SLA celebrated its 110th anniversary at the 2019 Annual Conference in Cleveland. We have a distinguished history and many reasons to be proud of our past and what we’ve accomplished. And we have much to offer today’s special librarians and information professionals, as evidenced by the many learning, networking, and volunteer opportunities available through our 81 units (chapters, divisions, caucuses) and our association at large.
Since our founding in 1909, however, much has changed. In particular, technologies such as the Internet and social media have altered the information landscape and disrupted long-standing social, educational, and economic norms. These developments have had a profound impact on our association, as many special librarians and information professionals are now choosing to forego SLA membership and use online learning and networking platforms to construct professional development and networking solutions customized to their individual needs.
The effects of this change on SLA’s communities and its operations and finances cannot be overstated. Some SLA communities have struggled to fill volunteer positions; others have ceased to exist or merged with other communities (there have been more than 10 unit mergers since 2016). SLA staff positions have been reduced. Needed investments in new technologies have been delayed.
The unit structure that has long underpinned our communities has exacerbated these challenges. Each community must perform a variety of duties that are unrelated to its core mission of offering learning and networking opportunities. These duties include the following:
- Maintain a bank account;
- Maintain a website;
- Find funding for scholarships; and
- Find funding for unit activities (events, products, awards, etc.).
As of Spring 2019, about 25% of units had failed to submit leadership forms, and about 16% of units had not submitted an annual report. These numbers indicate that units are struggling to to meet the current demands of their positions.
The current unit structure also imposes some obligations on SLA staff, such as the following:
- Collect community reports and financial information to file SLA’s Form 990 (annual tax return) and prepare for our audit;
- Maintain SLA’s nonprofit status;
- Maintain SLA’s Articles of Corporation;
- Provide financial training for volunteers;
- Ensure our volunteers enter financial information in QuickBooks; and
- Maintain our administrative systems, in terms of processes, procedures and technology.
Simply put, our legacy administrative structure is no longer “right-sized” to serve the best interests of SLA members, communities, staff, or the association as a whole. A new structure is needed that will—
- Enable our 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.