jobs, Jobs, JOBS!

If there was one message that came through loud and clear on my recent road trip, it was Employment, with a capital E.  SLA has a robust Career Center , which I hope every unemployed, under-employed, or barely-employed member knows about. SLA has done a good job of providing members with access to tools that can help with resumes, job searches, and information-gathering. Still, sometimes, you just need to hear a success story or two from other members.

For example, last weekend I attended commencement exercise for the School of Library and Information Management of Emporia State University in Portland, Oregon. Now that I’m running for SLA president-elect, the commencement ceremony affected me in a new way. I’ve been visiting SLA chapters, hearing their suggestions and advice, and as I said, one message has risen above the din: members want jobs, Jobs, JOBS.

What can we do to inform these newly-minted information professionals about the best options that lie in the road ahead? Is there anything we can learn from them? Here’s a short burst of ideas that I’ve been exploring.

We can inspire them

The commencement keynoter was my friend, colleague, and client Kevin Carroll, who is an amazing inspirational speaker and author of “The Red Rubber Ball.” Kevin engages people all over the world on the power of play and creativity, and he never ceases to raise the energy level of whatever room he’s in. Kevin’s life story is like a made-for-TV movie, as he has risen from the poverty of the inner city to tour the world, teaching people to believe in themselves.

Kevin told the graduates, “You are going to impact people’s lives.”  He gave each graduate permission to “chase your dream and be a catalyst — a human agent for change.” He recognized that knowledge and learning is their play—and play is serious business. My guess is that every one of those students was ready to go out and scale a mountain or slay the nearest dragon.

We can offer them advice

Here are a couple pointers from Jan Chindlund, an SLA colleague in the Illinois Chapter. Jan has been mentoring library and information professionals for many years.

1) Look in places that are not so obvious. Information research professionals could be called anything. In fact, there are nearly 2,000 different job titles in the SLA database, so look outside the usual terminology.

Here’s a success story to illustrate this point: Reece Dano, a member of the Oregon chapter, met Jeremy Snell, a South Carolina library school student at the   2009 SLA Conference in Washington, D.C. They talked about Reece’s position as a Information Specialist at Ziba Design in Portland, Oregon, which interested Jeremy as he did not know that this type of job existed.

A few weeks later Jeremy applied to several design firms in South Carolina for a research internship. Reece offered this advice: do not sell yourself as a librarian first and foremost, but rather as a multi-dimensional researcher who can leverage the ancient and time-tested skills of library science to add value to retrieving information.

A few weeks later Reece saw that Jeremy was starting his internship at Post No Bills, a design consultancy. To me, that’s proof that participating in SLA — especially early in one’s career — can have a positive impact.

What’s the big insight? As Jeremy told me, “There a lot of other things outside a traditional library that I can do with this degree.  I would not have been exposed to these possibilities without SLA.”

2) Volunteer at an institution or non-profit. You’ll get great experience and they will get to know you, your work habits, and your skill set. It might lead to paying work, or to another opportunity. Build your network!

Here’s a success story to illustrate this point: Dianna Wiggins, a member of SLA’s Illinois chapter, told me that she volunteered at the YMCA headquarters in Chicago two days a week for five months. She learned about the need from a colleague from the Chicago Knowledge Management (KM) group. The work was challenging, but she kept with it. When a position came available at YMCA for a Social Networking Manager, Dianna was in a great position to capitalize on the time she had invested in this relationship. She is now working with the Resource Directors in the field, assessing knowledge-sharing needs for high-risk communities.

As Dianna said simply, “It was worth the wait.” Congrats! Great job title, by the way.

3) Conduct zillions of informational interviews. Always wanted to work with XXX? Call a company in your area that does XXX. Through your SLA network, learn the names of hiring managers in your area and get on their calendar. Conduct yourself with the utmost professionalism, ask insightful questions, and who knows? It could lead to an interview.

And we can get out of their way

Jim Scheppke, the Oregon State Librarian, also attended the Emporia State graduation. I buttonholed him afterwards and talked about the state of our profession. He predicted that the Boomer generation will start to retire in greater numbers as the economy begins to rebound. I asked him if those jobs will become available or will they be lost to attrition? Jim couldn’t say for sure, but he predicted that libraries have more potential than ever, and his “bullish” enthusiasm was catching.

What advice/inspiration/stories do you have for finding and landing jobs?

Road trip

In my bid for SLA president-elect, I think its really important to listen to the members and to understand their concerns, issues and perspectives. I’m from the Oregon Chapter, which is  relatively small with just over 100 members, most of whom I know well. So in order to listen, I need to go to where the members are, and that means a Road Trip!
Through the month of July I initiated phone calls to east coast chapters to see if I could arrange to talk about the issues. I coordinated with my worthy opponent and we set in motion a schedule to visit some of the bigger chapters: Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Boston, and New York and Minneapolis on the way home. This was shaping up as an epic journey in the vein of the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, directed by the late John Hughes.

Monday, Washington, DC

For the first stop, about 35 members from the DC chapter met us at the Elephant and Castle restaurant near the headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency. It was a great kick-off to the trip, with movers and shakers who asked great questions about the Alignment, our name change, and international developments.

Best story of the trip: In D.C., I met a person from the State Department that was literally dropped by helicopter into Afghanistan to start libraries for the citizens! I’ve been saying all along that this is a noble profession because of how we connect people and information. Boy, is that a great example!

Philly chapter members and the candidates.

Philly chapter members and the candidates.

Tuesday, Philadelphia

About a dozen Philadelphia members gathered with us at a local watering hole about three blocks from Constitution Hall. A vendor generously picked up the tab for drinks and hors d’oeuvres. We had a few minutes to introduce ourselves, followed by insightful questions about how SLA can get more from their vendor sponsors and what merger and acquisition opportunities might be in store for SLA. I felt very comfortable with this chapter, because they had a great positive energy that emphasized participation and collaboration.

Boston chapter members

Boston chapter members

Wednesday, Boston

Next up was Boston, where we met at another Elephant and Castle restaurant. About 15 members, including former SLA president Hope Tillman, enjoyed an intimate dinner. I had a bowl of chow-dah, but that was about all the tourism I got in.

Sad story: One member came to the meeting but stayed at the bar. As it turns out she has just been laid off that very day….and she is getting a divorce….and she’d just been to her friend’s funeral. Oy!

The NYC Board and SLA candidates.

The NYC Board and SLA candidates.

Thursday, New York City

This was my second trip to New York as SLA candidate for president-elect, because New York is important. You guys were tough! New York is ground zero for the economic downturn and several members were pressing hard to get SLA to do more for jobs Jobs JOBS!!! I heard you, and I heard it elsewhere, and I get it – jobs are key.

One the flip side, one member who is a publicist by day and library student by night, called her friend at the Wall Street Journal—repeat Wall Street Journal—to see if there might be a possible story out of what is happening to corporate libraries. We’ll see how it plays out, but it’s a great example of how you can pick up the phone and press the levers of power. Only in New York!

Minnesota chapter's "Salon."

Minnesota chapter's "Salon."

The following Tuesday, Minneapolis

Finally, the trip was winding down and I was headed west. Minneapolis was such a contrast from NYC. Where Manhattan was hot and humid, Minneapolis was clear and mild, which is a nice metaphor for the event, too. About 15 people attended the chapter’s “Salon,” where we discussed the book Tribes by Seth Godin. Chapter members want SLA to go further, faster and are willing to take some risks in order to get us moving. The next day a chapter member drove me to Cargill, Inc. to meet their Knowledge Management group, which was followed by a nice lunch with a few board members.

The Questions:

Throughout the trip, which covered about 7,000 miles and five chapters, and that was all at my own expense, members peppered us with whatever was on their mind.  Here’s a sample:

 “What does the association need to let go of?” My smarty-pants answer is that “I’m a vegetarian, and really don’t want to have the blood of all those sacred cows on my hands!” But seriously, I agree with the premise of the question, that we need to let go of services and programs in order to move forward. We need to be as strategic about sunsetting programs as we are about adding them. In this economy, we need to invest in our growth and in member benefits, and ask: what is the cost of this program or service and how does it help us achieve our goals?

“What should SLA do in terms of positioning ourselves for the future?” SLA has just completed an Alignment Project in order to ascertain how to better position ourselves within the information industry. Currently, the Association is considering a name change. But the name is the tip of the iceberg in our positioning. We need to build communication that addresses 1) ourselves, 2) our potential members, 3) our vendors and partners, as well as 4) our directors. As I stressed in a previous post, we need to create a shared vision of our future; we need to be FUTURE READY. We also need  branding that is visually compelling. And finally we need to continue our focus on innovation.

What are your thoughts on international growth? Global networking is one of SLA’s key differentiators in the information industry. This year SLA’s Business and Finance Division awarded the Tata Group from India its Center of Excellence award. The Board of Directors and its candidates include members from the UK, Canada, and India. We all benefit from a rich pool of networking opportunities. Continued international growth is highly encouraged.

The immediacy of the economic downturn was evident everywhere. In every city, members were a) creating value for their employer in the jobs they have b) cutting back on their budgets or c) re-inventing themselves with Web 2.0 skills and abilities. 

When I touched down in Portland at the end of my trip, I wasn’t as tired as I thought I would be. In fact, I was invigorated by knowing that I had put myself out there, that I had done my homework, and that I had met members that gave me insights that I would never have gained otherwise. And…I kept thinking of that librarian, dangling from a helicopter in Afghanistan. With members willing to put themselves out like that, I’m inspired to do my part to keep the Association moving forward. I hope you are, too.

 What questions do you have for some one with ambitions to be president-elect of SLA? I’m all ears!

Future Ready Begins Today

Ever since I started running for president-elect of SLA, I’ve been:

  • Listening more closely to member’s concerns
  • Scanning SLA listservs, websites, blogs, newsletters, and wikis
  • Talking to members, staff, and thought leaders, and
  • Reading, reading, reading!

One common thread I’ve noticed, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out, is that there’s a lot of anxiety in our profession coming from the economic tremors, but also from the sea change of new technologies which are escalating user expectations. Dr. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, told us in June that the biggest challenge we have is to embrace the profound changes in our profession. 

Could you have imagined the tools we are using now when you started your career? I recently watched the movie I Have Never Forgotten You: The Life & Legacy of Simon Wiesenthal”  a documentary of Wiesenthal’s life bringing Nazi war criminals to trial. In several scenes, in the background, there is row upon row of files, archives and notebooks. It was a very intense way to track and document people, places, and things. I imagine all that information is now in a database that takes just milliseconds to search. 

Fast-forward 60 years and we have Goggle maps, librarians embedded in organizations without books, the World Digital Library, and Kindle with thousands of books available for a 12-second download. 

How are we going to make sense out of the profound changes in our profession? 

We need to create a shared vision of our future. Or to put it another way—and I’m borrowing wholesale from the Comcast ad—we need to become Future ready.

We have to look at the concepts and constructs that will propel us forward. We need to determine the positioning that will be the most effective. We need to assess the competencies that will carry us through the next decade. We need to paint a rosy picture of how our skills, core values, and resources will be used in 2019 and draw a road map to it.

There are a lot of blanks to fill in. One management method is to build three different scenarios for the future:

  1. stretch goals you would like to attain
  2. probable outcomes you can expect no matter what
  3. an entrenched version with minimal change

Nobody has the answer right now, but it’s worthwhile to ask questions: What will the workplace and economy likely be?  What is the impact of various converging/diverging forces on the information professional of the future?

The Price Waterhouse Coopers’ report Managing tomorrow’s people: the future of work to 2020 describes a work force that will be more complicated and move faster, where people are expected to have up to five jobs in their career and to have mobility across borders. The authors predict that business models will change with less reliance on command and control.

 “We identified a number of global forces that will have significant influence, and of those we felt that individualism versus collectivism and corporate integration versus fragmentation would be the most significant. From this axis we identified three worlds and business models for the future.” [page 4] 

EBIC’s 2008 report Knowledge and Information Management to 2020  uses the PWC report to pose questions directly related to the information industry: 

  • What is the Knowledge Information Management proposition for this world?
  • What Knowledge Information Management activity would ensure success in this world?
  • What role should Knowledge Information Management professionals play in this world?

One conclusion which ran through the various scenarios was this:

“Creativity and innovation will continue to lie at the heart of business success. Developing and managing relationships to support successful collaborative working practices will be a key role for KIM.” [page  3]

Developing a vision for our future is the next big conversation. The discussion needs to be a dialog where we can all contribute from our various areas of expertise, and thus enrich the vision. The beauty of starting this conversation now is that we can contribute using social networking tools. I feel that positioning the Association to be FUTURE READY is vital to the organization.

What does FUTURE READY mean to you?

Position yourself high and to the right

In January 2009, I co-authored the article “Strategic Alignment: Positioning Our Brand for the Future,” for Information Outlook with Bill Fisher and Gloria Zamora. We noted that over the past several years, members have felt a burgeoning sense of “career angst” because they are not valued as much as is appropriate. Members saw positions eliminated or sent to project teams with little or no consultation, and salaries for positions similar to theirs outside the information center were paid at a higher rate.

It’s wrong that librarian don’t get enough credit for the value and benefits of their work. And that it’s wrong that the stereotype of librarians is limited. We need to right these wrongs. But how? We will move to where the value is. We will use the concepts from the Alignment Project to create meaning.

 We will define ourselves in terms of the values, benefits and impact that we provide such as:

 Information professionals:

  • Advance business and product development
  • Facilitate good decision-making
  • Provide the research tools to enable critical thinking

For the Association, we:

  • Promote members as critical assets
  • Enhance professional/personal development
  • Enable global networking

We will define ourselves in terms our manager’s value. Fleishman-Hillard developed a two-by-two grid based on themes that emerged from in-depth interviews (pages 24-30). Guy Kawasaki, in talking about his own two-by-two grid, titles his axes in a way that I think is analogous. The axes are titled: 1) the ability to provide a unique product/service and 2) value to the customer. 

“When you have a matrix like this you want to end up high and to the right. This is where you have a UNIQUE product and ONLY you can do this product, and it is of GREAT VALUE to the customer.”


The concepts that Fleischman-Hillard identified as “high and to the right” and therefore of great value are:

  • Creating a culture of continuous learning
  • Embracing knowledge-sharing tools
  • Providing value-added intelligence
  • That knowledge is the bridge that turns information into action

 We will turn information into actionable knowledge that creates a competitive advantage for our organizations.

We will jump to a new curve. Have you heard of the Sigmoid Curve? It’s the s-shaped line used to track the life-cycle of products, careers, and even empires. The line shows initial growth, a period of peak activity, followed by decline. To survive, you must shift to a new curve before the current one expires.

It is my conclusion that the Alignment Project allows us to jump to a new curve—to position ourselves where the value is. We have taken the concept of “special libraries” to its natural conclusion. We need to jump to new positioning and nomenclature.

We will celebrate our legacy with our 100th anniversary, all the while grabbing the next vine and swinging upwards. We may or may not create the perfect name, but we will create one better than what we have now. We need to get going, or in Nike terms, “Just Do It.”

New York City Style

slany3On June 22, 2009, the New York Chapter of SLA celebrated our 100th Anniversary, plus its own 90th anniversary, with a great big helping of New York finery. The event was held in the elegant University Club in Manhattan. Here’s the Wikipedia entry for this amazing place.

Through my travels to a few chapters, I’ve noticed that they each seem to have their own style and feel. Every chapter crackles with enthusiasm and professionalism, but the “flavor” varies. Southern California is, as you might expect, laid back and mellow, while the Bay Area is open and accepting and, dare I say, “groovy.” The Seattle chapter feels earnest and warm, even on a rainy day. But I have to say that on this night, at least, New York had a classy feel that really reflected well on our association.

Everything at the New York event was, as my Dad might say, “top drawer,” as the event planning committee secured sponsorship from a dozen vendors a month before the markets dipped. From the sparkling drinks to the table that looked like it was set with spun sugar for a family wedding, the evening had an elegant, decorative feel.

After hors d’oeuvres, we were shown to our table. Guy St. Clair, one of SLA’s past presidents, was the master of ceremonies and keynote speaker. I’ve known Guy for years, and I always find him energizing. In addition to a deep knowledge of SLA’s formative years, which he tapped to write the book about our history, Guy is a global consultant with a focus on helping businesses transition to a knowledge-centric culture in their organizations and businesses.

Guy shared with us stories of SLA’s past from his book SLA @ 100. As you may know, SLA was originally incorporated in New York; some of its first documents were bibliographies.

“It is an amazing story, this history of SLA, and in this book the author has taken every opportunity to present a fair and honest telling. Not only does St. Clair trace the highlights of the Association’s history he also tells the story as a story. “

There were 16 past SLA NY chapter presidents in attendance that night, so the room buzzed with power and prestige. Also attending was Gloria Zamora, SLA’s current president; Anne Caputo, SLA’s president-elect. With myself and Agnes Mattis—both SLA’s candidates for president-elect—the next generation of SLA presidents were in attendance, too. All in all, it was a great evening, and it reminded me of how proud I am to be part of such a noble profession.

Enlightened Self-Interest

When I tell my colleagues I’m running for President-Elect of SLA, some of them ask me, with looks ranging from skepticism to awe, “Why do you want to do this?” A lot of answers have been tumbling out, and I don’t know if I’ve answered the question the same way twice. Just a few short months ago, one of the reasons, I thought, was to give back to all the wonderful mentors I’ve had. But I’m finding, really, it is enlightened self-interest. There is truth in the old saying that the more you give, the more you get.

People are so willing to share their insights, stories and vision for SLA. They want me to know how to move the Association forward. They—you—are trusting me with your insights.

It took a huge dose of courage to step up to this election, and to be honest there is a lot of self-doubt that goes into being a candidate for office. It’s akin to what Joseph Campbell wrote about in his epic Hero With a Thousand Faces. Early on there is a key part of every good story called “The Refusal of the Call.” This is where the reluctant hero argues against his logical path of action and tries to back out. It’s where Luke Skywalker basically told Obi-wan, “Look, I hate the Empire as much as anyone, but there’s nothing I can do about it right now.” It’s what I told myself a thousand times. And then…I agreed to place my name on the ballot.

But now, I’m really glad I stepped up—it’s been an honor already. I don’t know for sure how this ends, but I’m going to give it my best. You’ve entrusted me with your support and wisdom. I’m going to return the favor.

It’s really about volunteerism, in a new wordrobe (get it? word-robe! ha!). Maybe it’s volunteerism on steroids. Its not by any means an American trait. It has its roots in Old World philanthropy and noblesse oblige, in what Alexis de Tocqueville called “enlightened self-interest.”

I want to do my part to make SLA “Future Ready” because I believe it’s critical for the organization. It’s also in my own self-interest to make sure we’re ready for the next stage.

So, what’s in it for you? What enlightened benefits are you getting from your participation in SLA?