This leaves SLA in a precarious position. As Ulla de Stricker and Cynthia Shamel put it in SLA: Succeed. Lead. Advance. Recommendations Report (available only to SLA members):
…taking no significant action as 2016 arrives would be tantamount to consigning SLA to dissolution, the only unknown being the precise number of months before such dissolution would occur as SLA became non-viable.
What happened? SLA’s current treasurer, John DiGilio, spelled it out in the Special Libraries Association Annual Financial Report for 2014:
What hasn’t changed over the past few years is our underlying business model. When we were a healthy, growing association, we relied heavily on income from conference registrations, membership dues, and vendor advertising and sponsorships. Today, we still rely on these sources, but … they aren’t producing the revenues they once did.
The recommendations report attempts to fix this, while also outlining a new vision for SLA. In an article for Newsbreaks, Marydee Ojada wrote, “SLA is in the midst of an identity crisis.” I’ve heard words to that affect over the past decade, and I’m not exactly sure why. Looking at the roster of divisions, I see an association for librarians working in specialized librarians across a variety of disciplines. That’s the association I joined.
de Stricker and Shamel offer up this mission statement for SLA:
SLA is the association for information professionals seeking to be the best they can be in their careers and striving to advance the goals of the organizations they serve. SLA equips members to succeed, lead, and advance.
It sounds familiar to me. To wit, from Positioning SLA for the Future: Alignment Initiative Results and Recommendations:
[SLA] provides members with continuous learning opportunities to explore and master emerging technologies, develop leadership skills and achieve professional success.
I was struck by something that DiGilio wrote in the financial report: “We have become a stepping stone, something to try out for a few years before moving on the next stone.” That got me thinking: Maybe the real identity crisis is that some members are in SLA to network with fellow librarians working in like disciplines while other members are in SLA to get professional development training. SLA has tried to emphasize professional development training at least as long as I’ve been a member. Perhaps that emphasis has driven away those who joined for networking, but also has not made loyal members of those who come for the professional development.
I may be over-simplifying things, but keep in mind I’m a bit biased.
The thing is, while I have to admit that I’m not entirely sold on the direction SLA would go in per the recommendations report, I don’t think I have the faintest idea of how to turn things around. I would bet that most of the people who offered feedback on the report would say the same thing. So if not this, then what?
I am not envious of the Executive Board right now as they try to figure out what to do. I wish them good luck.