not be able to close a deal for a long while, and there are lots of discussions about it but we aren’t going to update you on it here. Many of you are not privy to the SLA Leadership or LMD discussion list where many questions and answers were posed, but there was a dissemination of a summary through e-mail. It’s a hot topic and we don’t want to discuss it further and no, you can’t ask questions here even though this would be the place for you to do so. Nope, waste of time, can’t do it, won’t let you, so don’t try. In fact, we won’t even provide a Q&A part of the meeting so you can’t! — How can you have a “business meeting” with no questions by the membership about the very topics presented or absent?

President Kate Arnold addresses the SLA Annual Business Meeting at the close of the conference

President Kate Arnold addresses the SLA Annual Business Meeting at the close of the conference

It’s been a few days since returning from the conference but it is only now I feel like I was given a date drug and sent on my way before realizing we didn’t have an actual business meeting but rather a series of presentations and platitudes. This has to change.

Up next: SLA: How YOU Doin’? Part 3: Fact, Fiction or Political Nuance? We Are Professionals?

 

SLA2014: How YOU Doin’? Part 1 – general thoughts on the Vancouver conference

Yes I know it’s been a while since I last did a post. Well, here it goes! This is going to be split into a few posts because I’ve got a lot to put out there for contemplation and maybe reaction.

This past week I participated in the SLA2014 annual conference in Vancouver, BC. There are so many positives to participating (note, I don’t say attend because passiveness at a conference doesn’t get you very much payback). Anyway, when I go to these events I look forward to seeing friends and colleagues from all over the world, share ideas, discuss issues, learn a few things, talk to vendor partners and potential new ones who can help me with needs of my library services and institution, maybe share a few pearls of wisdom – ok share a lot whether you want to hear them or not ;-), and have some fun too.

A side note — When I arrived at LAX and got off the parking lot shuttle I walked to the entrance door for Air Canada and was struck really hard in the leg by a luggage trolley that a kid was swinging around. I felt like Nancy Kerrigan when she was hit with that bat by Tonya Harding’s boyfriend. It soon hurt so bad and continued to hurt on and off during most of the conference. Put me out of sorts a bit and I didn’t dance much at all — that’s right, I didn’t dance but a little bit Sunday night at a dinner event and not at all at the IT dance party.

OK back to the conference. I have to talk about the good stuff first because that is so unlike me. Yep I said it! Overall the conference was worth the trip as it usually is. There is also some stuff that isn’t so good and I’ll mention a few briefly but the details will be covered in future posts.

Cameron and I on the train from Vancouver airport to downtown. Inexpensive and a nice way to get into town in reasonable time.

Cameron and I on the train from Vancouver airport to downtown. Inexpensive and a nice way to get into town in reasonable time.

After stopping to pick up my conference registration and dropping off stuff at the hotel (more on that in a short bit) I went to the First Timers event hosted by SLA Fellows. From there we went to our annual dinner. This time it was the Cactus Club Cafe along the harbor. Everyone had good food – well except I got the tough steak, but they covered my drinks so it worked out. Anyway, here are a few pics from that night:

SLA Fellows Dinner in Vancouver

Ann, Mary Ellen, James and others at the SLA Fellows Dinner in Vancouver

SLA Fellows Dinner in Vancouver

Kate, Bill, Monica and Mary at the SLA Fellows Dinner in Vancouver

SLA Fellows Dinner in Vancouver

Peter, Ruth, Wei, Dorothy and others at the SLA Fellows Dinner in Vancouver

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the conference itself I spent a lot of my time in the INFO-EXPO on purpose so I could get the information I needed for projects at work. I was on a mission. If I found time for sessions (and there were a lot of good ones to try and attend), I would go to them – I really didn’t have the time other than some unit business meetings and presentations in them. As a result I brought back key items for use at work regarding discovery tools, updates on content management systems, new tools for citation management at the institution level, possible different ways to pay for and deliver content, a small bit of swag, and nice conversations with vendor partners and colleagues during dinners around town.

Dinner sponsored by Soutron Global at the Salmon House across the bay. Fun evening with happy people, good food, fun entertainer on a synthesizer, incredible views of Vancouver and more, and a bit of dancing.

Dinner sponsored by Soutron Global at the Salmon House across the bay. Fun evening with happy people, good food, fun entertainer on a synthesizer, incredible views of Vancouver and more, and a bit of dancing.

Not so good was the total mess up by SLA Housing Bureau that should never, ever, ever be used again. I tried reserving a room just a few days after housing registration opened up. Nope, ALL rooms at the conference hotels were unavailable except for a waiting list. The kicker was that some nights were available but NOT the Tuesday night. WTF?!!! The conference was scheduled until 6PM Tuesday, so how many people were going to be able to leave that day if they wanted to attend the business meeting and final panel? (Yep I used the ‘attend’ word and more on that in a future post — a LOT to say on that topic)
I tried 3 days in a row to find a room and was even willing to pay the ‘harbor view’ price but nothing changed. Others told me they even called and got no help along with big attitude. Apparently a few weeks later some rooms became available but not for long. Didn’t know that until too late. Good thing my roommate’s company had a block of rooms so we had some place to stay. It was the Westin Bayshore. Nice place and rooms, though the closet was in the bathroom — yep, in the bathroom. I’ve traveled all over the world, but never saw that before! Bad news: it was one of the farthest places from the Convention Center.

Yachts docked in Vancouver harbor with Westin Bayshore hotel in background

Yachts docked in Vancouver harbor with Westin Bayshore hotel in background

An up side to that was I got some nice exercise and walks along the harbor shoreline and through the park paths and enjoyed seeing the people and scenery.

Park along Vancouver Bay shoreline

Park along Vancouver Bay shoreline

 

Mother Mallard duck guiding her duckling back to a nearby pond. So cute! Everyone gave them plenty of room and let them proceed to the side before continuing on.

Mother Mallard duck guiding her duckling back to a nearby pond. So cute! Everyone gave them plenty of room and let them proceed to the side before continuing on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know I’ve posted some pics and talked about stuff out of chronological order, but that’s the way it is. Almost done for this post and look for “SLA: How YOU Doin’? Part 2: The Business Meeting that Wasn’t”. I’ll be getting into some tough love folks, tough love!

Lastly, a good decision was to buy some Godiva chocolate from the Duty Free shop on the way home. Jumped right to the end but it was too good to wait! I had to use at least some of that leftover Canadian cash. What? I walked by all the alcohol and went for chocolate — the folks at work are VERY glad I did!

“Spotlight on a Librarian” Royal Society Publishing (UK) — My interview

I recently had the pleasure to be ‘interviewed’ via e-mail by the Royal Society Publishing (UK) newsletter editor for their regular feature “Spotlight on a Librarian”. Here is the URL if the link doesn’t work for some reason:  http://newsletters.royalsociety.org/q/1N7XofzaQvq0eb/wv.

The interview appears in the issue about 2/3 of the way down. I thought the editor would tighten up what I sent but apparently left some of my long sentences in the published piece. If I’d have known I would have done another pass to edit it myself, but it still should be a decent read. It was fun to see I am in the same issue as a brief article regarding comments by the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles on the challenges of environmental problems contributing to the collapse of civilization.

Topics I discuss in the article include open source content access and affordable pricing to research articles among other points. I find myself in continued conversations with publishers about licensing costs and affordable access to research, particularly for non-profit and educational purposes. The institutional subscription and licensing charges are particularly completely out of line for museum and specialized research libraries who don’t have the student or faculty information access traffic that an academic institution typically has, yet publishers and content providers price access to that academic model. <sigh> This is a work in progress for all involved so let’s see how it goes in the future.

Holding tablet while giving a presentation isn’t creative

Anyone who knows me knows I enjoy technology though I’m not as early an adapter as others who must have the latest thing the day it is available. However, lately I’ve seen more people speak in front of an audience without a podium or table holding onto their iPads or equivalent tablets. Last week I heard a talk by an author about creativity and the only thing ‘creative’ was he read notes and excerpts from his book off his tablet holding it awkwardly on his forearm. If the tablet is being used to its potential to access interesting apps to show or other uses, great. But if it is only a replacement for simple index cards or similar ‘old fashioned notes’ vehicle, what are you trying to convey? OK, I get it, you have the latest gadget, it cost a bunch of money, maybe you want to write it off as a business expense, and at the very least want to show it off. However, that in itself is not creative or practical. It also looks quite awkward and the audience is waiting for it to careen off your forearm and crash onto the floor.
Let’s think about the tools we use, how we use them, and what impression we want to give to those viewing our use. Sometimes we get it right, but more and more people get it wrong. Let’s not be those latter people!

Cloud computing — everything old is new again

Cloud computing, an ability to get computing power without installing and managing a system locally, is growing fast. Think back to the 1960s and 1970s to time-shared computing systems and you will see a similar architecture. The difference is the elimination of the ‘connect’ charges, more functionality for cost paid among a number of things. The down side is there are security issues that need to be addressed, the charges for concurrent users, ‘search’ and more can quickly add up if you are not careful. Still it is a feasible, cost-effective way to take advantage of a library management system and other software as service offerings. I’ll be giving a talk about this at the Computers in Libraries 2012 conference in March in Washington D.C.

Open Source tools and services can be very useful if you understand what they can and cannot do

There has been a lot written about access to and use of open source tools and services, particularly library management and similar systems. Whether a commercial product or open source option is right for your organization depends upon a number of things including your needs, available resources such as budget, and in particular what technical expertise you have available or are willing to pay for from a service provider. It is important to understand your current situation and constraints so that you can make the best possible decision based on that information. Ideally you have done a careful analysis of your requirements through a strategic technology planning process that assesses physical and people resources, levels of expertise available, and policies and procedures which will influence what can be done and how. It is best to get information about all options available to make the best choice to meet your needs.

Given all that, you can then pursue possible solutions to address your requirements whether they are commercial products and services or those available as “open source”. One thing to keep in mind is that open source is not really ‘free’ but it can be an initial cost-containing alternative to licensing of a proprietary commercial product.

If you have expertise available in house to adjust and manage open source code to your requirements or are willing and able to pay for a service to do that for you, then open source tools can be a viable alternative to some available commercial (proprietary) products. However, should you not have that kind of expertise, then a commercial product may be a much better investment over the long term. It is important to evaluate your own situation and make decisions from what you need and what expertise you have available either directly or through contact. Ultimately, you will have to live with that decision so examine options carefully and make an informed decision.