SLA 2020 Restructure Initiative

Fellow SLA Members,

Yesterday, 2019 SLA President Hal Kirkwood and I sent a joint message announcing that the SLA Board of Directors had approved a SLA Restructuring initiative for our association. As Hal noted:

“We are at a crucial point in our history and must be willing to make radical changes and try things we’ve never tried before to move SLA forward. Our profession has changed significantly over the last several decades; it is critical we now instigate and lead our own change.”

We continue to be a vibrant association, with 3,500 members and more than 80 communities (chapters and divisions). Our strength lies in our member communities and specifically the learning, networking and volunteer opportunities they offer. But many special librarians and information professionals are now choosing to forego SLA membership and use online platforms to customize their own professional development and networking systems to meet their individual needs.

The effects of these changes on SLA’s communities, operations and finances cannot be overstated. Several SLA chapters and divisions are having trouble filling volunteer positions; others have ceased to exist or merged with other communities. SLA staff positions have been reduced. Needed investments in new technologies have been delayed.

The impact has been especially pronounced in the leadership area. The administrative structures that have served our chapters and divisions for decades lack the flexibility desired by today’s information professionals who are looking to volunteer their time. The demands of SLA leadership roles, as currently configured, are spreading our members too thin and impeding our member recruitment efforts.

The restructuring plan approved by the board is a critical step in “right-sizing” our volunteer leadership structure. Under the plan, each community will have only three required core leadership roles—president, vice president and secretary—who will concentrate their efforts on program planning, building connections and membership development. Communities can establish and fill additional roles on an as-needed basis.

Simplifying our structure offers several benefits. For example, it will—

  • Enable SLA communities to focus on providing learning and networking opportunities that appeal to today’s special librarians and information professionals;
  • Enable SLA staff to more efficiently and effectively support communities in attracting, engaging and retaining members; and
  • Make interacting with SLA a more attractive value proposition to potential members, vendor partners, like-minded organizations, and employers.

To underpin this new approach and ensure we meet these goals, the restructuring plan includes a new financial management model that will centralize chapter and division bank accounts into one account. This will streamline the management of finances and reduce the administrative burden on our communities and volunteers while still supporting local delivery of programs, products and activities. Specifically, this financial management model will—

  • Eliminate the need to recruit a treasurer to create and submit financial statements to SLA;
  • Eliminate the need for communities to assume financial responsibility and liability for programs;
  • Make more funds available to smaller communities that historically have lacked funding for programs and events; and
  • Eliminate the costs to communities for services such as website support.

An additional benefit of the restructuring plan is that SLA members will be able to pay one fee for membership and join as many communities as they like (rather than receiving one chapter and one division membership free and paying to join more). This will create new opportunities for cross-pollination of ideas and joint development of programs and events.

Together, these leadership and financial reforms will enable our communities to continue doing what they do best—providing special librarians and information professionals with value in the form of education and networking opportunities—without having to devote precious volunteer time and energy to administrative matters. There is no member value in administrative structure. Member value lies in creating opportunities to gain more knowledge, learn new skills, and build a professional network that serves career goals and a modernized structure will enable us to do this.

These are sweeping changes, and as such they will generate some trepidation. In past years, we have taken incremental steps to address the challenges we face, but incremental thinking will not enable SLA to keep pace with the global information marketplace and position us for future growth. As Hal stated yesterday, we must be willing to make radical changes and try things we’ve never tried before.

SLA has a proud legacy of recruiting, supporting and developing information professionals for the future. Only through bold thinking and decisive action can we sustain our legacy and build an SLA that appeals to information professionals in both traditional and emerging roles. This restructuring plan is the result of such thinking and action.

The SLA Board of Directors will discuss the restructuring plan at its open meeting at the Leadership Symposium. The discussion will take place on Saturday, Jan. 18, from 2:30-4:00 p.m. Eastern time. If you are unable to join us in person, we invite you to participate virtually. If you have questions that you would like asked during the open board meeting, please send them to Claire Sutton (csutton@sla.org) by Friday, January 17, at 12:00 p.m. ET.

Thank you for your support of SLA and the information profession. I look forward to serving you as president in 2020.

Tara Murray Grove

2020 SLA President

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