Member Insights: Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences


SLA has a rich breadth of members, expertise, and experiences. I am spending part of my year as SLA president reaching out to member groups to collect and share their stories, ideas, and insights. I recently reached out to the following SLA divisions (groups of discipline-specific librarians): Education; Museums, Arts & Humanities; News; and Social Sciences.

I asked the members of these divisions the following questions:

  • How is the information profession changing in your field?
  • What is a key challenge you face as an information professional in your field, and what tools or services does SLA offer (or should it offer) to help you meet this challenge?
  • What is a fun fact about the information profession in your field?

Their responses reflect the challenges of our times as well as ideas for practical and innovative approaches to meeting these challenges.

The social sciences represent broad areas of study, and the Social Sciences Division (DSOC) has members from many backgrounds and in many settings. Several of them work in small settings, and the nature of small corporate and organizational libraries leads to natural networking and development challenges. Connecting with similar members within a division is invaluable.

A fun example of a specific social science field is philatelic librarianship, and SLA has members in research libraries such as the American Philatelic Research Library, run by Tara Murray. Across the social sciences disciplines, data management has been an area of growth, and several DSOC members helped form the SLA Data Caucus. Data management may represent an opportunity for social scientists to collaborate with the hard sciences and the medical fields. There is also a rich history of collaboration and partnerships with the Museums, Arts, & Humanities Division, where there are many common interests. DSOC has a Geography & Map Section, where there is a focus on GIS and spatial data.

In discussing the changing information field, Leigh Montgomery outlined the broad skills she used in her work as a news librarian, such as “conducting research, training journalists and interns, selecting information products, and archiving digital media.” These activities provided excellent opportunities to develop competencies for evaluating and applying information “for immediate use with utmost accuracy.”

Recognizing the trends in the news profession, Leigh also prepared herself for a potential loss of employment. After two decades, the layoff came. A mentor had suggested SLA membership early on, and the peer network proved extremely valuable. Reflecting on the declining numbers of information professionals in news organizations, Leigh notes there has been “a surge of concern about online verification as a professional skill—and a survival skill.”

Several challenges exist for remaining News Division members. The “fake news” trend is highly relevant, and this could present an opportunity for a leadership role for the News Division and our association. (SLA 2017 conference attendees should mark their schedules for a Rising Stars/Fellows program on this very topic.) Many news and media librarians have been affected by layoffs over the past 10-15 years, and some who are still employed in this field have turned to another organization, the Investigative Reporters & Editors. Is there an opportunity for SLA to collaborate or partner with IRE? Perhaps!

One member I spoke to shifted from a news library to a law library. She feels the skills and experiences she has gained in SLA prepared her well to make this transition. She and other members think SLA should be taking information security and cybersecurity seriously. Where do these topics fit into SLA, and how can we develop educational opportunities around these emerging competencies?

One suggestion for law librarians was to give an annual award/commendation to the law firm that best encourages continuing education for their librarians by supporting their attendance at SLA annual conferences. Law firms have a competitive spirit and want to keep up with their peers.

The annual conference provides opportunities to attend programs across topics, allowing for multi-faceted skill development, from digitization to archiving to copyright management. While the conference provides rich experiences and sessions, attendance can be a fiscal challenge. Demonstrating the value of conference attendance is important, and tying competencies to sessions is helpful.

And what of the fun facts for this group of divisions? From Tara Murray: “You could probably fit all of the professional philatelic librarians in the world into one conference room—we’re a small group! My experience as a volunteer leader in SLA helped me cultivate an informal group, including professional and volunteer philatelic librarians, where we can exchange ideas and collaborate on projects.”

Pamela D. Arceneaux, of the Museums, Arts, & Humanities Division, shared information about the launch of her recent book, an annotated bibliography of the prostitution guides of Storyville, a historic red light district in New Orleans. The book is titled Guidebooks to Sin: The Blue Books of Storyville, New Orleans (find it here on Amazon). Curious about Pamela’s bibliographic adventures in creating this title? She may very well be happy to share details about her work in a webinar or conference presentation.

From museums to stamp libraries to media outlets and pedagogical organizations, the SLA members in these areas are both unique and broadly similar in terms of their experiences, challenges, and opportunities. Thanks to everyone who contributed content.

Who’s up next? The SLA Fellows! Stay tuned for stories and wisdom from this experienced and passionate group.

—Dee Magnoni, 2017 SLA President

Learn more about the Members Insights Series.

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