Changing SLA’s Perspective from an International Organization to a Global Organization – Valerie Ryder, Chapter Cabinet Chair-Elect Candidate
Question 5: SLA is an international organization. How can SLA involve and reach out more to members outside North America?
Valerie Ryder, Candidate for Chapter Cabinet Chair-Elect
SLA membership growth is stronger outside North America than within the United States and Canada. This trend will shape SLA’s future structure and services as the SLA organization reaches out to the changing demographic of its membership. In 2014 SLA will have its first-ever President from outside North America. I look forward to working with Kate Arnold and the changes that may result from her perspective and experience.
In the corporate world, where I have spent the majority of my career, organizations differentiate between being an international entity versus a global entity. By many definitions, an international corporation may operate in many different countries but its headquarters and decision-making structure remain in one country, typically the country of its origin. A global corporation also operates in many different countries but while its headquarters may be in one country, its decision-making structure is dispersed across many countries, and where it produces each product or delivers each service is determined by factors such as lowest cost to produce, local concentration of raw materials or expertise, and efficiencies of scale. I believe that SLA will evolve to become a global association, not just an international association, but we are just starting to travel that path.
In recent years, SLA has begun to use technology to bridge the barriers of time and distance. The SLA Board now meets monthly, instead of semi-annually, using web-conferencing to connect all Board members regardless of where they reside, or may be traveling. Divisions and geographically dispersed Chapters are using the SLA-provided webinar platform, GoToWebinar, to hold their board and committee meetings as well as virtually host topical presentations instead of meeting in-person only a few times a year. These sessions are often made available to SLA members outside their unit as well as non-members of SLA to share knowledge broadly and encourage cross-fertilization of ideas. I think wider use of the webinars and web-conference technologies will occur as members gain skills in hosting these sessions and see the value of inclusiveness across our SLA world.
SLA members outside of North America can more easily assume divisional officer and committee roles when travel is not required to attend meetings. Some divisional roles can be performed decentralized, such as Webmaster, contributing content to their website or bulletin, and recruitment of new members. Operating in a 24-hour world will require all members to adapt their schedules to find mutually acceptable times of day to collaborate and meet, even using web-conferencing technologies. I am amazed by the willingness of our Asian, Pacific, Arabian Gulf, and European members to accommodate a North American-centric schedule of meetings, but feel that we must change that scheduling habit if SLA is to truly be a global organization.
Many SLA members outside North America would like to attend the SLA Annual Conference, but their cost of travel is an order of magnitude greater than for a member traveling within North America. SLA has begun to experiment with a virtual component of the Annual Conference to deliver key sessions globally to members who cannot attend in person. This development will benefit members within North America as well. On September 25 and 26, the SLA Virtual Conference will broadcast several of the most successful SLA2013 conference sessions. Registration for the two-day package, one-day or even single session is a fraction of the cost of the Annual Conference. I would also like to see sessions from regional conferences such as the Asian Chapter conference and the Arabian Gulf Chapter conference shared virtually with SLA members in other regions as evidence that SLA is thinking like a global entity to share local expertise throughout its entire organization.
One final thought is that SLA should leverage its reciprocal agreements with library associations in other countries to encourage attendance at each other’s conferences at member rates. Recently, the SLA blog promoted the ASLIB Conference “Knowledge and Information Strategy Summit” on December 5 and 6 which SLA members can attend at ASLIB member rates. SLA might explore more ways that SLA members could participate in other library association benefits at reduced rates.
We’ve come a long way since SLA was formed in 1909 by John Cotton Dana, but our journey to become a global association has just begun!