Washington, DC Chapter

Categorized | Event Recap, Member Spotlight

SLA Presidential Candidates Share Their Thoughts On The Future Of The Association

SLA Presidential Candidates Share Their Thoughts On The Future Of The Association

DC/SLA held a “Meet the Candidates Happy Hour” recently, where the spotlight was on SLA presidential candidates Karen Reczek and Dee Magnoni. Dee and Karen agreed in advance that they wanted to talk to the group about four topics regarding the future of SLA. After some yummy appetizers and libations at Continental Pool Lounge, we took our conversation outside due to the noise level in the place. Karen and Dee wanted to be able to hear and be heard! They took turns sharing their thoughts and they listened to member feedback and questions. The four topics were:

In an effort to summarize the discussion, the candidates were kind enough to write up their thoughts on these topics. These are sure to be common themes in the upcoming September Board of Directors election. You can see the candidates’ answers to other questions here.

Topic 1: SLA’s Competencies and Professional Development

Dee Magnoni:
Do. Learn. Repeat. Professional development has been a core focus of mine from my earliest involvement in SLA. I began with chapter programming and a member survey, understanding that member feedback and engagement is critical to success. I twice served on SLA’s Professional Development Advisory Council, once as chair. When SLA’s Competencies were revised in 2003, I was one of the authors, and I blogged about their importance this past February. Once again the competencies are being revised, and I urge every SLA member to take part. Applying skills-based development in the workplace is a strategic management tool. This year I pulled together a team within the Los Alamos National Lab Research Library to analyze competencies and apply them across our team. We are taking two approaches. First, by creating a competency grid, staff members will be able to gain depth in a competency by working their way across the grid or they may learn a new competency by working down the grid. Second, by creating a staff competency database, new teams can be formed using a skills-based approach. My focus on development continues. I am the current professional development chair of the Leadership and Management Division. I am also chairing the Volunteer Experience Task Force (VETF). When putting together an August webinar on mentoring, I decided to crowdsource speakers. The result is a fantastic line-up of a dozen speakers and participants who will share vignettes and how-to’s in a rapid-fire, high impact format. Through the VETF we’ve decided to turn this into a series: Voices of the Information Professional. Once again I’ll be reaching out to members to find topics, volunteers, speakers. Together we take action, we learn, we repeat.

Karen Reczek: I will generalize, and say, as a profession, we struggle to articulate our value. I believe our competencies are what distinguish us from other employees in the workforce.  Our competencies are our value-add. As we know, the SLA Competencies document is from 2003 and is in desperate need of an update. I am thrilled to know that DC’s very own David Shumaker has stepped up to lead this Task Force that has been struggling for a few years with the “latest revision.” I strongly believe that SLA’s professional development opportunities should be tied to those competencies. LMD has been trying to take that approach with the existing competencies document and applying relevant skills to the Leadership & Management Division (LMD) conference sessions, and webinars.  I would love to see every SLA webinar, program slot and continuing education course be tied to developing a critical competency. If it doesn’t map, then maybe we shouldn’t offer it.

Topic 2: SLA changes and how to engage members as we move forward

Dee Magnoni: On a recent Board of Directors’ call, a Roadmap for engagement and change was approved. Directors urged members to roll up their sleeves and help move the roadmap and the Association forward. How can we do this? What first steps can be taken? The May release of the recommendations from the change consultants launched a debate amongst members and units that has rarely been paralleled in SLA history. Members shared views across lists, and chapters and divisions created responses and plans. I published my own early plan on my blog, and provide an outline of my vision in the final question. Building on this initial momentum, members and units can now consider specific questions. What business models should we consider? What are their pros and cons, and are there hybrids that might work for regions or subject areas? What pilots can be tried? At what level? The chapter? The division? The caucus? Across the Association? What about the conference? From my chapter visits I know that our members have forward-looking, creative ideas. Gather ideas to specific questions. Choose a few to pilot. Experiment, then implement successes. Continue with pilots in other areas. The Volunteer Experience Task Force (VETF) that I chair polled Cabinet members on priorities and directions. The response was phenomenal, and the taskforce will be working with members on stated priorities. This same cycle of engage, pilot and implement should be paralleled at the Board and Association level. Yes, SLA is at a critical time in its history. Specific answers to financial questions must be found sooner rather than later. Our finance committee is hard at work in this area, and is considering every aspect of the budget and the sale of our building. In the past, units have voluntarily supported specific financial initiatives of the association. We are seeing similar offers of support once again. Beyond the finances, we need to work toward a business model that represents our core values and our core uniqueness. I contend that our strength and our uniqueness are in our units. Membership is largely driven by areas of expertise and geographic locations. Let us work together to define the business model that supports this many-units to many-members structure.

Karen Reczek: I think there are two things vital to SLA turning itself around.

1) Support from its members – their ideas, reactions, and contributions. I can’t help but feel we are not very good at having the difficult conversations. In the Board Roadmap report it was noted that the Consultants’ report seems to have gotten this much needed conversation started. 2) SLA needs a better process for the intake of member ideas, for the input of member feedback, and for making decisions that are consensus based. I have spent a lot of time recently communicating and educating forensic practitioners on the US documentary consensus standards development process. It’s a process that brings a variety of stakeholders together and makes them agree on “something.”  Consensus doesn’t mean unanimity but means that people can “live with it.” I think SLA has a lot of passionate stakeholders. We need a better process to reach consensus. I say that – without a solution. But I have been thinking about it a lot!

Topic 3: What is your leadership philosophy?

Dee Magnoni: My leadership philosophy stems from my engagement with SLA and with community organizations, and through my work experience. I am mission-driven, and tie the work of my group or unit to that of the organization and the needs of its customers or members.  I learned early on that people want to be part of a solution, and will work hard toward organizational success when they help create the plan. I am an open leader. I want to hear ideas. At Los Alamos any of my 30+ staff members can come to me with their thoughts and feedback. If I were to close my door I would miss the heartbeat of the organization. I am a communicative leader. Communication is key to trust. In addition to an open door for my staff, I communicate back to them through team leaders, group messages and staff meetings. Over the course of this year, as a Board candidate, I visited several chapters and made site visits to hear perspectives and concerns, and to share ideas. I am inclusive; I look for partnership opportunities and build relationships. Several times during visits I heard about the importance of mentoring. SLA had a mentoring list years ago that I started as part of a diversity initiative. With the help of SLA staff I re-instituted the list, and sent an invitation to the Leadership list and to all past Rose L. Vormelker award winners. The list grew to more than seventy members in less than two months. Volunteers from the list will be working together to present a mentoring webinar in August. I am a responsive leader. I listen, then do. I imagine with a group, then create. I chair the Data Working Group at Los Alamos, made up of Lab data stakeholders — from big science, small science, high performance computing, IT, finance, to the research library and beyond. When we convened in August 2014, I held a brainstorming session for ideas. We then prioritized ideas, and created subgroups for the chief priorities. These subgroups created mandates and implemented projects. As we head into year two, we will evaluate progress and set new directions. I like to learn the lessons of other industries and apply creative solutions to current challenges. The taxi industry, for example, is being turned on its head through Uber. What lessons does this many-to-many business model hold for SLA? What ideas do you have to share?

Karen Reczek: I believe a good leader has:

  • Having a vision and being able to communicate that vision is critical. You need to inspire and motivate around a shared sense of purpose.
  • Communication is still a top-rated skill when it comes to leadership effectiveness. All relationships thrive with clear and regular communication.
  • The Ability to Create Value. A good leader adds value and making those around them better. What do you have to contribute? How do you create value for your organization?
  • Comfort with Ambiguity. Some say change is the only constant. The ability to navigate change – and handle ambiguity – is a critical skill for today’s leaders.
  • The ability to work effectively with others is important to good leadership. Today, leaders might benefit from thinking of themselves as being in the center of a web rather than on top of a pyramid. Lead by influence, not by command.
  • A good leader needs to able to navigate the formal and informal influences. Leaders must listen and take in both the negative and positive opinions, and ensure that all stakeholders feel heard. A good leader will aim to reach consensus, accept that this is not always possible, but continue to strive for it.

Ruth Kneale shared a recent article from Forbes with the SLA Open Board. The article was called Leadership is in crisis management mode by Glenn Llopis.  There isn’t enough room here to share the main points, so I encourage folks to read it, as it speaks to some of the current challenges confronting SLA leaders.

Topic 4: Vision for the future

Dee Magnoni: Looking at the broad business landscape, I see disruption in many centralized businesses and industries. An old business model is taking new form. Micro businesses are working through centrally branded platforms to connect to their customers. Examples? Look no further than:

These many-to-many infrastructures each offer products or services that customers want. We can apply this model to SLA. Our units offer volunteer opportunities, networking and professional development to their members through the SLA brand and platform. Many join SLA for a specific division or geographic region. SLA is benefiting from its units, as the units benefit from SLA. This synergy is critical, and must be remembered in planning. Our international outreach and impact succeeds through the initiatives of our global members, our staff, and our vendor partners. All members benefit from this broad perspective, and once again we must remember this strength as we create our future association. The financial infrastructure of many-to-many businesses should be modeled and considered for SLA. Turning from our member and unit structure, SLA’s dues structure is another core discussion that must be opened and thought through. One idea is to flatten our current tiers. This would, indeed, simplify our current structure. I contend that we should consider adding options to our tiers. For example, many members join several divisions. Why not offer a “museum pass” model where five divisions can be joined for the price of three? The core division would receive the full allotment, and sub-divisions would receive a partial allotment. What of our organizational memberships? Are they delivering value to information centers and employees? Let’s investigate this option and its benefits. Some members work across a number of industries, travel broadly, and are just plain curious. Let’s create the Golden Ticket. This super category would include membership to every chapter and division, along with other distinct benefits. SLA’s annual conference generates its largest revenue. Is the current model for soliciting programming still working? Are we getting the most cutting edge work from our emerging voices? How do we find them? As one DC member suggested, let’s turn conference programming into a competitive evaluation process. What tools would we need to accomplish this change? Let’s work together to explore this and our many other ideas for SLA’s future.

I want to thank the Board and members of the DC chapter for the opportunity to visit, to listen and to share ideas that will help us create SLA’s future.

Karen Reczek: I see a future SLA that has:

  • Greater transparency
  • More business rigor
  • Improved communication with members
    • Maybe, SLA should establish Ombudsman roles?
  • Implemented partnerships with other organizations/international orgs who share our “mission” and values
  • Established a non-paid advisory board of non-information professionals (marketing, IT, CEOs, researchers, etc.) to bring a fresh outside perspective.
  • Explored new revenue streams, new services, etc. through pilot projects and prototypes and then iterations to improve them; Pilots that will have been tested on small target groups and “debugged” before wider release.
  • Identified other conference themes or events to attract a broader market
    • SLA could partner with media or innovation lab e.g., like when we were in Boston, there is the MIT Media Lab. This could be a “be the first to know” type event, a must see! Come see the next best thing! We could have entrepreneurs showcase new technologies and keynotes from these companies/orgs. They might even pay us to let them participate.

Most of all, I see a future SLA that is more responsive to its changing environment than it has been in the past. An association that is ready to pivot as soon as the data shows it’s necessary. One that is continually identifying new business opportunity gaps. I see an SLA that continues to bring value to its members.

2 Responses to “SLA Presidential Candidates Share Their Thoughts On The Future Of The Association”


  1. […] hear concerns and answer questions. We focused on four core questions, which can be viewed on the DC/SLA event […]

  2. […] as Chair of the Professional Competencies Task Force, which has, in the words of one of SLA’s Presidential Candidates, “struggled for a few years.” I will personally be paying close attention to how the […]

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