Tag Archives: professional development

Old Dog, New Tricks

5 Oct

I write often in this spot about professional development, the importance of continuing to expand the skills we need to remain relevant in our work, and how curiosity plays the biggest role, in my opinion, in keeping one ever-growing and ever-learning. I thought about the topic more last night as I was driving home from an absolutely fantastic evening at the Brown University Arts Initiative. The show was a songwriting master class and performance led by Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal. (Any regular reader of this blog knows of my admiration and “awestruckness” of Rosanne, thus I won’t repeat it here.) This was the inaugural program in this new series that features accomplished musicians and songwriters to the campus to both perform and offer critique of students taking part in Brown’s Songwriting Master Class. Four incredibly talented young people played one song each, followed by thoughts and comments and suggestions from Cash and Leventhal. It was such a rich time, being able to hear individuals so proficient in something talk about their processes, offer tips that work for them, provide insights into how they chose this over that, etc. I’m grateful to Brown for starting this new program and look forward to attending future events. If you’re in the neighborhood, I encourage you to do the same.

My 45-minute drive home had me thinking about youth – and how I am far from that time in life now. I thought about those young people and some of the comments that they received from Rosanne and John. I thought about how they have a lifetime ahead of them to hone a craft, if they so choose. It started to become depressing, given that I just started writing songs about a year ago (not counting silly songs about science that borrow familiar tunes others penned). How can I ever become good at it?

But before I spent too long at my pity party, I began thinking this … 

I decided to learn to play the drums when I was in my early 30s. I loved it. Still do. When we moved to an apartment that put a cramp on my pursuits in percussion, I picked up a mandolin, found some classes, found a teacher, and got to it. I was in my 40s then. I was knocking on the door of 50 when I performed for the first time ever at an open mic. I was 50 when I joined some friends in a band. And just last year, at the ripe young age of 53, I went to my first songwriting camp and began to write my first “for real” songs. At 54, I started hosting a radio show on my local community radio station and I’m about to launch a new podcast. At 55 … well, I’m not quite there yet, so we’ll just wait and see what comes next. 

Podcast-Art-1

Reviewing this timeline in my head, I realized a few things. One, I’m a late bloomer when it comes to music. While I have always – ALWAYS – been a fan and collector and a reader of the art, I came to be a participant later in life. True, I took piano lessons for years as a kid, but it was really to justify my mom buying a piano for the house. She loved to play and had done so her whole life. Me, I was the tomboy who was happier playing ball with my older brother and his friends. But I did walk down the street to Mr. Cornett’s house each week, faithfully, for a number of years. Until I was paroled. Looking back, I needed to find music. It wasn’t going to find me.

Second, it is my nature to meander. I have now been in the same profession working at the same place longer, by far, than anything I ever did or any place I ever worked previously. It is one of my favorite professional development activities to lead, having people write down all of the jobs that they’ve ever had in life and all of the things that they subsequently know how to do because of those experiences. My lists are long. I’ve done many things, I have many interests, and I have the student loans to back it up. And I’ve come to appreciate this characteristic of myself over time. I like that I like a lot of things. I enjoy dabbling in all sorts of stuff. I used to believe that the drawback to this quality is that I’d never become very good at anything – “Jack of all trades, master of none” kind of thinking. There’s some truth to it, but it’s a choice we have to make in life. Some people choose to live all over the world while others, like my grandmother, live 94 years within the same city limits. Neither is better than the other. They are both valuable.

Which brings me to the third thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as it pertains lifetime learning, professional growth, and the continuing work we do to find our place – whether professionally or personally. We can think of life in the singular or the plural. We can believe that we live one life or we can relish in living many. It’s a state of mind, I believe. I’ve surely lived more of my years already that I’ve left to live, but I’m drawn more lately to wondering about what to do with the different lives that I’ve yet to live and I like to believe that I’ve got maybe one or two left. 

What will I do with them? Maybe I’ll develop and lead more professional workshops around these things, encouraging other librarians to tap into and nurture their creative sides in their work. Maybe I’ll seek out something in the music industry that takes advantage of my skill set. Maybe radio. Maybe I’ll continue doodling data visualizations and writing reports about the cool things that happen via the UMCCTS. Who knows?

There are obstacles to thinking and living this way. We do live in a society that focuses much more on nurturing young people, those with years ahead to give to something, rather than older adults who may cost more and not give the ROI an entity seeks. It’s hard to find fellowships or internships or opportunities that allow one to learn a new profession later in life, but that said, it’s not impossible. (ProFellow is one helpful resource here.)

For me, I believe the most important thing is to remember that we don’t need to be young to either learn – or become good at – something new. It’s all in the mindset we choose to adopt. Let’s all keep growing together!

I think I’ll write a song during lunch. 

SaveSave

Be Ye Kind …

26 Jun

[The following post was written originally to appear on the blog of the North Atlantic Health Sciences Libraries chapter of the Medical Library Association.]

… and other lessons from the annual meeting of the Medical Library Association.

MLA17_LOGO_500X500I want to thank the members of NAHSL’s Professional Development Committee, as well as all of the membership of NAHSL, for the award that I received to cover the cost of registration to attend the annual meeting of the Medical Library Association that took place in Seattle, WA last month. As always, it was a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with old friends and colleagues, meet lots of new people, network with those who do similar work, learn some nuggets of gold to put into practice back home, and of course, to see and to share the work that we all do as medical and health sciences librarians – or in my case, a Research Evaluation Analyst, aka a “Librarian by Any Other Name.”

I experienced a few highlights of the meeting including participating on a panel discussion with colleagues from several other institutions to talk about our work measuring and tracking the impact of research. I also really enjoyed Julie Sollenberger’s Janet Doe lecture. I have the honor of knowing Julie a little bit, so her choice of topic – kindness and how practicing it shapes not only our work, but our very beings – was spot on. She is a wonderfully kind person – one who lives what she preaches. It was a special plenary.

For this post, though, I want to reflect on another plenary session, i.e. the McGovern Lecture, given this year by Julie Angus, a scientist, bestselling author, and winner of the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year Award for her accomplishment as the first woman to row across the Atlantic Ocean, mainland to mainland. When I first saw that she was one of the keynote speakers this year and I saw the title of her talk, “Rowing Across the Atlantic: Strategies to Reach Your Goals,” I admit that I said to myself, “What in the world does this have to do with medical librarians and/or libraries?” And in truth, much of her talk came across as canned, meaning it struck me as likely the same talk that she gives to any audience. Yes, she threw in a few library references, but it was pretty general in nature – your typical motivational talk by a motivating person. Don’t read this as negative criticism. I enjoyed the talk and I’ll likely borrow a copy of her book from my local library and read it. It’s a great story – and she told it well. And I did take away two important things from it – two points that made it into my notes:

First, was the importance Angus placed on baby steps. In her talk she said, “When people ask, ‘What’s the most important thing that you’ve brought out of this journey?’, undoubtedly, it’s the importance of baby steps. Eventually all of those baby steps added up and as a result, we achieved our dream.” This point reminded me of the words of another adventurer, the climber, Joe Simpson. (If you like adventure and you’ve never seen the dramatized documentary, “Touching the Void,” seek it out!) Stuck in a life-or-death situation during a climb, he says, “You have to make decisions. You have to keep making decisions, even if they’re wrong decisions. If you don’t make decisions, you’re stuffed.” (He’s British, in case you wonder the “stuffed” reference.) Baby steps and continuous decision-making are crucial not only in big adventures, but in day-to-day life. It’s how we get from Point A to Point B, how we continue to be relevant in a changing work environment, how we continue to find fulfilment in our work. Complacency, apathy, dullness in the daily work is a career killer – not only for an individual, but for an entire organization. THAT is a message I found quite relevant – a great take-away from the talk.

The second thing I noted was the discussion that I followed during the Lecture; the back-channel, if you will. Following the #MLANET17 Twitter stream, I discovered that while I was thinking Angus’ talk was a bit predictable, LOTS of my colleagues did not. She would say something and someone would immediately apply the thought or the message to something in his/her career or workplace. It was wonderful to see all of the connections people were making between the Lecture and their lives. I love following the Twitter stream throughout the conference, generally to see what others are learning in concurrent sessions that I’m not attending, but it was also a real treat to see a motivational speaker truly motivating an awful lot of the audience with her talk. It’s hard to argue that this isn’t just what the planning committee wanted when they signed her up and I credit them for the good pick.

I’m off to the Special Library Association’s annual meeting in Phoenix this coming week. I had a paper selected for presentation. It’s going to be interesting as I don’t know many people in SLA. It will be like going to my first MLA meeting many years ago now. I’m a little nervous, but the one thing that that eases my nerves is that I do know that it’s pretty hard to find a librarian conference that doesn’t leave me wanting for good stuff. I look forward to that – and again thank NAHSL for helping me get to Seattle. It’s a terrific benefit of belonging to and serving the organization.

 

Rules of Travel

7 Nov
sally-and-janene_their-finest-hour

With my favorite Aussie, Janene Batten, medical librarian extraordinaire at Yale Medical School and Yale School of Nursing.

(This was originally posted on NAHSL Blog, the official blog of the North Atlantic Health Sciences Libraries, Inc. It’s reposted here with my own permission. Heh!)

One of my favorite singer-songwriters, Rosanne Cash, has a song titled, “Rules of Travel.” It’s completely unrelated to the content of this blog post, but it’s a great lead-in and/or title for it. I also realize that I’m not completely following the rules of NAHSL Professional Development Award blog posts, but please stick with me. It’ll make sense…

I have the great fortune to be on some short list for speakers for library conferences. I receive several invitations each year to travel to state or regional meetings, or library school classes, to talk about what I do for a living. I like to think that it’s because I do interesting things, that I’ve knitted together an interesting career path (not that I knit, but enough librarians do to get the metaphor). Enough folks have told me that they’ve read my blog for years and I know that this gets me invites. And I also like to think that I’m somewhat entertaining. At least to some people.

Anyhoooo… when I receive such invitations, I have some rules of travel that I try my best to apply. One of these is that if the content of the conference is of the slightest interest and/or relevance to my work – good odds, since these are library/information professional conferences – I ask that I receive free registration to attend the whole meeting. I don’t ask for much, if anything, to speak, so I figure it’s a good deal for both me and the group doing the inviting. I always learn things and I get to meet so many wonderful colleagues from all over the place.

The week before NAHSL’s annual meeting this year, I traveled to Detroit to give a keynote at the Michigan Health Sciences Library Association. The opening speaker for the meeting was Thomas Buchmueller, PhD, a health economist and professor at the University of Michigan. He teaches and does research within the School of Public Health there, focusing on “the economics of health insurance and related public policy issues.” (MHSLA program bio) In his talk, “Insured by Obamacare: Early Evidence of the Coverage Effects of the Affordable Care Act,” Dr. Buchmueller described the private coverage provisions of the ACA as a 3-legged stool. One leg represents underwriting reforms, an aspect the overwhelming majority of Americans support. The second is the individual mandate, the leg that has caused no end of trouble for the law, particularly given that the third leg, premium tax credits, haven’t kept up. The second and third legs are dependent upon one another for success.

For me, Dr. Buchmueller’s talk was a terrific lead-up to the first plenary speaker at NAHSL 2016, Jack Hughes, MD, from the Yale School of Medicine. Dr. Hughes also took on the topic of health care / health insurance / the ACA in his talk. His description of the problem as “the iron triangle” fit so well with the 3-legged stool metaphor. The 3 sides of the Triangle – Cost, Access, and Quality – are all connected and addressing one aspect cannot and does not occur without effecting the others. The statistics presented in both of these talks are, in my opinion, both hopeful and shameful. Early evidence shows that the ACA has positively affected the numbers of Americans who are insured and who seek preventive health care both earlier and more often, thus reducing many expensive illnesses / procedures down the line. But at the same time, the issue of unbridled cost remains one that must be addressed before we will ever see and/or experience effective change in our health care system. Quality suffers, people suffer, and the American health system thus lags woefully behind those found in countries comparable to us in wealth and development.

I so appreciated hearing these two talks within a short period of time. I learned a great deal. I also really enjoyed following the back-channel, Twitter discussion on #NAHSL2016 that took place during Dr. Hughes’ talk. The questions of what defines American society, the beliefs the country was founded upon, the underlying sense of independence, our holding this up as the ideal of who we are as a nation/people… all of these came up in a GREAT discussion on how this ideal will or even can be reconciled with the ideas related to “health care for all.” I loved it! I love the passionate thoughts and knowledge-based opinions of my colleagues. It’s such a great characteristic of our profession. (As an aside, I also loved how Dr. Hughes’ tapped into this very thing with his polling exercises throughout his talk!)

I want to thank the NAHSL Professional Development Committee for awarding me a scholarship to help offset my expenses to travel to the conference this year. I also want to thank former NAHSL Chair, good friend, and tutor of all things Australian, Janene Batten, for letting me stay at her home during the meeting. Like so many of us, travel funds have been frozen at my institution, and the assistance of scholarships and the kindness of friends makes attending these wonderful events possible. This and a few rules of travel.

And lastly, thanks to the Program Committee for an outstanding meeting. Kudos on a job so very well done.

Here, There and Everywhere

18 Oct
Eliza on the Cape

Eliza meets the sand and sea. Love at first sight.

It’s been one of those weeks filled with activities that took me away from my normal work routine. Monday was a holiday and I enjoyed a wonderful, long weekend on Cape Cod, introducing my new puppy to the Atlantic Ocean. Now that was fun!

On Tuesday, the staff of the NN/LM NER invited members of its Regional Advisory Committee to attend a day-long update of all of the activities and accomplishments they’ve experienced during the first half of their current contract. I attended as the representative from NAHSL. Besides getting a terrific review of the work of the NER (despite the fact that I work in the same Library in which the NER is housed, I don’t actually know everything that they’re doing), I also realized yet again how much our profession – and in particular, our professional organizations – need a knowledge manager. So many opportunities are available for librarians and other information professionals to learn new things, gain new skills, fund new projects, and network with colleagues in different (but related) fields, yet too often these opportunities go unknown by a good many people who could benefit from them. We lack any centralized way of informing those in the profession of all of that’s available to them. As I sat at the meeting, I couldn’t help but think that we really need to figure out a way to better coordinate all of our efforts. I also couldn’t help but think up a few ideas regarding how we might do this. Stay tuned as I try out a few on this blog.

Wednesday found me spending much of the day prepping for, getting to, and offering up a lecture to the students taking the Research Data Management course being offered by Simmons College’s LIS program this fall. This course, taught by my colleagues from here at UMMS, Elaine Martin, Andrew Creamer and Donna Kafel, has been a great success for students in the library science program who wish to learn about this emerging area of work. I’ve been invited both semesters it’s been taught to come and share my experiences and offer my thoughts on the role of the informationist and/or embedded librarian in research settings today. It’s always a tremendous chance to share with interested and engaged librarians and/or librarians-in-training about the work that I do. They always ask really thoughtful questions and along with my talking about what I do, we never fail to have a good discussion about the profession as a whole and where we might be heading. And then, as a bonus, when class was over, one of the students asked if she could have her picture taken with me. I asked why she would want such a thing and she said, “I just LOVE your blog!”  Now THAT is a sign that I have reached some sort of surreal place in the land of blogging librarians, isn’t it?!

Amy Dickinson_Superstar

If Amy Dickinson tweets it, it’s official. 🙂

 

Yesterday, I had another opportunity to speak to a group of LIS students, this time via a webcast to the Special Libraries class in the University of Alabama’s LIS program. Again, it was just wonderful to get to talk for an hour or so with a group of people so excited to enter into our profession. Their energy and the enthusiasm for being future librarians was palpable, even over the Interwebs. They aren’t without many of the same anxieties and questions that those of us already working experience, e.g. libraries closing, librarian roles changing significantly, etc., but they appear ready and willing to ride the waves of the future and personally, I think that’s just the attitude that will bring each of them success.

Today, a blog post that I was invited to write for the Special Libraries Association was published. Please give, Playoff Season for Information Professionals a read and let me know what you think. 

And lastly, those of you who have been reading this blog all along know that at this time last year I enjoyed the thrill of a lifetime when I got to be Curious George at the Boston Book Festival. Well, tomorrow will find me at this year’s BBF being TWO different characters. Multiple personality costume wearing! Tune in next week for pictures and a recap of the fun! And if you’re close to the City, do consider coming out to Copley Square and the Boston Public Library for the day. It’s a great event featuring 150+ writers, workshops, events for children, exhibits by numerous literary-related groups, and more. And it’s all FREE! And if you see Lyle, Lyle Crocodile or Bad Kitty along the way, say hi!

Dr. Who?: A Library Director Responds

30 Sep

My post from last week prompted several email responses from colleagues, including some thoughts from my Library Director, Elaine Martin. With her permission, I post them here:

Elaine Martin

Dr. Elaine Martin

I read Sally’s latest post with interest as it suggests questions about the embedded librarianship model that I have been thinking about as we embrace this new model of librarianship. I would categorize the questions she poses under the heading of “professional identity.” Professional identity is not about professionalism. Professionalism to me implies behavior. But professional identity goes to the core of who we are as librarians and the values we hold dear. The post suggests that embedded librarians as they steadily move outside the library and into research teams may be neither “fish nor fowl.” Is the embedded librarian’s professional identity with the library or with the team? Second, will the embedded librarian somehow achieve more autonomy over their time and work if they are identified more closely with their research team than with their home library?

Librarians have always held dear the value of equal access to information for all. If we move our professional identity away from the library to the research team are we willing to question, and possibly reject, rethink, and redo that value? Will we be able to provide the free information access, such as ILL, to all our colleagues? Will we serve only those departments that have money to pay us? Must we reject our core values in order to transform our profession?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. But I will be exploring them further as we continue to develop our embedded librarianship model. There are opportunities for you to participate in these discussions, too. AAHSL will be hosting a series of three webinars highlighting the informationist projects and Neil Rambo and I will be giving the administrative perspective. Watch also for the next issue of the Journal of eScience Librarianship where I will have an editorial on the issue of professional identity.

Thank you Sally, as always, for sharing your thoughts on the embedded librarianship model and raising the questions that we need to discuss as we move forward.

Elaine Martin, DA
Director of Library Services
Lamar Soutter Library
U. of Massachusetts Medical School Worcester

The Talented Mr. Ripley in the Library with the Candlestick

25 Sep

I’ve had a rotten week or at least the kind of week where too many things haven’t gone the way I’d like them to go; online conference applications, insurance company coverage changes, my puppy. I say this as a preface to today’s post, stating that while I’m still the biggest cheerleader for library innovation and new roles, right now I’m tired. And it might show in my thoughts below.

Patricia Highsmith was a terrific writer who could create a story of suspense to rival the best; her novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley, the perfect example. If you never read the book, you might recall the movie adaptation that came out in the late 1990s and starred several pretty people – Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Cate Blanchett. It’s a story of a young man who so longs to live in a world of which he is not a part, that he befriends someone in the circle on false pretenses, and ultimately (SPOILER ALERT) murders him to assume his identity.

Lately I’ve been feeling a little Ripley-esque in my work.

Being a part of a research team is a great experience. As I’ve written numerous times over the past months, one of the things that defines the embedded informationist is having a place on the team. An equal place. Everyone brings his/her skill set and expertise to the team. As I’ve served on the mammography study team, the mHealth project, the Community Engagement Research Section, and a grant-writing team for a potential PCORI study, I’ve been more than welcomed as a true team player and one who brings needed knowledge and skills to the work. I love what I do.

But the truth of the matter is that not everyone on a team is equal. An embedded librarian, no matter how much s/he builds partnerships and collaborations over support roles, is still, by the nature of the work that we do, providing support to the work of the team. Information management, knowledge management, data management… it is all essential, but still something like the infrastructure of the team, i.e. a foundation for things to run more smoothly, efficiently, and effectively, but not in and of itself (necessarily), the driving force. That role(s) falls to the researchers. They are, ultimately, at the helm.

Every now and then I have the crazy notion to apply for our doctoral program in Clinical and Population Health Research. I’m too old and too in debt with student loans already to take on yet one more degree, but the thought intrigues me, particularly as I work so closely with the students and faculty in that program and teach them myself about how to search, access, and organize good information in their research. Once, when I was entertaining the thought more strongly than others, I asked a faculty member what she thought was the best part about having a PhD. “You get to decide the kind of work that you want to do,” she said, “Rather than always doing what others decide for you.”

It’s a significant point. Tom Ripley was never a true peer to Dickie Greenleaf, because he was not of the same pedigree. Doctors travel in the circles of doctors, researchers in the circles of researchers, and librarians in the circles of librarians. This isn’t to say that we don’t mix and mingle OR that we don’t need one another in our respective work OR that we don’t provide those necessary skills to make our respective work go better. But we do have different jobs and with them, different expectations, obligations, and/or constraints. We know our own worlds best and while we can do really, really well operating in another’s world, it still isn’t quite ours.

My Tom Ripley persona is no doubt brought on lately by my sense of being pulled in multiple directions. This is natural, I know, for anyone juggling multiple projects. It’s hard to stay on top of everything and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. The same qualities of the work that make it so exciting and fun, e.g. variety in subjects and people and tasks, also make it feel, at times, like a tidal wave. After all, an embedded librarian is still only one person, and as is almost always the case, also a non-embedded librarian. In other words, you give a lot of yourself and your time and your focus to the teams of which you’re a part, but you’re also still a part of the library and with that comes a whole other plate of responsibilities and an environment that, even at its most flexible and/or autonomous, answers to a public and an administration that requires people to be at certain places at certain times.

It’s part and parcel of working with the public, something that is not necessarily an issue in research. Yes, some researchers work with the public. Clinicians certainly work with the public. But there is a schedule in those worlds often driven more by the former’s calendar than the latter.

Similarly, many of the researchers (particularly clinical researchers) that I know wear multiple hats. They see patients, they sit on teams, they teach, and they work for different departments. They also balance a lot of things. Yet, there is something different in their work, compared to mine. Or at least I feel that way today. (Maybe differently tomorrow.) One of the things that I think that’s different for these professionals, compared to librarians, is the understanding that continued education and professional growth is a given. It’s an expectation of your work. It’s part of your work. After all, if you don’t stay up-to-speed on your skills and your subject knowledge, you become somewhat dangerous, if you’re a doc, and/or irrelevant and unfunded, if you’re a researcher.

Librarianship, in many ways, was able to manage for a long time without being on the cutting edge, yet when information started flowing in the unfathomable volume and speed we see today, anyone working in the field of information who hasn’t kept up is pretty quickly getting swept aside by the torrential rush. We now HAVE to keep up. Heck, we have to keep ahead! And not only in our “dominant” field of librarianship, but also in whatever other areas we hold up as the “extra value” that we bring to our teams. Remember, the original idea of the informationist is a person with both library knowledge and skills, AND expertise in a clinical or research area.  (Davidoff and Florance, 2000)

The informationist who cannot afford to keep up his/her knowledge in both areas gradually becomes less and less effective in his/her work. And this, my friends, is where our professional circles lose their Venn Diagram overlap. Our emphasis is still very much weighted in favor of improving our librarian skills over the other knowledge/subject areas/expertise that we bring to the table. For those, we still need to do a lot of work outside of work, on our own time, on our own dime, and of our own initiative.

Now I don’t want to sound like I’m whining. I imagine that anyone who seeks to be really good at what s/he does, does this. I know that I’m never going to be a better mandolin player without practicing; without doing a lot of work at times that I could be doing something else, and for an amount of money that I could be spending on something else. But that’s me learning to play my mandolin, not me learning to do my job better. I know that researchers don’t have unlimited funds and/or time to go off willy nilly attending every conference or class that they wish, either, but I do think that in this age of multidisciplinary and cross-disciplinary research, librarians who want to support such projects need to find a way within our working lives to follow the lead of researchers and keep current in multiple areas.

Ahhhh… but that’s way easier said than done when we’re still part of a department that is dependent upon a core group of people, resources, and services to remain viable. Embedded librarians and informationists, unless they are full-time employees of a clinical/research department (or dare we one day go the way of consultants), still answer first and foremost to their libraries. At least this is still our expectation. I don’t know if, when, or how it could change, but in my own personal quandary, trying to figure out where we belong most now, I’ve been asking if it needs to change. And while I don’t believe that any change will help us completely shed our separate circle from the docs and PIs, I do believe that any and everything we can do to gain credibility in their circle is warranted. And few things do that better than being able to speak their language, not just librarian talk.

 

Where Do I Belong?

10 Jun

[A colleague recently posed the question on a professional listserv as to what kind and/or which professional organization best fits an academic, health, and special library librarian – something that many health sciences librarians feel that they are, i.e. a mix of a librarian that doesn’t solely fit within the Medical Library Association (MLA), the American Library Association (ALA), or the Special Libraries Association (SLA). It’s a GREAT question and I wanted to share my reply both to the list and on my blog, as I feel the value of professional organizations, in general, is really up for grabs. I hope this will spark some discussion.]

Areyoumymother

Do I belong to you?
One of the best children’s book’s ever!

Your question is a really good one AND one that I know is being asked at national, regional and state-level organizations across the board. What is the relevance of these groups. Annual memberships, meeting costs, and service time add up quickly, and in this day and age when both time and money are in short supply, the return on one’s investment really needs to be clear.

I very recently joined SLA. I made this decision for several reasons:

    • My fairly new role as an informationist and embedded librarian requires many skills and covers many topics that I noticed SLA programming and resources (both regionally and nationally) support more than MLA, e.g. entrepreneurship, knowledge management, and embedded librarianship itself.
    •  I feel that my work is progressive in nature, meaning that I’m doing some things as a librarian that haven’t always been viewed as a librarian’s role. Quite frankly, I find MLA as a whole (please read this as a general statement and in no way a reflection upon any individual member and/or group within the organization) to be something less than progressive. We tend to put energies towards fighting a lot of battles that we have likely already lost. This is NOT to say that preserving our past and/or current roles is irrelevant, but I do feel that we often fight to keep things a certain way when we’d do better to fight for change. Again, this is simply my opinion and what played into my joining SLA.
    • I appreciated the fact that membership in the national organization of SLA automatically included membership in the regional and local chapters. To me, this is a critical piece that MLA has missed for awhile. We really need strong local associations in order for the national one to mean much. To paraphrase our former Speaker of the House, “all professional development is local.” We support one another a lot easier in our states and regions than we do at the national level. I have many, many wonderful friends in MLA who I LOVE seeing each year at the annual meeting, but when it comes to the day-to-day of my job, I get the most from colleagues nearby. I have felt for a number of years now that MLA could do a much better job demonstrating that it appreciates the value of the regional chapters.
    • And finally, along with the reason cited above (one cost for both regional and national membership), the fact that membership dues in SLA are based upon a sliding scale, i.e. based upon salary, is a fantastic idea. This didn’t make my membership much cheaper (maybe not cheaper than MLA at all, I can’t remember at the moment), but it demonstrated an effort and awareness on behalf of the organization that while no librarian ever makes a million bucks, there is a bit of difference across the board and those who don’t get paid much, in no way deserve to be left out of professional groups. While my institution has never paid any of my professional association dues, I know that some who experienced this benefit in the past are quickly finding it disappearing. Helping people belong is a good thing.

For now, I’ll remain a member of both MLA and SLA. I’ve not yet experienced enough of SLA to grade it long-term and I do value the relationships I’ve made in MLA, along with most of the annual meeting programming, to stay a member. Hopefully, I’ll be able to afford both for awhile, but I think that you raise a really good – and REALLY important – issue for all groups to grapple with today.