Bridging the Past
by Dick Kaser
The Special Libraries Association (SLA) is “celebrating 100 years of learning, sharing and promoting the value of information” this month.
It’s become unpopular in recent years to recognize the past as having any relevance to the present, but I was captivated by the timeline at the official website (www.sla.org/centennial), which charts events in SLA’s illustrious history as well as plotting them against world events.
No historian could argue with the political eras sketched in long, gray lines across the bottom of the chart: The Great War (that would be World War I to you and me), the Great Depression (seems to be becoming more relevant every day), World War II, the Cold War …
Above the political timeline, we see the birth of SLA divisions and chapters, starting along the East Coast and the Midwest, where manufacturing centers were the strongest. We see a Sci/Tech division materialize in 1924; near World War II (with scientific research blossoming), we see specialized divisions emerging and membership snowballing as scientific literature began booming in the postwar era. By the 1970s, there’s an environmental division, and we see the society going global, most recently with a provisional division in China.
Then we watch the internet emerge, starting with ARPANET and ultimately the World Wide Web. The SLA site is on the grid in 1996.
We watch the leadership emerge, starting with John Cotton Dana, the first president, followed by David Bender’s long reign as executive director and Janice Lachance as SLA’s first CEO in recent years.
There’s much to read between the lines. But in this simple schematic, we see a vital organization evolving with its times, surviving economic ups and downs, enduring wars, and adapting to technological change.
The SLA centennial site is a reflection of where the organization stands at the end of 100 years. It’s very 2.0: There are Flickr photos to peruse and user-generated oral histories to read. There’s even a set of YouTube videos to watch.
What the site’s users seem to be saying with their contributions is that they are not only proud to be a part of today’s SLA, but they are proud of who they are and what they do for the enterprises they serve. An ad agency couldn’t be paid enough to produce finer testimonials than these.
So then, with the past as prologue and as we are ever mindful of the lessons it can teach, my fellow editors and I are looking forward to participating in and covering the SLA Centennial Celebration in Washington, D.C., this month. Watch for our news reports, topical summaries, and event reviews starting on June 14 at www.infotodayblog.com.
Happy birthday, SLA!