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The SLA Conference Has Come and Gone

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SLA-Georgia Members Reflect on 2016 Conference in Philadelphia

The 2016 SLA annual conference has come and gone, but what did we learn? Well, for starters, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Or at least it was while we were in town. Over 2,500 conference attendees enjoyed beautiful weather while traversing Philly’s very walkable Center City and grabbing a bite with colleagues at the Reading Terminal Market or touring many of the cultural attractions near the Convention Center. But, of course, the majority of the conference had to take place indoors and here’s what else we could take away.

From Stephen Sherman, SLA-Georgia President-Elect:

Erika Andersen opened the conference in a fitting manner by speaking on the value of lifelong learning. Andersen is author of several books, including Be Bad First—Get Good at Things FAST to Stay Ready for the Future and Leading So People Will Follow. Her central theme is that in order to be a good leader, one must first be a good learner. In an era when the level of human knowledge is estimated to double each year, leaders must be able to keep pace with developments in their field. Being a good learner requires cracking the learning code through:

  • Aspiration, or the desire to learn. While we all have things that we say we would like to learn, most of these items languish on our to-do list for lack of any real desire to make them happen. What motivates leaders to take action on these desired learning objectives? They find the benefits that are meaningful to them and envision the future.
  • Neutral self-awareness. One must understand his or her own base of knowledge and have a truthful sense of what they do or do
    not know before embarking on a learning journey. Find and cultivate relationships with colleagues who can see you clearly and want the best for you, but who are also willing to be honest with you.
  • Endless curiosity. We often lose the fire of curiosity as we grow older, but leaders will find curiosity sparks in everyday life and continue to question, explore, and learn.
  • Willingness to be bad first. This, as Andersen says, is often the hardest of the four concepts to accept. We too often avoid learning new skills out of fear of failure. We have to accept that while we may not be good at a certain thing, our past experience can show us that we have the ability to get good and to do so fast.


I also attended several practical sessions to help me in my work. First, I had the chance to hear Michael Gruenberg, author of Buying and Selling Information, discuss his tips for information professionals on negotiating with vendors. Gruenberg drew on his extensive background in industry sales to provide insights into contract negotiation and other aspects of the vendor-client relationship. I found this particularly useful as this was a topic not covered in any of my formal library education.

Another very insightful program was presented on Crucial Conversations. Crucial conversations are those interactions that involve two parties with opposing viewpoints and that have high stakes and evoke strong emotions. Most of us have somewhere between 2-10 crucial conversations each day, but we struggle to find successful outcomes due to the fear of the risk involved and lack of necessary conversation skills. In a lively and interactive session, we were taught the principles for effective conversations and had the opportunity to practice what we had learned through role-playing scenarios with other attendees.

Finally, the association is alive and kicking despite its recent struggles. Attendees had a chance to meet the new SLA executive director, Amy Burke, and mix with some of the other new staff additions who have come on board as part of the association’s engagement with association management company MCI USA. Since selling off its headquarters building and restructuring its staff, the association seems to have turned a corner and is poised to set a new strategic direction. There is still some work to be done with regard to sorting out communications and the new SLA Connect online community, but this year’s business meeting saw none of the contentiousness that had characterized recent membership debates. And, as much as we may find ourselves working alone or in small teams of information professionals, we sometimes forget that we have an entire association to back us up. Meeting our counterparts from across the country and around the globe helped to reinforce that although we in many cases may be solo librarians or work-from-home consultants, we can call on the collective experience and knowledge of several thousand of our peers.

From Jim Braden, Cadence Group:

One thing that struck me about the Philadelphia conference is that this time I was attending as a vendor member, helping to staff an exhibit booth, and I may have met more people and had more conversations with librarians and vendors than I’ve ever had before when I’ve been just a regular conference attendee!
Attending the Mathematics Roundtable, the Legal Division Reception, and the PAM Open House reinforced to me how valuable the roundtables and receptions can serve for updates on issues, trends, technology and what life is like for other professionals in their settings. Conversations at the breakfast business meetings with newly met colleagues were also often rewarding, candid, and refreshing. There was some outstanding and fun vendor swag on the floor of the INFO-EXPO. My two favorites were the chocolate business cards with Zimmerman Associates Inc. (ZAI), and the “Keep Calm and Ask a Librarian” purple & oatmeal tote bags given out by OpenAthens, a British firm based in Bath, England.

On the exhibit floor, I was blown away by the New York Times presentation and demo of their virtual reality glasses, intended to enhance and augment news coverage of events and issues. The sample clip that I watched, “Trip to Pluto”, was stunning. The use of this technology by news organizations could spread everywhere in a few short years.

The PAM Vendor Update and Networking Breakfast had a different and very interesting and successful format. Over a fine breakfast, representatives of 18 vendors each had just five minutes to deliver an update to the group, which made for very concise, clear, and often entertaining presentations. One of the moderators kept track of the time and only had to gong a speaker just two or three times at the time limit.

One session that blew me away was “Emerging Trends in Libraries 2016”, moderated by Roberta Shaffer, Law Librarian of Congress, and presented by Stephen Abram, 2008 SLA President. His presentation was a kick-in-the-pants barrage of images, ideas, insights and suggestions. Stephen, a Canadian, is now with Lighthouse Consulting Inc. I highly recommend checking out his blog, publications, and past presentations.

From Ernie Evangelista, 2016 SLA-Georgia Past President:

What a difference a year made! After a strained SLA annual conference in Boston last year, I did not feel distracted during the meeting in Philadelphia in June. While I am concerned that attendance continues to decrease, the conference continued to reflect the association’s depth and breadth in terms of topics.

Most of the sessions I attended focused on data since more of my work has moved in that direction. My knowledge of the data life cycle and data management plans were reinforced by speakers from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, University of Toronto, Oracle and the Federal Reserve Board. While I knew that Geographic Information Systems (GIS) existed since the 1990s, these mapping systems are more relevant than ever based on their use for data visualization and charting. I also learned how to teach data literacy skills. As we know from past experience on the Internet, not all newly hired employees are necessarily data savvy when they reach the workplace. So, I suspect that part of my job in the future will be to teach the necessary data skills.

My non-data sessions included grey literature and text mining. And while I learned many lessons at the meeting, my conference highlights included:

  • Tina Sparks who inspired us to become “Trusted Librarians”;
  • Rebecca Gebhardt, Jane Killian and Stephen Sherman who joined me in representing the Georgia Chapter during the Chapter and Joint Cabinet meetings as well as the post meeting Happy Hour;
  • Jim Braden, an SLA Georgian who represented the Cadence Group and submitted very thoughtful reflections on the conference;
  • Kim Rosas and other Federal Reserve System librarians who visited several exhibitors together and shared meeting highlights with colleagues.

Lastly, the meeting confirmed SLA’s professional value to me in these ways:

  • That other corporate libraries face the same challenges as my organization;
  • That there is tremendous value in speaking face-to-face with other info pros;
  • That I can better focus on learning when I am away from the office and not distracted by text messages, phone calls, email or drop-in visitors.
  • That, for now, I cannot identify any other association besides SLA that can provide this value at the deep and wide ways that it can!

We hope everyone who attended the 2016 SLA conference had a fantastic experience, and we look forward to seeing many of you at the 2017 annual conference in Phoenix!

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 Did you attend the annual conference in Philadelphia? Feel free to add your comments and reflections by leaving a comment below.

Compiled by Stephen Sherman

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