Candidate for 2018 President-Elect: Kevin Adams
Kevin Adams is an Information Specialist at the Institute of Environmental Science and Research in Christchurch, New Zealand Kevin has been an information professional for over 20 years At ESR he undertakes research on a wide variety of topics in the environmental science area. While at ESR for 20 years, Kevin has also worked in a variety of roles, including 4 years in London where he worked in law libraries, academic libraries and for a computer research and consultancy company. He has also worked as a Senior Information Consultant for the Business Information Service of the National Library of New Zealand.
Kevin became a member of SLA in 1996 the year in which he attended his first conference in Boston. As an international member these conferences have been invaluable as networking opportunities and establishing relationships. Before that he earned a Masters degree in history from the University of Canterbury and a diploma in librarianship from Victoria University. The first chapter he joined was the Hawaii Pacific and was a member of this chapter until the foundation of the Australia/New Zealand chapter in 2005. He was one of the founding members of this chapter and was secretary of this chapter for a number of years. Kevin belongs to and has been on the boards of the Solo division, Environment and Resource Management division, Food, Agriculture and Nutrition division and the Government division and has been a long time member of the Business and Finance division.
With the Food, Agriculture and Nutrition he has held the positions of Director, Secretary and was the Chair of the division and responsible for organising the division’s sessions at the San Diego conference. He has also been on committee for FAN looking at scholarships He has been chair in the Online Content Advisory Committee and has also been on the Information Outlook Advisory Committee. For the FAN division he also wrote a column for the newsletter for a number of years, and has written columns for the Journal of Agriculture and Food Information. At the San Diego Kevin was part of the closing panel session, “Connect, Collaborate and Strategize.”
One of the strengths of SLA is its growing international membership. Kevin believes, as a member of one of the international chapters, that this diversity is a strength of SLA but that the association needs to keep looking for ways to grow in this area. Also that as the nature of information changes we need to keep up with these changes in order to provide the service that those we serve need.
Question 1: When did you first join SLA? What made you decide to join then and why do you still belong today?
I first joined SLA in 1996 not long before my first conference in Boston. However I had heard about and thought about joining SLA in the early 90’s when I was living and working in London. The head of the organisation that I was temping with was a member and he gave me a pamphlet which explained the organisation and also had a section with which you could join. I was just beginning my career as a special librarian and talking with him about SLA made me feel that this was an organisation I should join. Fast forward to 1996 and finding the pamphlet combined with belonging to an e-mail group of business librarians, some of whom were SLA members gave me the impetus to join the SLA.
My decision to join was based on three main reasons.
1. I was at the time an Information Consultant working with businesses throughout the South Island of New Zealand. I was heavily involved in the Buslib e-mail group (a blast from the past for those of you who remember it) and found it to be a great source of knowledge. As I said above a number of those who were members of this group were SLA members and chatting to some of them made me realise that SLA was a natural home.
2. While I was also a member of the special librarians group of our national organisation my experience with Buslib made me realise that there was a larger network of librarians, in libraries around the world that I could tap into. I also remember looking at the programme for the first conference I attended and thinking what a diverse and interesting group of librarians belonged to SLA.
3. Connected to the point above, while LIANZA (as our national association became) and the SLIS group were valuable for my work and professional life I realised that SLA with its greater number of divisions and the wide variety of people in different types of work could provide me with a much larger network of people to tap into both professionally and personally.
Why am I still a member today, that’s simple it is my professional and personal home. Once I joined and started to attend conferences I felt I belonged and the warmth that someone such as myself, who at the beginning of my membership was a bit of a lone wolf, received on both a personal and a professional level has sustained me ever since. Another reason can be found in a Maori saying that LIANZA adopted for a conference, He Tangata, He Tangata, He Tangata, which means, It is the people, it is the people, it is the people. SLA is about its people and their commitment, passion and drive to make both themselves and their profession better.
You can see it in the people who run the divisions and chapters, you can see it in the members who give of their time to either serve on committee’s or boards, give presentations or run events. As much as you give you receive and as much as I have received in both professional and personal terms I have tried to give back.
Question 2: How has involvement with SLA over the years helped you grow professionally and personally? How do you feel SLA can help members grow into the future?
In very simple terms, some of which I talked about in my answer to question 1, SLA has been my home both professionally and personally for the last twenty years. Despite my being so far away from the majority of members, SLA has been the place that both professionally and personally I have grown and been nurtured in my library employment.
Whether it is the networks I have made over the years which have helped me to find that elusive article/report or to discover how to look at a problem from a different angle, through to the lifelong friendships I have made amongst the many people I have met attending conference, to me SLA has provided me with a place to grow and has nurtured me in my career.
One of the things I treasure about SLA and has helped me a great deal professionally is that you can always find a new angle on an old problem because of the depth of professionals in a diverse array of professions. While it is always good to tap into the networks you know with SLA you can tap into a large variety of these that may provide you with an answer to the question you had not even thought of. And if the groups you ask the question of do not have an answer they can often times tap into their own sources to provide you with an answer so the professional and personal networks you use while they may not directly provide you with the answer can lead to one.
There are two ways that I feel SLA can help members grow in the future and in many ways there is a reciprocity to one of them. Firstly we need to make sure that what we do in terms of professional assistance to SLA members relates to where they are in their careers. Those who have graduated, are graduating and will graduate in the future enter a profession that is vastly different to that which someone such as myself entered. SLA needs to make sure we are providing the tools and forums that these new graduates can identify with and feel that they will grow their careers both professionally and personally. Examples from recent times where we have done this is the formation of the Taxonomy, Competitive Intelligence and Knowledge Management Divisions and the recent formation of the Data Caucus. SLA has responded to the new and emerging disciplines within our profession by providing those members with a place that reflected where they were in the profession. And the reciprocity comes from members knowing that the association is able to respond quickly to provide a place for them. If they feel that there is a space for their particular need then they will stay.
The second way that we can help members grow comes with our employing our Association Management Company. This has been a two-fold benefit. Firstly it means that we now have the resources to both respond to opportunities such as those above and also to what may come. Secondly, SLA needs to be looking at how we can collaborate with other like-minded associations to provide our members with opportunities that we ourselves may not be able to provide. By collaborating with these associations I believe that SLA can provide our members with services that will enhance what we provide by giving them a different perspective on these areas and also completely different services which may prove useful in their professional growth.
Question 3: SLA’s membership has been in decline for the last couple of years; what can the board, staff, leadership and membership do to reverse this trend?
The first thing to acknowledge is that while it is true that SLA’s membership has been in decline for the past few years we are no different from any other professional association in that regard. It is a cause for concern and the reasons for the decline are varied but the board, staff, leadership and members can reverse the trend
Firstly the steps that the board has taken over the past few years have brought stability to SLA which is important in any association. If you do not have this, especially in the area of financial matters, then an association’s ability to arrest membership decline is severally limited.
- Recommendation 1 The board can help reverse the trend by responding to the changes in the profession. Members are now working in many different areas and the board needs provide a place for these members to reside.An examples of how the board has done so in the past are the creation of new divisions and caucuses to meet the changing roles of our members.
- Recommendation 2 Further the board initiated the report that lead to the roadmap that has been defining what the board’s priorities are and how they will get to them. The roadmap has given the board a pathway to strengthen the association and thus give it a better platform to enable it to see what ways they can arrest the decline in membership.
- Recommendations 3 : That the initiative set up by the board with regards to Student and New Professional needs to be continued and expanded. These members are our future and we need to continue our efforts to maintain them as members.
The staff have been doing a great deal of follow up on why members don’t renew their membership.
- Recommendation 1 An area that seems to be constant amongst the answers from laspsed members is that they don’t find value in their membership and can get that value and professional needs from elsewhere. The board needs to work with all levels of the membership to ascertain what it is they value and what they can do to help the staff and leadership provide that value and professional support.
- Recommendation 2 The staff at MCI have a large role in reversing the membership decline. They have done some tremendous work in cleaning up our membership database so that it now reflects our true membership.
- Recommendation 3 I think the almost complete reinvisioning of the Info/Expo hall that the MCI staff came up with this year, was a great example of changing the narrative of the SLA conference. This along with the Main Street SLA were great innovations that seemed to meet with general approval of those members of SLA who attended Phoenix. This sort of innovation was clearly needed and is the sort of thing that the staff can do to entice new members and retain old ones. The comments I heard back from members was very positive on Main Street
The leadership of the divisions/chapters play an important role in reversing the decline in membership. They are at the coal face of the association. They deal with the members of SLA on a far more intimate and frequent basis than do the board. They can talk directly to the members to discover why it is that members are not renewing. They also can feed that information to the board and staff to enable us to look at solutions to these issues
They can convey to the board and staff what are the members talking about in terms of the association? What initiatives would they like see to enhance the value of their membership? The leadership of the divisions/chapters can also give the staff and the board direction on ways that we can attract and hold members.
- Recommendation They respond to what their members want in terms of webinars and topics that are of interest to their members and thus give the board and staff some insights into what areas they need to be looking at.The membership can play its part in reversing the decline in the following ways. Firstly by getting involved in their own division/chapter’s membership activities. What are those divisions/chapters doing to expand their own membership and how can the staff and the board help them in their areas. As a member of SLA what are individuals doing to gain new members. Are we as a board providing them with impetus to recruit new members? These initiatives could be some form of reward for recruiting new members. Are chapters and divisions providing some sort of incentive to new members to join? One great imitative that I think should be continued is the one we had at the Main Street area of the expo/info hall this year where if you joined a new division or chapter you did so at a discount. The membership are also the ones who can tell SLA staff and board what initiatives they think are needed to retain membership. Through their leadership and contacting staff and the board directly they can let us know what we are doing well and where we need to improve.
- Recommendation The membership can suggest new area’s that we need to create space for members to make SLA relevant. By this I mean the creation of new divisions that show that SLA is responding to the new areas members are entering into. Examples of this are the creation of the Taxonomy, Competitive Intelligence and the Knowledge Management divisions in recent years.All of the areas of SLA have a vital role to play in halting the decline of members of the association. Whether it is at their own level or in partnership with the different groups that have been discussed we all play a part in growing the membership of SLA. As I said in one of my other posts, He Tangata, He Tangata, He Tanagata it is the people, it is the people, it is the people and it is all of us whole will reverse the decline
Question 4: SLA relies on its leadership to develop its vision to move forward. What motivates you to help lead and build a better SLA?
I have three main motivators to help lead and build a better SLA. They are:
- to continue the great work that has been done over the last few years by the board to renew and rebuild the organisation;
- to grow the membership back to a healthy number;
- to make SLA a truly international organisation.
Continue the great work – build on the roadmap
To no-one’s surprise who has followed the fortunes of SLA over the last four years, this has been a difficult period for the organisation. A number of issues have had to be tackled by the board to ensure the survival of the organisation and that we have a strong management of SLA going forward. The board has had to deal with these issues and has done a tremendous job in ensuring that SLA is now in a position to move forward.
However there is still work to be done and I as President will continue on this work as it is important that SLA has continuity. We need to continue to build on the roadmap that the board adopted in 2015. We need to continue to look at our finances and make sure we are providing value to the members. We need to continue to look at ways the conference can deliver value to our membership.
Grow the membership
Again unsurprisingly the last few years have seen a loss of membership by SLA. We are not alone in this area, as a number of associations have also lost members. This is a combination of people leaving the profession for various reasons, we lost members due to the upheavals of the last few years and also some members feel we no longer provide them value and have joined other associations.
Some of the reasons we have lost members are things we can do nothing about. Over the last dozen or so years, along with other organisations we have lost members as jobs have been eliminated, people have changed jobs and no longer see SLA as their natural home and some have changed professions entirely. However for those who have left because they do not see value in us or in the case of those who do not see us as their natural home we need to prove to them that we do have value and they do have a home with us.
SLA has been good at either responding to or recognizing changes in the profession. Over the last 5-10 years SLA has created CI, KM and Taxonomy divisions and the recently created Data Caucus. But what are the new areas of the information profession we need to respond to as an association? And how do we create value for these new fields in the profession? One of the innovations of the board this year is to change and strengthen the outreach to students and new professionals by re-organizing the council to enable it to better reach and strengthen the membership amongst students and new professionals.
To enable us to be proactive in finding out where these new areas in the profession I would form a council to look for these new and emerging areas. It would enable us to enhance the work of the existing councils we have on Professional Development and Membership and to enable us to prove our value to prospective members in those areas. We need to be proactive in trying to find out what are these new areas to enable us to position the association to appeal to these potential new members.
Truly international organisation
Lastly as an international member of SLA the association’s branding as an international association is near and dear to my heart. As a member of 20+ years I am happy to say that our commitment and recognition of this feature of the association has grown considerably in that time. When I first joined we had a European chapter and that was the extent of our non-North American chapters despite having members from a number of other countries even then. So one of my motivations for leading SLA is to move us towards being a fully international association.
Some of you may be surprised at this statement and while I accept that SLA is far more international in its outlook than when I first became a member or even 10 years ago, I think we can still improve in this area. I am pleased that our current president has initiated a task force to look at the international dimension of SLA and look forward to its deliberations and this is a great first step. I would have this task force continue as it is vital we have a body within the organisation that keeps in touch with our international members and can report back to the board.
However while this body can give us feedback and recommendations for the organisation as a whole I would look to our divisions and chapters to lead SLA in becoming more international. A number of these groups have instituted some sort of stipend to help international members to attend conference and if they are board members to offset conference attendance. However what else can they and we as an organisation do?
One concrete way is to look at how we operate our webinars and virtual meetings. Are we taking into account things such as time zones? Are we making the recordings of these webinars available to be listened to later? Do chapters (where they have international members) and divisions actively recruit international members onto boards and committees? If so do they take into consideration what this entails?
Lastly as I have discussed in an earlier blog post we need to leverage on the international perspective that our AMC brings to SLA. They have offices in many of the regions our international chapters are based. We can use that coverage and the experience they have in managing other associations to enable those international chapters to bring a better experience to their members.