SLA ‘Has the Runway’ to Make Changes

Remarks by SLA President Jill Strand
Annual Business Meeting
SLA 2015 Annual Conference
Boston, Massachusetts
16 June 2015

Good afternoon, and welcome to our annual SLA Business Meeting.

It’s the last day and last hour of the conference, and I know many of you are tired and looking forward to getting back home, so I want to get to the meat of this session as soon as possible. But first, let me just say thank you—to all of you in the room here, for investing in SLA and in yourselves; to our colleagues in the New England Chapter, for serving as gracious and helpful hosts; to our industry partners, for helping make this conference and our association a success; to the SLA staff, for all of their work organizing and managing this event; and to the city of Boston and the folks here at the Convention Center. I’d also like to thank my family, whose wise counsel and support have been invaluable to me. Some of them are here today, including my husband, Jonathan, who inspired my “lean into the curve” theme, which I understand was a bonus question in the Trivia Night word scramble! All of you deserve a round of applause.

The theme of SLA 2015 is “Be Revolutionary,” and in keeping with that theme, we decided to be revolutionary with the business meeting this year. Instead of taking the traditional top-down talking heads approach, we’re crowdsourcing the content.

And why not? After all, it’s your association. And as the president of your association, I think you have a lot to be proud of.

Earlier this year, SLA launched a new educational program, the Learning Initiative Partnership, or L.I.P., which is designed to enhance your skills and knowledge by providing a steady stream of quality content on a wide range of timely and relevant topics. From Webinars and white papers to resource guides and expert interviews, the L.I.P. will offer tools and materials to keep you current on new developments and techniques that will foster and boost professional excellence.

I want to recognize our first L.I.P. partner, the Institution of Engineering & Technology, which is partnering with SLA to produce resources targeted toward librarians and info pros in the STEM fields. If there’s anyone here today from the IET, will you please stand?

In addition to rolling out the L.I.P., we’ve hosted PartnerTalks with our vendor partners on topics such as using social media in the library and demonstrating your value to executives. We’ve conducted Twitter chats, called #SLAtalks, on topics such as proving your value, honing your interpersonal skills, and building your professional brand. Here in Boston, we debuted new formats called Crescendo Sessions and Master Classes to address different learning styles and needs.

When I think about the improvements we’re making, I can’t help but be excited about the future of SLA. But I also know that our future success depends on stabilizing our finances and membership. For a clearer picture of the challenges we face in these areas, I encourage you to review the financial statements that you received prior to the start of this meeting. These statements include the numbers for our assets and liabilities, revenues and expenses, and membership totals.

We’ll be posting these statements on after the conference. Right now, however, I’d like to draw your attention to two paragraphs in John DiGilio’s preface to the financial statements. John isn’t here with us in Boston because of health issues, and I really can’t do justice to his comments, but I’ll do my best. If you look at page 2 of his comments, you can follow along:

Just 10-15 years ago, SLA was operating in a world where information still flowed mostly in one direction and was printed on paper, where communities were created and nurtured through personal contact, and where employers routinely invested in their employees’ professional development. Today, we’re operating in a world where information flows in all directions, where communities are created online, and where professional development increasingly is a personal responsibility. SLA is no longer a destination. We have become a stepping stone, something to try out for a few years before moving on to the next level.

That, in a nutshell, is the very crux of the challenge we’re facing. We’re using a business model that served us well for many years, but isn’t tailored to today’s environment. And if we don’t change it, and change it significantly, neither the numbers nor the fortunes of our association are going to change. The change that will result by our inaction will not be the change we want. The opportunity is here, my friends. The time is now. If we are going to affect the change we truly want for the longevity and posterity of the Special Libraries Association, then it is time for us to act.

John is 110 percent correct—change is coming to SLA. The question is, do we want to just let it happen, or do we want to work together to manage it? We can continue down the path we’re on, or we can make some hard decisions and chart a new course.

Several months ago, your board of directors chose the second option—to make hard decisions and chart a new course. We engaged the services of two consultants and challenged them to be change agents. We gave them a list of areas to study and asked them to recommend new directions for SLA. We put everything on the table—our programs and services, our conference, our unit and headquarters structures, even our board composition. If it had anything to do with SLA, it was fair game.

Last month, the consultants sent the board a report with their recommendations. Taken together, these recommendations provide a blueprint for how SLA can marshal the talents and energy of each and every stakeholder—individual members, units, business partners, the board, and staff—to provide a full range of best-in-class continuing education, career development, and networking opportunities to our diverse community of information professionals.

We shared these recommendations with you and invited your comments and questions, and you answered the call. Several of you sent us e-mails; many of you participated in the virtual town hall on May 27; a few of you showed up at Saturday’s board meeting and shared your thoughts; and several of you have spoken personally with board members here in Boston.

The sheer number of comments and questions we’ve received are proof that you and your fellow SLA members care deeply about the fate and future of our association. On behalf of the board and staff, I want to thank you for taking the time to weigh in on the recommendations and to attend this session. The biggest threat we face is not that we may disagree about our future direction—it is that we won’t care enough about SLA to share and resolve our disagreements. The past four days have proved to me that SLA members are willing to work together to create a stronger, more vibrant association.

Yesterday, the board decided to extend the comment period until 11:59 ET on June 23rd. Soon after, we will hold a strategy session to consider your comments and input. From that strategy session, the board will produce a clarified version of the recommendations, which will be voted on during at a special board meeting in early July. As with all open board sessions this year, members will have a chance to review the board documents in advance, and up to 500 members may register and attend via GoToMeeting.

Should the board vote to receive the recommendations, the consultants will begin to prepare a road map for implementation. This road map will include ideas about how best to engage the talents and ideas of our members, units, and business partners.

Make no mistake—implementing these recommendations, or any serious alternatives to them, will require a significant realignment of resources and the engagement of all stakeholders. It will require creativity, flexibility, and the willingness to adopt new ways of operating in a future-oriented mode.

The good news is that there is no better time than now for SLA to undertake a change in strategic direction. Not only do we have a unique opportunity for strategic, creative and intentional change, we have the necessary resources to initiate and develop such action. As noted in the financial statements, SLA’s assets total around $7.5 to $8 million in cash, prepaid expenses, investments, and property. And although membership has been trending down, recent efforts to enroll new members have begun to bear fruit.

Perhaps more important than our financial assets is our body of engaged, professional, creative, and dedicated members. Our “human assets” offer significant value to SLA and to the information industry as a whole. Forward-looking members and leaders of SLA can contribute productively to our change by helping implement the changes the board approves.

SLA currently “has the runway” to make pivotal, positive changes to its strategic direction. What remains to be determined is not if we will change, but how, and how quickly.

So, for the remainder of this hour, we invite your questions and comments on the recommendations or on any other aspect of SLA. Please come to the microphone up front, state your name and tell us where you’re from, and share what’s on your mind. In the interest of allowing as many questions and comments as possible, please keep your remarks brief and to the point.

And with that, I’ll open up this meeting to questions and comments from the membership.

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