The last “hurrah” of my professional summer was to attend the Special Libraries Association’s (SLA) annual conference, which happened to be in-person (as well as virtual) in Charlotte this year, July 31st – August 2nd. I’m a relative newcomer to this conference and organization. I know several corporate and business/finance librarians who are very active in SLA and when my neighbor librarian at UNC-Greensboro, Steve Cramer, suggested we submit a proposal on our experience integrating discussions on business ethics, equity, and inclusion in the business information literacy classroom, I jumped at the opportunity. Although our presentation was accepted for one of the conferences “pre-recorded, virtual slots” I was very much interested in attending in-person to connect and engage with professionals in non-traditional libraries/roles. 

My first impression of the conference was that this is a professional organization in a rebuilding/soul-searching mode. Like a lot of professional associations, SLA is suffering from a drop in membership and changes in revenues streams – some of which can be laid at the feet of the pandemic but also the changing way information professionals view the “value” of belonging to a professional organization. For new attendees like myself, I felt very much like an outsider with so much of the dialogue happening between sessions and during receptions evolving around the changing nature of SLA as an organization. That isn’t to say there wasn’t excellent content and networking to be discovered. 

Of the virtual and in-person sessions I viewed and/or attended the ones that stood out were: 

Dr. Nicole A. Cooke’s Keynote (Univ. of South Carolina) – “Disinformation and the Literacy Landscape” 

This was my first time catching a presentation by Dr. Cooke. Dr. Cooke has been a featured speaker on disinformation, diversity and cultural competency in LIS, and a whole lot more – and, although I have been through several presentations/webinars/discussions on mis and disinformation, I was absolutely enthralled by Dr. Cooke’s presentation. From breaking down information behavior terms to actionable steps we as information professionals can take to educate ourselves and others on mis and disinformation, Dr. Cooke left the room more informed and energized to do the hard work of “actively disrupt[ing] the normalization of untruth”. You can check out notes from her presentation here

Steve Cramer (UNC-Greensboro) & Betty Garrison (Elon Univ.) – “Our professional and personal needs are changing: How should our professional organizations respond to support us — and retain us as members?: A brainstorming discussion” 

As Chair of NCLA’s Business Librarian’s group (BLINC), I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to support not only two BLINC members but also such an important discussion. First, I loved the format. Sometimes you sign up for conference sessions with the word “discussion” in the title but there really isn’t much discussing. That was not the case for this session! Steve and Betty laid out the results of their most recent survey on this topic (they have already done some work on this topic and you can check out Steve’s Blog here for a summary of responses from their most recent survey) and then asked the room to break into groups and discuss a number of talking points centered on the question(s) what is and isn’t working in professional library organizations and what can we do to create value for/improve member experience. There was SO much richness that came out of this discussion (I could write a whole other blog post about it). Two questions from the discussion that really stood out to me were – are we burning out new members of professional organizations by overloading them with responsibility too early (oftentime before they have a true understanding of the organization) and how can we create a financially stable organization while also maximizing the number of free/low-cost professional development opportunities for members? I’ll be discussing these thoughts/questions with BLINC’s leadership team and members in the weeks and months to come. 

Jay Bhatt (Drexel University) & Lynnee Argabright (UNC – Wilmington) – “Finding Data: Teaching Science and Technology Data Information Literacy Skills to Researchers” 

As I’ve written about before, I’m always looking to grow my skills around data literacy and Jay and Lynnee’s presentation was a great overview of the basic principles of teaching and supporting data literacy at our institutions. Like Dr. Cooke’s keynote, although the material wasn’t necessarily new to me, I appreciated the different approaches and styles of instruction Jay and Lynnee demonstrated/discussed during their presentation – namely, how they described the different data needs of researchers based on where they are in their research process (plus our own Summer Krstevska got a shout out, featuring her great blog post on teaching data literacy) plus all the great data sources and links that were shared that I’ll be diving into for some time to come. 

Dr. Hannah Gunderman (Carnegie Mellon University), Taylor Johnson (EPA), & Denise D. Callihan (PPG) – “Going Beyond Zoom Fatigue: How to Collaborate Digitally, Remotely, and Creatively” 

These three quick, virtual presentations were filled to the brim with new to me digital tools and strategies for creating an engaging virtual experience on Zoom (and elsewhere online). Some standouts were Mural, Sli.Do, and Hannah Gunderman’s amazing YouTube series “Pixel Datascapes” which she used to help teach data management at Carnegie Mellon. 

And last, but certainly not least, as is often the case, perhaps the most interesting moment of my SLA experience happened at lunch when I happened to sit down and began chatting with an archivist for CNN. We had, what I found to be, an absolutely fascinating conversation about the trials and tribulations of being an archivist in an international news organization (what do you do when a country changes names and you have to re-index your entire clips archive to match the new name and reference the old name…and this was before computers….oy vey!). Needless to say, I definitely exchanged business cards and am looking for an excuse to get down to Atlanta to check out their archive for a more in depth look.