Member Insights: Fellows
This week in my Member Insights Series, I am turning to the Fellows of SLA. “Fellowship in SLA is bestowed on active, mid-career SLA members in recognition of past, present and future service to the association and the profession.” Individuals in this dedicated group stand ready to offer their heads and their hands to brainstorm solutions and solve challenges.
My first question asked why each person had decided to become an information professional. We all have a unique story and path into library and information science, and the Fellows shared many of theirs. There were stories of backing into the profession from other areas such as translation and IT. Some Fellows worked in information settings, and decided to continue growing there. Terri Brooks made her decision as a sophomore in college, where she was able to explore disciplines and majors. Devoting attention to diverse interests and skills turned out to be a good strategy for success in pursing a career in the information profession. Kate Arnold made her decision because she “loved researching, was very curious, and wanted to help people.”
Tapping into the Fellows’ collective wisdom, I asked what advice they had for our students and new professionals. “Follow your passion,” Margie Hlava entreats our next generation of information professionals and librarians. Dennie Heye suggests engaging in informational interviews with friends, family, teachers, and others to find out what “makes you tick” and then “use that to pick where you want to go in your career.” With his advice, he also cautions young professionals to remember that careers can, and will, take “unexpected turns and twists—but you will always learn and grow.”
Scott Brown advises students and new professionals to “be bold” and to reach out to people within and outside of SLA. Curious about a work setting? Find someone in that setting and give them a call. Our members are incredibly open and willing to share expertise. Flexibility is another recommended trait, and Sue Henczel stresses the importance of remaining open to opportunities and sharing your own background and expertise as well as seeking knowledge from others. Ours is a transportable profession, and Kate Arnold suggests moving around from sector to sector to gain broad and varied experience. Of course, become active with association activities. Terri Brooks suggests getting involved now, early in your career. This gives you years to build up your experience and your network. While Terri became active a bit later, she then made up for lost time, “holding most offices in the Business & Finance Division, twice as Chair.”
Calling on years of engagement and conference attendance, I asked Fellows to share a favorite SLA moment. These were delightful stories that ranged from connecting the right people in serendipitous circumstances for a job role to board watching with colleagues that became lifelong friends. (For those who don’t know, “board watching” is a time-honored SLA custom in which members attend—and have the opportunity to ask questions at—the open board meeting at the annual conference). There were common themes of members being open to new conference attendees, the sharing of information, a willingness to include people in social events, and the formation of worldwide networks and friendships. Conferences lead to renewed senses of purpose and fresh ideas.
One favorite moment came from a successful failure, so to speak. Dennie Heye describes a promising librarian from Uganda, Stephen Kizza, whom the Petroleum & Energy Resources Division (DPER) sponsored for years and helped through his studies. His dream was “to attend an SLA conference, connect with peers all over the world, and deliver a paper.” In the end, his visa was not granted. While division members were disappointed, Stephen was not deterred. Everyone worked together to have Stephen successfully deliver his paper virtually from Uganda to an audience in New Orleans. This moment made Dennie both proud of SLA and also happy that Stephen had grown professionally and wanted to be part of our global community.
I could not leave the Fellows without asking them what SLA should be doing today to serve its members, the industry, and to be a forward-looking, innovative information association. Margie Hlava stressed that the core of SLA is its units. We need to strengthen the service to chapters and divisions, provide more networking options, and “strengthen the cohesion of the organization by providing many ways for the members to be involved and speaking to each other” on meaningful topics. Communication was stressed by many, and SLA needs to pay attention to its members under 30, understanding their needs, as well as continuing to provide an environment that allows us all to openly listen to and hear one another. Scott Brown reminds us that the work we “do continues to change and evolve, and the environments we work in are changing and evolving rapidly as well. In order to stay informed and relevant, we really need to stay aware, open and flexible.” Creating a supportive conference and connecting through our units are important factors to help us do just that.
Success with SLA also requires knowledge of the association and its services, and Sue Henczel wants to ensure that members “know how to ‘use’ the association.” She also advises that we clarify SLA’s role as an industry body, a professional association, or an information association. Each has different purposes. Finally, we all need both professional and personal growth, and a blend of formal and informal learning opportunities need to be available.
The Fellows are a wonderfully lively and thoughtful group, and have much to offer SLA and our members. As I turn from their feedback, I look forward to gathering thoughts from our southeastern United States members.
—Dee Magnoni, 2017 SLA President