Chris Zammarelli

I'm not really foreign, you know.

Sick Parent: Thoughts on the State of SLA

Art by KieranI have been a member of SLA since 2005. In the 10 years since I’ve joined, the association’s membership and revenue has been steadily declining. I’m pretty sure that’s a coincidence.

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.

All humans are created equal…

All humans are created equal. They are only made unequal by the prejudices of their forebears. Those prejudices are pernicious, but they can be overcome. As we have seen in the past couple of weeks, we are not there yet, but we’re getting there. We will get there.

I Resurface Just to Do a New Number On You

I am starting a blog to do two things:

  1. Process what I’m reading by writing it out.
  2. Get ideas on paper that I want to share.

I have two rules about my blogging:

  1. I am not going to care if each blog post matters. Most of them won’t.
  2. I will not write for the sake of writing. That’s what Twitter is for.

This site comes preloaded with three blog posts that I lifted from whatever other failed blogging ventures I’ve launched in the past. I reposted them because they’re pertinent and also because someone Tumblred them. They are going to be the touchstones that I will launch off of, if launching off of touchstones is a thing you can do.

Watch this space because I might delete it soon.

Post headline comes from Elbow’s “The Take Off and Landing of Everything”:

Telecommuting Tips

RockvilleI telecommute once a week. Federal government employees who have work that can be done via telework are encouraged to do so. If you’ve ever read any reports about U.S. cities with the worst traffic, you can understand why.

The challenge to working from home is staying focused on your work, which is difficult when things like TV and a fully stocked refrigerator are available to distract you. I came up with a list of tips that may be useful if you are planning to telecommute:

Do not schedule non-work appointments for your telework day

It’s always better to take personal leave to cover appointments like doctor’s visits than to work around those appointments. If you absolutely have to schedule non-work appointments on your telework day, be sure to take a half day of leave.

It can get tricky if you are low on leave hours, I realize, but the truth is this: if you are working and you suddenly have to take off for something else, you are going to find it extremely difficult to get back into work once you’ve returned home. It’s disruptive enough if you have to go back into the office, but at least the office setting is more likely to recapture your attention. Once you’re home, the distractions of home life may be too tempting.

Keep the TV Off

I could argue that watching news channels is pertinent to my work. In truth, I’m usually not getting much of anything that I wouldn’t get just by checking some news websites from time to time. And really, here’s what happens when I have the TV on while I work:

  • I get so engrossed in what I’m doing I am not even paying attention to what is on TV.

– or –

  • I get so engrossed in what’s on TV that I am not even paying attention to what I’m doing.

Why waste the electricity or time in your work day?

Have a task list that someone else sees

It is one thing to write up a list of things you need to get done at home. It’s another thing entirely to have someone hold you accountable for ticking things off that list.

The day before I telework, I send my onsite supervisor my task list. I CC the director and deputy director of the office and my supervisor at the agency I work for. At the end of the day, I write a report listing all of the tasks I completed that day, even if they weren’t a part of the original task list. Everyone gets to see what I accomplished, but also gets to see what else came up during the day that I worked on. Nothing keeps you focused on your work than scrutiny of your work at the end of the day.

Have a meeting

Similar to above, schedule a meeting with your supervisor over the phone to discuss what you’ve done that day or to cover another work-related topic. Or meet with a co-worker on a joint project or meet with an intern to discuss his or her task. Find someone you want to meet with and, you know, meet with them.

Recreate your office workflow

In other words, take your breaks at home when you take your breaks at work. If you have set times for lunch and for morning and afternoon breaks in the office, keep those times at home. Also, if you prepare lunch to bring to the office, have it prepped at home. This way you don’t waste time peering into the fridge looking for food or getting distracted by cooking something elaborate.


I don’t necessarily mean go to the gym, but if you’re holed up in your house all day, go take a walk after lunch. Getting outside and away from the house will be a better break than, say, watching TV or playing video games. And a nice walk will help energize you for the rest of the day.

Don’t snack

This is the best advice I can give myself: just because I have access to all of the food in the house doesn’t mean I have to eat all of the food in the house.

I don’t claim that I follow all these to the letter every time I work from home. But the closer I stick to it, the more productive I am.

On a Need to Know Basis

Maine LighthouseOne of the assumptions that librarians make is that the value of our services is self-evident. We see the value every day, but we take it for granted that others (ones who have a say over library budgets, for example) see things our way.

How do we justify our existence to our stakeholders? Do we present numbers from usage reports? Do we present anecdotal evidence? What can we use to incontrovertibly prove our worth to those who hold our fates in their hands?

As mentioned in Measuring Points, my office has trying to determine what usage data that we’ve collected best shows the success of our electronic resources platform. The conclusion we came to is that, while we have a lot of good data, we need to make some tweaks to improve their quality.

Certainly, it should be easy enough to enhance the data we get from the systems we built ourselves. We can also use code to improve the type of data that we collect using Google Analytics.

We don’t have a say in the types of data we get from our resource providers. We can (and have been) requesting additional reports beyond the canned ones in the client services modules. Some of these reports exist, some have become enhancement requests. Honestly, not all of the reports we’ve asked for would be useful to other clients, so it’s probably easier for our reps to just run them when we ask for them.

There are other types of analysis that we can do to enhance the data we already have. We’re going to do cost analysis reports from a couple of different angles to figure out where we’re getting bang for our buck and where we can get more bang.

We also need to do more analysis of qualitative data, but we have to figure out how to get it. There’s a central system where spaces in the field report on their work and activities, and just about all of the items related to our platform that have been submitted are about training sessions. I’m glad to see the training, but as we enter the fifth year of this project, I really want to see more about how users are using the resources.

That is going to be our biggest challenge moving forward, because, while the hard numbers can be impressive, they don’t measure the impact the resources have had on our users. And that is really what is going to show the value of our services.

« Older posts

© 2015 Chris Zammarelli

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑