It’s in the DNA – how SLA has helped my career – James King, Chapter Cabinet Chair candidate

SLA has helped and encouraged me to tune into the future of our profession.  As a result, I’ve come to the conclusion that we must learn to innovate to survive.  As Tom Friedman said at a recent SLA conference, “average is over” so we must become innovators to apply our understanding of information to our customer needs to design new and collaborative services for them.  Making those connections to new services is the spark of innovation.  Active participation in SLA, especially at conferences and in our local chapter, can and should help us to become innovators.  As I mentioned in my first candidate post, there are five skills of an innovator that I believe we can learn through our volunteer efforts with SLA.

The first skill of an innovator is questioning, really questioning.  We should be challenging sacred cows and entrenched traditions of our profession and in our jobs in light of facts about how our organizations operate, looking for better ways to serve.

The second skill of an innovator is that of observing, both internally and externally. We can learn more about the information seeking habits of our customers by following studies that others have done and learning how to do our own studies.  Due to the diversity of SLA’s divisions, we also have an opportunity to observe how other industries are adapting to this digital age both through conference presentations and the increased use of division webinars.

The third skill is willingness to experiment and SLA is the perfect “safe haven” for experimentation since it doesn’t directly risk my pay or benefits if the effort fails.  Through volunteer efforts with SLA, we can build our skills in running meetings, managing work teams, building proficiency in managing webinars and even building technology skills such as WordPress Web site management.

The fourth skill of innovative people is networking or relationship building. Having an opportunity to build relationships with peers, find mentors, interact with new and existing information providers, and make new friends is the key to building a professional community that people want to be a part of.  Even with the growth of social media, our virtual relationships are stronger with a face-to-face foundation which can happen at the annual conference and in local chapter events.

The final skill of Innovators DNA is associating which pulls together the four actions (questioning, observing, experimenting, and networking) to create new connections.  Those mental connections are the spark of innovation and have spawned new business processes and changed the world.  Learning from others who have made unconventional associations to create new services for our customers helps us to exercise that “associating” muscle ourselves and overcome potential blind spots.

Building a culture that allows and encourages these innovative traits at both the manager level and employee level will challenge traditional leadership and traditional librarianship but will result in a more relevant and innovative organization.  Whether we have the support where we are or not, are we taking advantage of the opportunities available to us through SLA to build these innovative traits or simply running the treadmill to retirement?


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