Still SLA to You and Me
By Dick Kaser
"Everything we do or fail to
do affects the future." That's what futurist Stewart Brand, author of The
Whole Earth Catalog, told a keynote crowd at the 94th Annual SLA Conference
in New York last month.
He pointed to a picture of Stonehenge. "This," he said, "is what happens
when you don't maintain your audience." What once was a ceremonial center now
lies in ruin.
And then he pointed to a picture of a Shinto shrine in Japan, which, he said,
has been rebuilt every 20 years for hundreds and hundreds of years. Though
not old itself, its tradition is ancient, he said. It's one of those things
that has survived the slow test of "long time."
The day after Brand spoke, SLA members met to make a decision affecting the
future of their own organization.
Here was their quandary: In an age when "special librarians" are turning
into "content managers," "chief information officers," and "knowledge architects," how
does their venerable "library" association stay whole and in touch with the
real world? How does it continue to identify with its members? And how does
it continue to attract new blood?
SLA executives put forward the idea that perhaps a name change would communicate
the way in which their profession has evolved. Up for a vote that day was a
referendum that had been 3 years in the making.
The question before the members was "Should the Special Libraries Association
change its name completely to become 'Information Professionals International'?" Or,
to appeal to the new generation of information pros who do not necessarily
think of themselves as librarians, should it simply scale down the name to
the familiar acronym, SLA?
Surprise! By a thin margin (only 73 votes shy of the required two-thirds
majority needed), the Special Libraries Association decided not to change its
name at all.
Shades of Canadian rock band Rush! The lyrics to their hit tune "Freewill" keep
playing in my head: "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice."
In this caseand given that hardly anyone calls it the "Special Libraries
Association" anywayI would say that by not choosing, the association
elected to stay "SLA," which was choice No. 2, had they decided to vote on
Are you confused yet?
Well, one thing's for sure. SLA's ability to avoid the Druids' path to quick
obsolescence and follow the Shinto path to long-term survival is safe within
the capable hands of a good team of professional knowledge managers who have
been elected to help run the organization.
Regardless of the vote's outcome, SLA's officers know what the situation
is and how to deal with it. At the press conference announcing the non-decision,
SLA president Cindy Hill looked on the bright side. She said, "We [still] have
the opportunity to make the society more visible." And she's absolutely right.
The Special "Libraries" Association can be whatever it needs to be.
We at ITI wish the associationby whatever name it holdsour very
best for long-term success in promoting the advancement of enterprise knowledge,
content management, and plain old information science.
Kaser is Information Today, Inc.'s vice president of content. His e-mail address