SLA Sandbox: A Safe Place to Learn & Grow – Jill Strand, President-Elect Candidate

Minnesota Chapter members gathered to celebrate their 70th Anniversary this month, recognizing more than 20 past-presidents from the last 40 years.  It was great to hear stories from those who served long before I had even considered becoming a librarian as well as reconnect with people who taught me so much when we worked together as chapter leaders.  This event was a welcome springboard for reflecting on some of the key personal and professional lessons I’ve learned as a member of SLA.  In many ways, SLA has been my “sandbox,” e.g. a safe place where I could test out new skills or face challenges not yet encountered at work:

Don’t be afraid to try something new – While in library school, I was asked to step in as secretary of the Minnesota Chapter when someone else had to resign early.  Initially it felt awkward to be part of the Executive Board in my first Chapter leadership role but I soon realized that being Secretary was an ideal way to learn the nuts and bolts of chapter business.  Later as Chapter President, I organized a wiki where leaders could upload committee updates and best practices.  The goal was to not only make the chapter’s business more transparent and keep everyone up-to-date, but also to ease the transition for new leaders by documenting key information they would need to get started.

Always ask for help and listen – Sometimes my enthusiasm for an idea or project can get the better of me, so, I now deliberately ask for help and stop and listen. For example, as chair of the SLA Nominating Committee and 2013 Conference Advisory Council, I knew it was critical to ask others for help and to encourage committee members to share their thoughts.  Over and over again I’ve watched as my SLA colleagues have taken the germ of an idea, mulled it over, analyzed and discussed various points, ultimately transforming it into something worth implementing.  One member can have a good idea but many members will turn it into something spectacular!

Don’t forget what you are aiming to accomplish – I learned an important lesson during a particular lively discussion of the Public Relations Advisory Council when David Shumaker asked, “what exactly is it that we’re trying to accomplish?”  That simple question made us all stop, take a step back and consider our discussion in light of the bigger picture.  It helped us to realize that we  had strayed from our original goals and  get back on track.

Be willing to work through conflict – Nobody likes conflict but disagreements come up when we have something valuable at stake.   The discomfort associated with conflict can be reduced when we take time to really understand each other’s perspective and feelings.  Sometimes we all need to remember that trying to convince others we are right is not as important as doing what is right for the larger organization.   Often this can reframe the conversation and help everyone to better focus on their common goals.

SLA has given me opportunities to work with and learn from an incredible group of talented and diverse people on a wide range of projects.  I could never have started a library for architects and engineers at Target Corp, transitioned to law librarianship or innovated a law firm library with new resources and services without the experience gained as an active SLA volunteer and leader.  As such, it is important for me to continue to give back so that others can realize the same benefits.

On that note, how has involvement with SLA helped you in your job?  How might SLA provide a richer volunteer experience that could help you to grow your skills?  Please share your thoughts with me at, on Twitter @jillinfopro or via LinkedIn at


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