Building Partnerships Within SLA to Support International Members – Valerie Perry, Candidate for Director
Candidate Question #5: SLA is an international organisation. How can SLA involve and reach out more to members outside of North America?
I am Valerie Perry and I am a Candidate for Director.
SLA is at a crossroads as a professional organisation and needs to become the organisation that information professionals worldwide want to join. To become a strong international organization, SLA must make an intentional effort to learn what current members outside of North America value about their SLA membership and also ask about the unmet needs, including suggestions for future improvements.
Like with many organizations, our Association sometimes makes assumptions about what current and potential members want and need without actually asking them. The conference re-envisioning work is an excellent example of reaching out to members to learn what they value and creating an implementation plan based on their input. While international members may participate in this taskforce, SLA should perhaps look at launching a similar taskforce specifically to explore how SLA can involve and reach out to more members outside of North America.
Since I joined SLA in 1998, the Association’s leadership has shown an increased awareness of the needs of our international members, including cultural, vocabulary and time zone differences in our activities. However, this is just the beginning. Our units, especially divisions, should review current practices and determine how members outside of North America can participate more fully in unit activities. In the past, the focus has been on conference scholarships, which is laudable, but we need to broaden our efforts.
For instance, do most divisions encourage unit members from outside of North America to serve in leadership roles? For this to be successful, some divisions need to review their Practices and possibly reassign some duties to make office holding more practical for members outside of North America. For example, many divisions require that the Chair and Chair-elect attend both Leadership Summit and the Annual Conference. For some international members, especially in small divisions which cannot fully compensate officer travel, this is financially unfeasible. In the Food, Agriculture & Nutrition Division we suspended this rule for our current Chair, Kevin Adams of Christchurch, New Zealand. Instead, another division member attended the Leadership Summit and represented the division during the Cabinet meetings. Kevin has been a wonderful FAN Chair and has managed communications through individual and group Skype calls and email. He is the first FAN Chair from outside of North America and now we have another international member considering nomination for FAN Chair-Elect for 2014. All SLA units should consider implementing ways to encourage and support international members so they can participate in a meaningful way as individuals and as members of a unit, both in person and virtually.
SLA should adopt a mentoring plan to pair units so they can learn from one another. These unit partnerships could focus on problems affecting one or both units, such as member retention, officer succession and member involvement. They could also share the workload of planning joint webinars and other activities for members. I believe this would help all members, inside and outside of North America by focusing on unit strengths and resources to help one another.
The Kentucky Chapter has been approached formally and informally to share how we remain as an active and vibrant chapter in spite of our small membership, or, as one member of another chapter requested “tell us about the Keebler magic which helps your chapter be a success.” For this particular chapter, several of our officers were invited to one of their board meetings to answer questions about our chapter and provide advice. In another example, the Kentucky Chapter was approached by the Legal Division, because of some mutual members, to co-plan a webinar on copyright. The Legal Division had considerable experience with virtual programming, which our chapter lacked and together our members enjoyed a successful webinar. Some unit partnerships could be activity-based such my chapter experience with the Legal Division or it could be a long-term relationship.
Either way, SLA will be a stronger organization because of these partnerships. I believe these partnerships can be particularly useful in building bridges and understanding between members outside and inside of North America.