SLA asked candidates for the Board this question: “What are the top two issues facing SLA and our profession and how would you address them?” Here’s my response:
As I start to formulate this response, I am standing in the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital. My mother-in-law has checked herself into the hospital. The doctors and nurses are trying to determine what’s wrong through a series of diagnostic tests, pointed questions, and even poking around a bit. It is really disturbing not to know what is wrong–just that it hurts.
At the same time, it’s comforting to watch everyone work. They have assigned roles and functions, and they are a good team. The ICU team members aren’t the bench players – these folks work efficiently and smoothly. I feel like we are in good hands.
Determining the issues confronting our Association is a bit the same. We have formed committees and assigned some of our best talent to look at the profession, the association, and our role. SLA has already devoted time and resources to the diagnostics of our situation, specifically, through the Strategic Alignment research that Fleishman-Hillard conducted over the past three years. The Strategic Alignment identified, among other points, that:
- librarians and information professionals represent a culture of continuous learning and knowledge sharing
- information professionals provide value-added intelligence to create a comprehensive understanding of issues
- information professionals facilitate good decision-making
But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. I believe that the two underlying issues confronting SLA are:
1) the economy and 2) the evolution of the library
Regarding the economy, we are going through what New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman calls the “Great Disruption” – a time when “the market and Mother Nature both hit the wall….” Here is Friedman’s crucial question:
“We need growth, we need ways to raise people’s standards of living, but what will be the new ways we should focus on—post-The Great Disruption—that will allow us to grow people’s living standards in a more sustainable and regenerative way?”
I’ve noticed that SLA members and units are responding in positive ways to the anxiety that the economy has created. There are programs for Career Agility (by the San Andreas Chapter), Doing More with Less (by the Southern California Chapter), and How to Evolve with the Changing Landscape by yet another Chapter. Chapters and Divisions are also providing networking which is fundamental for job leads, encouragement and gaining insights.
2) Regarding the evolution of the library, in coining the phrase “The Great Disruption,” Friedman could just as easily have been referring to the effect that the new wave of social networking tools, user generated content (UGC), the atomization of information, and the glut of information has had on the information profession. Information is pouring onto the Internet by the terabyte, be it yoga hamsters or functional specifications. Somebody has to be in charge as the paradigms evolve, and that somebody is the information professional. Frankly, it should be comforting for Internet users to know we are here, and maybe that’s part of the story we should be telling.
It’s all very complex. Like the ICU technicians I talked about earlier, it’s hard to determine what information will be useful in moving us forward. My mother-in-law had a lot of tubes inserted and monitors beeping, but the doctors made sense of it and put her back on the right road. By Mother’s Day she was perky again, and as we say out west, this wasn’t her first rodeo. She’s had tough times before and got through them. So will we.