Candidate Question #4
Candidate Q & A
The candidates will be asked a series of questions by President-elect Jill Strand. Read their candid thoughts about the future of SLA and the information profession.
Question 4: SLA is an international organization. How can SLA involve and reach out more to members outside North America?
Candidates for President-elect[wpspoiler name=”Jim DelRosso” ]
This is one of the most important questions that SLA currently faces; our status as an international association sets us apart from many of our peer organizations, and allows us the opportunity to move forward and learn from one another in truly unique ways. We must, from our leadership on down, take advantage of these opportunities.
One thing that we’ve been doing, and that we must continue to do, is making sure that our Board reflects our status as an international organization. Kate Arnold is our first President from outside North America, and we also have a number of international candidates on our ballot this year. Our Nominating Committees should be charged with making sure this trend continues, as this will result in a Board that is better able to embrace and support our international membership.
We also need to ensure that our annual conference is always a truly international event, regardless of where it is held. Holding it in cities that are as easy as possible to reach from locations around the globe must be a priority; we should also look for ways to establish even more travel grants, and advertise them more thoroughly, so that members from around the world are able to attend.
We must look to the content we present at our conferences as well, and the manner in which it is presented. Our divisions should look for opportunities to bring in international speakers, and programming should be chosen with an eye towards relevance across borders. Furthermore, the time has come to make conference content available remotely, so as to reach the widest possible audience.
Of course, many of these changes come with associated costs, some of them substantial. As I’ve talked to more and more people, conference planners and attendees alike, I have become increasingly convinced that we need to experiment with allowing our business partners to sponsor content even if they will not be participating in the INFO-EXPO. While we need the exhibition floor to remain a vibrant part of our annual conference, we also need to allow conference planners the freedom to access support from a wider variety of business partners. Otherwise, we risk our ability to maintain an acceptable quality of conference content, let alone improve it. This could be enacted first on a limited, pilot basis, so that both the benefits and costs can be adequately assessed before the program is expanded.
But most fundamentally, those of us who do live and work in North America must make sure to listen to those of you living and working elsewhere when you tell us what you need from SLA. That’s the greatest value in making sure you’re represented in the Association’s leadership, and ensuring that you can participate in all Association events. SLA’s members are its greatest strength, and the international nature of SLA is a strong foundation for our future.[/wpspoiler] [wpspoiler name=”Tom Rink” ]
The importance of member engagement cannot be understated. An engaged member is an active and participating member. An engaged member feels the sense of community, understands the value and/or benefit(s) of their membership, and strives to “pay it forward.” SLA can involve and reach out more to its members outside North America simply by continuing to provide the opportunities and by asking or encouraging members to participate. SLA already has a great track record in this regard. At the unit level, there are numerous and diverse roles from which to choose, and the need for volunteers is continual. At the association level, there are always new appointments to be made to the committees, advisory councils, and task forces. Still not convinced? Take a look at the current makeup of the Board (and this year’s candidates for the Board). The nominating committee works very hard to ensure that the leadership of this association is geographically balanced and reflective of our international membership.
Beyond the above unit- and association-level leadership roles, SLA can further engage members outside North America by providing opportunities to speak or present at conference (or on webinars) to bring forth and highlight the rich diversity of opinion and perspective that has long been a hallmark of SLA. Beyond conference and utilizing available technology, SLA is able to offer members a host of recorded webinars and learning opportunities, a virtual conference, and other social media outlets to help fulfill our global need for learning, advocacy, and networking. SLA has even started doing the popular #slatalk sessions at alternate times of day in order to better serve our members outside North America.
With a membership that is predominantly North American (roughly 90%), it is critically important to understand and address (and not lose sight of) the challenges faced by our members outside North America while we work diligently to engage and support them. And, while some of these challenges are not unique to our members outside North America, they can prove to be more of a challenge to our non-North American colleagues. These challenges include geographic dispersion, communicating across multiple time zones, the cost/expense to travel (especially from outside North America), their available technology, possible language barriers, foreign currencies and exchange rates, varying degrees of employer support, etc. These challenges are certainly not insurmountable. They have been acknowledged and measures are constantly being considered to help mitigate their impact. But the “North American-centric” hazard remains.
SLA has to continue to evolve to find and offer ways or solutions that facilitate the participation of our members outside North America. The recent membership survey will definitely provide the feedback from our international members to help assist in future direction of SLA’s continued outreach and member involvement initiatives.[/wpspoiler]
Candidates for Chapter Cabinet Chair-Elect[wpspoiler name=”David Cappoli” ]
UCLA School of Law
Candidate for Chapter Cabinet Chair-Elect
We can better connect with members and reach potential members outside of North America by finding out why our current members in the Arabian Gulf, Asian, Australian & New Zealand, Europe, and Sub-Saharan Africa chapters value SLA. The questions that I would ask are:
- Why are you a member of SLA?
- What do you value most in the association?
- What might enhance your membership experience in SLA?
We are all one SLA and our strength comes not just from the diversity of our professional backgrounds such as corporate, academic, non-profit, etc., but also from our geographic locations. But blending these work and geographic experiences is a major challenge to overcome even though SLA has positioned itself as an international organization.
Holding a conference outside of North America would be noteworthy but difficult to stage given the current economic climate. Collaborative regional conferences outside of North America, such as next spring’s International Conference of Asian Libraries in Seoul, could draw attendees if they are focused on timely topics but attendance from beyond the region is likely to be low due to the high cost of travel.
What then are some possible solutions to engaging our non-North American members besides polling these members? Webinars and Twitter talks offered at various times and available afterwards are a good benefit for all members. Streaming conference presentations and making them available post conference could benefit all members, but organizing this effort requires funding and staff time – and the quality can vary due to technology, room size, and other circumstances.
Grassroots efforts organized by members to bring content to those unable to attend the annual conference such as Dennie Heye’s podcast project for SLA Europe at the Vancouver conference to collect session recaps and overall observations and impressions are an option. But these take time and labor to orchestrate and require recruiting volunteers to create the recordings; managing the quality of the end results; and making them available to the membership.
Offering scholarships and stipends to bring international members to conferences are wonderful opportunities but they are limited in their availability. Nevertheless, we should also continue to recruit internationally for conference session speakers who may be able to provide their own funding to attend the annual conference.
Overall though, we need to ask non-North American members what they see as the strengths of SLA and build on those to reach more members.[/wpspoiler] [wpspoiler name=”Kim Silk” ]
SLA: Thinking Globally, Acting Locally
When I was a student SLA member back in library school, I had very limited knowledge of the association in terms of its global presence. As a member of the Toronto Chapter, which is rich with information professionals with varied backgrounds and working in diverse industries, I had a valuable local network to draw from. After graduation, having begun to attend more SLA events regularly, I developed deeper relationships with my fellow chapter members, and it was these more experienced colleagues who encouraged me to become involved in divisions. My exposure to the divisions first opened my eyes to the global reach of SLA; later, when I began attending the Annual Conference and became involved in the leadership and governance aspects of SLA, I have come to value more the international network of professionals I am part of.
We all benefit from the international nature of SLA: we learn about how information management is practiced around the world, and the different challenges faced in different countries and cultures. We develop global friendships, and have an avenue to pursue careers outside of our home country. Here are three ideas as to how we can reach out to our international members:
1. Help international chapters recruit new information professionals.
While I do not have any data to support my theory, I suspect that most new members join as a result of being encouraged by an existing SLA member; this is certainly true in Toronto, especially when we support our students at the beginning of their careers. To grow our international membership, I’d like to find ways to encourage our international chapters to recruit students and others entering the information profession.
2. Reach out to emerging international markets
While our profession is well established in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, our chapters in the Arabian Gulf, and to some degree in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, are rapidly growing emerging markets with unique information needs. SLA is uniquely positioned to be part of this rapid growth as one of the few professional associations who operate well across borders. Many of these countries do not have professional accreditation structures, and SLA provides a great volume of high quality professional development that may be able to fill this gap.
3. Initiate an SLA International Exchange Program
This idea may sound fantastical, but just consider this: imagine if SLA could provide the online infrastructure to facilitate short-term professional exchanges. For instance, a Knowledge Management analyst could spend a few months or up to a year working in a comparable role somewhere else around the world; two professionals could swap jobs, or a single manager could be a guest within an organization. Many of the organizations and corporations we work for are international in nature, and may be open to such a program. Again, I know it seems ambitious – and perhaps I’m just suffering from wanderlust – but consider how much we’d all learn, how much fun we’d have, and how SLA could strengthen ties with employers around the world.[/wpspoiler]
Candidates for Division Cabinet Chair-Elect[wpspoiler name=”Ruth Kneale” ]
It seems that some of the same problems we have with our chapters are duplicated in our international arenas. Geographic dispersion, lack of enthusiasm or involvement – it really is an association-wide issue, sadly. But there are some bright lights!
SLA-Europe is doing a fabulous job with connecting its members despite geography. Their chapter won the 2014 IT Outstanding Chapter Technology Programming Award, for the excellent way they use Twitter, their YouTube channel, and podcasts to engage members in events they can’t physically attend. The chapter is also displaying an excellent technique for motivation: “Show us what you’ve got!” One event, covering social media, took place in London, England. Due to the spread of the chapter’s members, this event was then adapted and tailored for a Scottish audience, where local speakers provided their own views on the same topics. Other events like the upcoming webinar with National Library of Scotland’s Wikipedian-in-Residence will be huge draws. Other members are sharing tech they use in their libraries. And it’s all being captured and shared via YouTube and podcasts. This is how you build a workable communications network for your chapter!
And let’s look at the Arabian Gulf Chapter and the amazing things they have been doing! The 19th annual SLA-AGC conference was held earlier this year; it rotates through the AGC member countries, and was attended by over 700 Delegates from around the Gulf region, the Arab states and the world. Clearly, they’re doing a great job with involvement and enthusiasm!
Now, back to the original question. How can SLA involve and reach out more to members outside North America? I say….we ask our international members for advice. We have successful international engagement by some of our units; let’s ask them to mentor the units that need help. SLA is a big association, no doubt, but what better way to learn a new thing than to reach across the association and ask for help from within our ranks? Extra points if it’s to someone completely outside of your wheelhouse. I plan to reach out to a couple of people in SLA-Europe for advice on starting up additional “show me what you’ve got” series.[/wpspoiler] [wpspoiler name=”Valerie Perry” ]
I am Valerie Perry and I am a candidate for Division Cabinet Chair-Elect
SLA is at a crossroads as a professional organisation if we want to be the organisation that information professionals worldwide desire to join. To become more effective internationally, SLA must make an intentional effort to learn what current members outside of North America value about their SLA membership, their unmet needs and how we should be promoting SLA outside of the boundaries of North America to rest of the world.
Like with many organizations, our Association and units sometimes make 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. SLA should launch a similar taskforce focused on exploring how SLA can involve and reach out to more members outside of North America. Then we can base decisions on comprehensive data instead of limited data and perceptions.
Since I joined SLA in 1998, the Association’s leadership has shown an increased awareness of some 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 determine how members outside of North America can participate more fully in unit activities.
For instance, do most divisions encourage international members to serve in leadership roles? For this to be successful, some divisions need to review their Practices and reassign some duties to make office holding more practical. For example, many divisions require that the Chair and Chair-elect attend both Leadership Summit and the Annual Conference. In the Food, Agriculture & Nutrition Division we suspended this rule when FAN member Kevin Adams of Christchurch, New Zealand served as Chair and Chair-elect. Instead, another division member attended the Leadership Summit on behalf of the division and Kevin was only required to attend the annual conference. Kevin was an excellent FAN Chair and Program Planner. All SLA units should consider implementing ways to encourage and support international members so they can participate in a meaningful way as individuals and unit members.
Members from outside of North America have much to share with all of us. For example, the European Chapter discussed some excellent ideas about member engagement during a recent Leadership Summit panel. Likewise in Vancouver, the Arabian Gulf Chapter presented many creative ideas they have implemented to boost membership and provide an important professional conference in their region. Many of the ideas in both presentations are transferable to other units regardless of the geographic locations, and could provide a basis for future joint programming.
Our international members are an important part of our SLA identity and to be One SLA in words and spirit, we need to understand and learn from one another. We should increase collaborations and build partnerships across units and shared programming.
To attract more members, we need to ask our experts what they value about SLA and how we should promote SLA to the world. This will be a significant task, but we must do this to increase our membership outside of North America and to support those who do become members. SLA will become a stronger organization because of these new members and partnerships and we would all benefit![/wpspoiler]
Candidates for Director (Two will be elected)
Having been a member of SLA since 1996 my experience of SLA’s out-reach to international members is firstly that it has become considerably better but that it still has, in some areas, a need to improve. When I first started attending conference, international members were there as part of other groups but not in a co-ordinated way. They may have been part of divisions or from a European country but there were very few international members from outside of Europe. Today we have a very large and diverse group of international members across a number of countries, many with their own chapters.
However, while international outreach and participation is a great deal better, I think SLA can do more to both enhance and encourage international members to join and participate in the organisation.
Firstly SLA has expanded over the years the number of events that members can participate in via their computers and the various social media we have at our disposal. While this has expanded the number of participants there is still a tendency to set these events at a time inconvenient for some international members or on a platform that may not be suitable for them to participate. SLA needs to think in terms of what is best for the majority of its international members not for only some. What access to technology do some of our international members have, what platforms suit them best and can we provide them with the tools to host their own versions of the webinars, twitter chats etc? While we have a theme of One SLA, I would argue that in terms of getting international members to participate in SLA activities one size does not fit all. International members are geographically and culturally different and we need to tailor our activities to international members needs and not the other way around.
Secondly at the unit level, how can SLA get international members involved? If the various units wish international members to become involved, especially at board level, they have to be ready to think outside the box when it comes to these members’ participation. For example as chair of the FAN division last year it was fairly obvious due to cost, that I would not be able to attend both the Leadership Summit and the Annual Conference as we mandate. So as a division the decision was made to suspend this rule and another member of FAN attended the Leadership Summit in my place. I was able to use technology to communicate with my fellow board members and this enabled me to bypass most of the hurdles that being a long distance chair presented. These are the sort of solutions that SLA units need to think of in order to get international members to become more engaged in decision making.
Thirdly, the cost for international members to attend just Annual Conference, let alone both events, are very high and while this is a fact of life SLA, esp. at the division/chapter/caucus level needs to think of ways it can help international members in attending at least the conference. Some divisions, at least, have already put in place stipends/travel grants to help international members. Depending on their international member makeup, other divisions/chapters/caucuses should think of emulating them, or perhaps, if they are too small, joining up with other divisions/chapters/caucuses to provide these. Alternatively, to ease the burden on those international members who cannot attend the Annual Conference, the concept of a virtual conference needs to be seen as a viable replacement. The concept was introduced last year and proved popular and this is a concept that needs to be explored further to fulfil the needs of international members.
SLA has had a tradition of international membership and leadership, which has grown stronger in recent years.. To keep international membership growing and to engage them further in the associations activities, SLA needs to be flexible enough with its activities to enable these international members to participate fully. If we do not then chances are they will join associations that allow them to do so.[/wpspoiler] [wpspoiler name=”Dr. Saif Al-Jabri” ]
Being an international organization, SLA has an obligation to provide its members with the benefits of belonging to an international library association. This also gives SLA a chance to get involved with its worldwide members in different ways. For example:
- SLA needs to take an active role in the international chapter workshops and educational sessions and encourage cross-chapter participation in those events.
- SLA needs to increase its participation in international LIS bodies and conferences with groups such as IFLA and AFLI and conferences such as Internet Librarian International.
- SLA need to make an effort to involve more international members in association leadership and decision-making
- SLA need to visit and collaborate with large professional societies outside of North America, for example, those in the European Union, India, China, Australia, the Middle East, and Russia.
We are already on a great path in this regard–I met more non-North American SLA members at our Vancouver conference than ever before. We have been using virtual technology and are working often to accommodate the time zone differences of international members. We can continue to maintain global mindset in all of our activities and communications to facilitate international participation.
SLA Europe seems to be mobilizing engagement effectively; other international conference attendees could use the podcast model that Dennie Haye of SLA Europe has used to bring SLA news and conference updates to members back home.
One issue I have not seen addressed is the potential language barrier. At my library, we have compiled a list of staff who have various foreign language expertise, maybe we could create a similar resource of SLA members who are willing to offer their bilingual or multilingual skills, and encourage them to create podcasts similar to SLA Europe’s; or they might want to be “ambassadors” who participate in events that can then be recorded and dubbed or captioned in other major languages.
Cost is a huge issue for global travel. Members who already have challenges with domestic travel expenses to SLA events may not be thinking about the magnification of this expense for members who must travel across continents to get to a North American-based conference. Holistically, travel expenses continue to be an issue that we need to consider and address for all members.
My main envisioning for SLA is the continued, long term sustainability of our organization. To do this, we need to bring mutual understanding to all members across the globe of various needs and concerns. Communication is the first step. As a candidate for the SLA Board of Directors, I look forward to discussions and input from members across the globe so that we can first find the “low hanging fruit” that can be implemented right away to extend our global reach, and then dig deeper on the more challenging issues to arrive at solutions that benefit the organization as a whole.
Elaine Lasda Bergman
Candidate for 2015 Director [/wpspoiler] [wpspoiler name=”Catherine Lavallée-Welch” ]
Expanding the membership of SLA outside North America represents a golden opportunity for growth and diversity for the association. Information knows no time zone nor border.
International members bring diverse experiences, solutions and viewpoints to issues that are, frankly, universal, and support the development of new solutions. However, to develop a bond, we must create value for international members for without it, they will have no incentive to join and stay.
First, let’s simply ask. We should poll our current members outside North America and ask what SLA could do to help them remain in the association and recruit new members.
Next, let’s recognize our international members. Let’s keep in mind their presence.
We should make the involvement in divisions, chapters and caucuses by members outside North America easy and encourage them to participate. I think it’s probably at the division level that members can experience the full range and the full diversity of SLA. There are no geographic limits as membership is based on discipline or interest. Let’s support the divisions in internationalization efforts. It’s a wired world. Let’s make use of webinars and communication tools to encourage their participation. Time zones must be considered. Professional development programs should be recorded and replayed. Hopefully soon, our new calendar will be up full-speed and will contain all unit events. A unified archives of presentations would be useful to all members.
Members outside North America can easily participate in leadership positions, professional development and networking. Let’s give extra support to the international pioneers in our organization. They will recruit our next wave of members.
Speaking of tools, much of the world leads North America in the use of smart phones and other mobile devices. Let’s make sure our systems and documents work well on such devices.
We should ensure more international speakers at the annual conference and more programs that share what’s on the cutting edge in information centers and libraries outside North America.
Finally, let’s make sure we truly embrace an international outlook and be open to diversity. We already do with the products and services we purchase, the vendors we work with. It should be the same with our colleagues and peers. We need to remember that social and business etiquette differ around the world and be prepared to adapt to different cultures.
I look forward to the day where we will stop making distinctions between North American and international members, but will just name ourselves an all-encompassing “SLA members”.
Indeed, nous sommes SLA![/wpspoiler]
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