SLA 2011 Candidate Speeches
Debbie Schachter – Candidate, Chapter Cabinet Chair-Elect
Question #1: Tell us about yourself and your primary candidate message.
I am an information professional with more than 20 years of experience working in a variety of environments and positions – from news librarian to IT support to Manager and Director roles in legal, social service and currently public library environments.
And I consider myself a lifelong learner.
I write and teach – I have taught special librarianship and currently I teach supervision in a library technician program. I also write a regular column on information centre management topics for Information Outlook.
I see great value in Associations and the role that they play in our careers, and I have been a member of SLA for most of my 21 years of practice. I am a member of the Western Canada Chapter, where I have held the position of president, Treasurer, Alignment Ambassador, Communications (webmaster) and fund Development, to name a few. I am also a member of the Europe Chapter, and the IT, Leadership & Management, and Academic Divisions. This year I am the Treasurer of the British Columbia Library Association and a Delegate representing Americas Regional Council to OCLC’s Global Council.
I see the enduring value of SLA to its members: I see the clear need to improve communications with our Chapters all over the world – to reduce isolation and improve the sharing of ideas and resources. This will enable all chapters, including the many geographically dispersed chapters, to attract, retain and better serve our members – especially in these difficult economic times.
Having been president of a geographically dispersed chapter, I understand the challenges that arise with communication, engagement, leadership development and volunteer recruitment. What resonates with members in one region does not necessarily do so in others. Our chapter leaders must be tenacious in their communication and chapter networking and promotion to develop a sense of connection – because members who feel connected will be more likely to contribute – through volunteering for Board positions, by hosting events or providing expertise for programming.
For many regions, the question may also be whether we should align ourselves more closely with allied association or professionals. This may improve the promotion of SLA to potential members, and increase the perceived value in membership.
There is no one size fits all in a global association, so we need to develop our leaders by effectively listening, responding, and sharing – with a focus on developing our innovative practices.
If I am elected, my role will be to help chapter leaders focus on what is effective in their own regions – sometimes by learning from others, sometimes by experimenting on their own. Support and information sharing are key aspects of special libraries and information centres, so we need to ensure we’re focusing these skills effectively on our chapter leaders and members.
#2. The information industry is constantly changing. Living within this environment, SLA must be an agile organization able to adapt as the industry matures. What services/functions/features should SLA change and what absolutely must be preserved as we become Future Ready?
As I said in the first message, I see that there is enduring value of SLA to its members, such as in professional development, networking (communities of experts who willingly share their expertise), in leadership development, communication of issues, and advocacy.
I also believe we need to have the courage to change. While what SLA is experiencing is not unique to SLA, it does indicate a need for greater agility and responsiveness to our members.
Just as many of us use effective engagement techniques with our clients, we must do a better job of doing this with and for our members.
This means working more closely: being more responsive to the different challenges of our international chapters, looking at retention and growth strategies for chapters impacted by the current economic situation, while creating a consistent strategy to attract and retain students and new professionals. We need better engagement with members to clarify the association situation and to ask the tough question: “given our new constraints, what do you think we should let go?” We must prepare members for the need for significant change by offering scenarios for the future that will help to focus member expectations.
I have had to do similar work when I have been on other association boards that have experienced financial crises in the past 5 or 6 years. The method was the same: examine the value of each service (member perceived value versus the cost of providing it), make some tough and realistic choices – but do it all with transparency and clear two-way communication with members.
We must clarify our vision of our core functions and competencies and focus on these.
The rules have changed – and with today’s economic situation, these changes are catching up with us. SLA has not stood still, yet attracting new members and retaining existing ones has become more and more difficult. Chapter concerns are often the same – difficulty finding volunteers, lack of student or new professional engagement, members losing work and discontinuing membership. Individuals taking responsibility for their professional development rather than their employer is a shift that many information professionals have not caught up with or don’t seem to value sufficiently.
How do we help chapters get out to members and potential members that their professional futures depend on their own willingness to invest in themselves?
These are the tough issues we need to address in our chapters and divisions before we can really answer the question of what should stay or what must go. I won’t profess to have all the answers but I do know that SLA must continue to evolve and change, and that our members and staff are already starting to point the way to the needed changes.
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