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Magazines > Information Today > July / August 2003
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Information Today
Vol. 20 No. 7 — July 2003
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 case—and given that hardly anyone calls it the "Special Libraries Association" anyway—I would say that by not choosing, the association elected to stay "SLA," which was choice No. 2, had they decided to vote on it.

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 association—by whatever name it holds—our very best for long-term success in promoting the advancement of enterprise knowledge, content management, and plain old information science.

Dick Kaser is Information Today, Inc.'s vice president of content. His e-mail address is
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