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A Vancouver Report: 2014 SLA Annual Conference Highlights

by Ernie Evangelista, 2014 SLA Georgia President-Elect

The 2014 SLA Annual Conference and Info Expo took place June 6-10 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and drew 2,402 information professionals and exhibitors and include these highlights:

  • 691 attendees from 35 nations (outside the United States) reflected President Kate Arnold’s theme, “Beyond Borders”;
  • 464 first-timers;
  • 200 conference sessions and 150 booths at the Info Expo;
  • Advanced notice of these 2015-2016 priorities:
    1.   Value of the information profession
    2.   Value of SLA
    3.   Value of the member experience
  • Key topics covered were data visualization, data management, Altmetrics and semantic search.

Based on feedback received from SLA Georgia members Nancy Snell and Ann Cullen and Federal Reserve System librarians, here are key lessons learned:

1)     Information professionals need to step up now to include analysis and insights for strategic decision making, a compliment to their librarian/research training which equals added value.

Today’s librarians no longer just find information. They demonstrate added value by analyzing what they’re finding to identify trends and share insights. Amy Affelt, Director of Database Research at Compass Lexecon, urged session attendees to analyze data, provide context and tell stories using data, perhaps incorporating graphics and other visual elements to do so.


2)     Big Data has opened a new world of opportunities for librarians.

As noted by Jill Strand in her post-SLA Conference online chat, data was a key topic at this year’s conference.

Some sessions focused on data resources such as those from the World Bank. By making its data more open and accessible, the World Bank drastically improved its public image. On their web site, they clearly identified what is licensed, public, or third-party data. Even you cannot access their licensed data, they let you know it’s there! Other key features of the World Bank web site are live support from analysts working with the data and DataBank, an analysis and visualization tool that contains collections of time series data on a variety of topics.

Other sessions focused on how librarians can apply their skill sets to data research and data resource evaluation and management. Amy Affelt (See item #1) noted how information professionals can help customers find data, confirm that it is authoritative and promote a deeper understanding of its use through questions such as, “Did users consider alternative data sources?” or “What biases are inherent in the interpretation of this data?” She noted that librarians could do the following with data:

  • Search
  • Discover
  • Analyze
  • Communicate impacts
  • Create deliverables

And she listed these opportunities in the data world for librarians:

  • Data policy expert
  • Data release expert – Explaining data when it’s released and what it means.
  • Exit survey on data expert – Capturing metadata and making underlying data available for reuse
  • Digital privacy expert.


3)     The Power of Social Media

Social media continues to grab attention as a resource and news sharing tool as demonstrated by the SLA conference’s very active Twitter feed – providing a real-time example of the power of Twitter as a tool for spotting trends, identifying leaders and marketing sessions. And like data, social media has emerged as another key information resource. In her session, “Finding those who don’t want to be found,” Julie Clegg of Toddington International gave examples of using Facebook posts to identify and find people. She highlighted free tools for finding details on people and demonstrated how easy it is to piece together little bits of data on a person to get a more complete picture of who they are. She demonstrated:

  • Geofeedia – Shows all social media posts from a geographic location that you define.
  • – Has an app where you can enter someone’s Twitter or Instagram username and locate them on a map.
  • Google’s Reverse Image Look up.

And even if someone is not active on social media sites, you can find someone else connected to them who is – a friend or family member – so that, through them, you can find out information through what these third parties are posting.


4)     Best Practices: Build and grow relationships and share knowledge to meet business objectives

Various speakers encouraged conference participants to model or BE the change that you want to be.

While knowledge sharing is a cultural issue, it can be influenced by anyone at any level of the organization.  It is critical since organizational knowledge erodes very quickly. So, figure out how your users use knowledge, seek opportunities to introduce, promote or strengthen knowledge sharing, share it in ways to foster deeper and greater engagement so that a knowledge sharing culture becomes the norm and celebrate and publicize successes.

Other conference sessions focused on how we can accomplish these goals.

In his session, Law Librarian Eugene Giudice proclaimed, “I am the trustee of my profession.” Therefore, it was his mantra to extend the reach and presence of the library to as many clients and departments as possible with the goal of becoming the “Go To” person in the organization when it comes to finding information. In a subsequent session, 2014 SLA Award winner Jane Dysart reiterated Giudice’s call to “be seen and sell your services.”

In another session, University of Maryland librarian Gary White shared how his library supports student and university initiatives related to innovation and entrepreneurship:

  • The library actively collaborates with University of Maryland alumni who support students’ innovation and entrepreneurial projects.
  • Its Innovation Commons is conveniently located next to the Library’s Learning Commons,
  • It hosts “Innovation Fridays” in which students pitch their ‘fearless ideas’ – alternately held in business and engineering libraries.

Lastly, an often-heard message from Tracy Maleeff to Christine DeLuca was “Communicate Your Value.” And be proactive and patient in doing so because in most cases, changes will NOT occur overnight.

Thanks to SLA Georgia members Nancy Snell (from Kurt Salmon) and Ann Cullen (Emory University Goizueta Business Library), St. Louis Fed Senior Librarian Adrienne Brennecke and Richmond Fed Strategic Intelligence Analyst William Perkins for their contributions to these lessons learned!

Photos from Vancouver and the conference can be viewed at this Flickr link:


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