Dear Members of the SLA Community,
In my “Info View” column in the Nov/Dec issue of Information Outlook, I wrote about what associations must do to position themselves for growth and success in the years ahead. One sentence in particular articulates this challenge:
The vibrant associations of tomorrow will be the ones that create a new environment—that embrace change and innovation, that identify and take bold steps to move in new directions, that stop speaking in nouns like conference, magazine and Webinar and start thinking in verbs like transform, renew and inspire.
I think that sentence captures the essence of the past year at SLA. As I look back over the past 12 months, I see evidence of a collective shift—in strategy, in philosophy, and in action—that will fundamentally alter the value proposition of our association and make SLA essential to information professionals in the new knowledge economy.
For example, SLA staff spent many hours this year consulting with SLA members, working with online media experts, and brainstorming with each other to develop the architecture, navigation and content of our new Website, which will launch early in 2013. The philosophy underlying these efforts is that the site should be a go-to resource to help information professionals network, learn and collaborate. What it should not be is a document warehouse—a place to store items that are viewed and downloaded only a handful of times each year. SLA members work in environments that reward agility and encourage risk taking, and SLA’s Website will reflect and support these behaviors.
Similarly, SLA staff and members have been planning and coordinating the transition of our magazine, Information Outlook, from a printed publication to an online digital product that can be viewed on laptops, tablets and smartphones. This change, which was approved by the SLA Board of Directors, will make Information Outlook more accessible than ever to busy librarians and information professionals, many of whom are no longer defined by traditional physical spaces and resources. The digital magazine will also be easy to bookmark, share and search, helping transform it from a static reference tool to a mobile resource for ideas and inspiration.
We’ve been taking the same approach to our annual conference, trying to transform it from a learning and networking event—which is valuable in its own right—to a springboard for professional enrichment. At SLA 2012 in Chicago, for example, we debuted a panel discussion at the closing ceremony to provide fresh perspectives on topics that were popular with attendees. For 2013, SLA staff have been working with Jill Strand and the other members of the Annual Conference Advisory Council to incorporate four 120-minute sessions into the schedule to provide opportunities to dig deeper into relevant topics. Council and staff members are also reviewing all session proposals to ensure they are relevant and timely, and they are urging session planners to use presentation formats that promote interaction between presenters and attendees. These and other changes are designed to encourage critical thinking and discussion about the trends and issues affecting the information profession.
The changes we’re making to the annual conference, Information Outlook and our Website are not one-off attempts to breathe new life into familiar products and services; rather, they are part of a comprehensive effort to redefine SLA, to change it from an association organized around a common profession and interests to one that enhances members’ jobs and careers, their peer relationships, and their professional development. The steps we’ve taken over the past 12 months are just the start of this process, but they are laying the groundwork for more such transformations in the years ahead.
If the changes we’ve made this year (and those we intend to make in 2013 and beyond) are to last, they must have a solid financial foundation. I’m pleased to say that this year we earned a clean audit for 2011 and finished that year with a small surplus, thanks to stringent cost-cutting, careful monitoring of our finances, and the generosity of our units, which sponsored various association initiatives. Those same factors should enable us to at least break even this year, although our books for 2012 are still open at this time.
The story of SLA in 2012, then, is not so much one of activities, products and services—such as the successful Leadership Summit we held in Atlanta, the Salary Survey we rolled out in September, the many ClickU Webinars we presented, and the popular continuing education courses on knowledge management and copyright that we offered—as one of transformation, renewal and inspiration. As I look back on 2012, I see a year when we changed our identity, when we went beyond thinking of ourselves as an association and began to see ourselves as a portal to career enhancement, professional growth, and leadership development. Our members are responding positively to this change, as evidenced by the following:
• A 20 percent increase in the number of full registrations for SLA 2012;
• A 63 percent rise in registrations for our Copyright Management Certificate Program; and
• The expansion of our Webinar “room capacity” earlier this year from 100 to 500 sites to accommodate larger audiences for our ClickU offerings.
To be sure, 2012 has not been without its challenges. Although full conference registrations were up, total registrations were down due to fewer exhibitors, fewer exhibit staff, and fewer exhibit-only passes. Our vendor partners are committed to SLA’s success and are continuing to support our conference and other programs, but they, like many of us, simply have fewer dollars to spend. Likewise, our membership numbers declined 6 percent in 2012, although most of the slippage was in the lowest dues category, whereas the highest dues category gained members. Those in the lowest category often are unemployed or under-employed, and some may decide they will forego their SLA membership until their job situation improves.
The coming year will have its share of challenges as well. But I feel confident that we are on the right track, and that focusing on creating a new environment for information professionals will better serve their interests and those of all SLA stakeholders.
Janice Lachance SLA CEO