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Magazines > Searcher > July/August 2010
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Vol. 18 No. 6 — Jul/Aug 2010
Correspondence

Letters from SLA’s CEO and a Searcher-reading SLA member about a recent article and Searcher’s Voice column, respectively, on matters concerning the Special Libraries Association.


SLA Protests

I am writing in response to the article “Survival Lessons for Libraries: Staying Afloat in Turbulent Waters — News/Media Libraries Hit Hard,” which appears in the May 2010 issue of Searcher [http://www.infotoday.com/searcher/may10/Matarazzo_Pearlstein.shtml]. In their examination of the current landscape surrounding closures of special libraries and the loss of employment opportunities, authors James Matarazzo and Toby Pearlstein make a rather harsh assumption about the focus of the Special Libraries Association (SLA), and I would like to address their claims.

The authors state: “There are no statistics that we can find on the number of corporate special libraries and the number of openings, reductions, and closures affecting them over time. Such statistics would be invaluable for identifying trends that could guide practitioners in thinking strategically about their roles within their organizations. The Special Libraries Association appears to have its focus elsewhere, although many of its members are in crisis. The authors suggest that SLA is uniquely positioned to collect and analyze this kind of data and encourage the Association to make this a priority of its efforts.”

While Matarazzo and Pearlstein are correct that SLA has not conducted research that would yield data and statistics about library closures, their conclusion that SLA is not focused on its members who are in crisis is simply not true. SLA has, in fact, done extensive work to identify trends and provide tools to guide members into thinking strategically about their roles within their organizations. With so much information available online, and with organizations and governments looking for ways to cut costs, advocacy at the personal level has taken on new urgency. People outside the library world — and more than a few in it — often have a very narrow, non-strategic view of the capabilities of information professionals and librarians. Without better knowledge to this end, they cannot be expected to see the critical strategic role librarians play in their organizations. Without better knowledge, too many librarians and even whole libraries are becoming victims of budgetary crunches. In 2006, SLA saw the warning signs of the impending budget crisis and began working to identify the best ways to empower our members with information and tools that will help them keep their jobs. This was the focus of an ambitious two-year research effort, the Alignment Project, undertaken by SLA to find the most effective way for both the association and our members to communicate the strategic value of the information profession to employers.

Our challenge was to find out how our members, and the jobs they perform, are viewed by hiring executives; which activities performed by info pros are valued most by employers; and what language can be used to effectively communicate the value that information professionals add to the organizations that employ them.

We undertook this challenge in the manner that information professionals use in their work every day: by conducting the best research and finding the best information to support evidence-based decisions. (All of our findings are available on our Web site at www.sla.org/alignment.)

SLA is now using the results of this research to re-focus our programs, services, and member benefits. We are creating tools, programs, and learning opportunities that are designed to empower our members with the language and skills that employers value in today’s marketplace. We believe that the lessons learned from the Alignment Project research have provided SLA with a clear road map by which to serve our members and help them stay employed.

In addition to the Alignment Project, SLA has taken other steps to give its members more ammunition in the fight against budget cuts. In 2008, SLA’s Board of Directors agreed to provide all members with free access to our Click University Webinars and replays. This unprecedented move made available educational opportunities that will teach members new and marketable skills. Additionally, we have lowered our dues for members who have been laid-off or had their hours cut.

During times of crisis, librarians and information professionals need the practical tools, resources and networking opportunities that SLA provides more than ever, and we are committed to being their supportive partner during this turbulent time. SLA will continue to use the findings of the Alignment Project research to shape our services to meet the demands of a rapidly changing marketplace, and we will stay focused on helping them showcase the strategic value they provide their organizations.

Janice R. Lachance
Chief Executive Officer
Special Libraries Association

Authors’ Response:

We read with confusion the letter sent in regard to our article in Searcher magazine’s May 2010 issue, “Survival Lessons for Libraries: Staying Afloat in Turbulent Waters — News Media Libraries Hit Hard.” In that article, we characterized SLA as an organization “uniquely positioned” to collect and analyze data on trends in the number of special libraries over time, and specifically in the number of openings and closings as well as the numbers and types of job vacancies.

We firmly believe these data are critical components that can help us understand survival options for the profession going forward. We noted that SLA’s focus is elsewhere (than on this data collection) during the time when the Association’s membership is in crisis.

Our confusion stems from the SLA CEO’s assessment that our statement, “the Association’s focus is elsewhere,” is a “harsh assumption.” Yet the author of the letter agreed that SLA does not and has not collected the type of data we reference. The letter goes on to note the extensive Alignment Project findings — “just now, two years after the final consultant’s report, being translated into pragmatic lessons that members can utilize” — as well as other efforts the Association is making to retain members (e.g., free Click U content, reductions in dues for unemployed members, etc.) by providing them with a variety of types of support including networking opportunities and continuing education.

We think our point was missed: That without these data over time, the Alignment Project findings are just another single point of data whose impact is diminished by a lack of context. If the CEO had read the other articles in our Searcher series on “Survival Lessons”1 or looked at the content of our recent SLA two-part Click U Webinar, she would have seen that much of what we have talked about relates to the Alignment Project findings, and in particular to the idea of strategic alignment as a necessary survival tool. Last November, Pearlstein delivered the Annual Lazerow Lecture at the Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science; many of her remarks focused on the Alignment Project results and how to put them into operation. Recently we spoke to members of SNELLA (Southern New England Law Librarians Association) and again focused on the idea of strategic alignment, including using information from the SLA Alignment Project to help formulate pragmatic ways in which to achieve this alignment. In fact, in the very first article in our survival series — on the topic of the EPA libraries — we highlighted SLA’s advocacy that helped achieve the reopening of these facilities and services.

SLA has done good work on behalf of its members. However, as long-time members of SLA and Fellows who believe in the role of the Association vis-à-vis our profession, we are also compelled to speak out when we believe the Association has missed and continues to miss an opportunity that is “right in its wheelhouse.” With the termination of the Special Libraries publication and the general ineffectiveness of the Research Program (which we also wrote about in the 2008 edition of Advances in Librarianship2 — an article which garnered no response from SLA), we believe the Association does its members a disservice. By not collecting data on the profession itself thereby creating an understanding over time of how the profession continues to develop, the information needed to make decisions about programming and other services is incomplete. Without this data helping to create a holistic view of trends in special libraries over time, reactions to any economic downturn or to changes in the way employers view our skill set are hobbled by the very thing we rail against — making decisions with incomplete or inaccurate information.

It is our hope that the SLA Board and management will see the wisdom of our findings and act to encourage the publication of trends in the field. Equally important will be to publish the practical application of these findings so that members can USE the results. If the Association really saw the downturn coming 4 years ago, why haven’t the results of the Alignment Project been translated into specific actions to help the members in these critical times some 2 years after the Alignment Project was completed?

Toby Pearlstein and James Matarazzo

Endnotes

1 “Survival Lessons”: A Series. Searcher magazine, May 2009, June 2009, September 2009, December 2009, and May 2010.

2 “A Review of Research Related to the Management of Corporate Libraries.” Advances in Librarianship, vol. 31, 2008, pp.93–114.

Editor’s Comment:

Dr. Pearlstein has been an SLA member since 1977, has chaired both the Transportation and Business & Finance divisions, chaired the Association Professional Development Committee, and been a member of the Association Research Committee. She was made an SLA Fellow in 2007 and selected for the SLA Hall of Fame in 2008.

Dr. Matarazzo has been a member of SLA for 40 years and has held numerous offices in the Association, including membership in the Research Committee and service on the Board from 1983–5. He is an SLA Fellow. He received the SLA Professional Award in 1983 and 1991, the SLA President’s Award in 1988, and the Certificate of Excellence in Publication Relations in 1990. In 1991, he received the H.W. Wilson Award for the best article in Special Libraries and, in 1995, the Certificate of Achievement for Outstanding Service to the Library and Information Science Profession from SLA’s Library Management Division.


An Ex-SLA-er Protests an Ex-SLA-er’s Protest

Editor’s Note:

In the January/February 2010 issue of Searcher, my Searcher’s Voice editorial, entitled “Homecoming” [http://www.infotoday.com/searcher/jan10/voice.shtml], announced that I was resigning from SLA in protest over the Association’s joining the Open Book Alliance in opposition to the Google Book Search settlement. It was a very reluctant decision, which I hoped the editorial made clear, and I hoped — perhaps naively — that it might spur the Association to reconsider its poor decision.

This letter came from a loyal SLA member to protest my move.

I’ve followed your thoughts on the Google settlement in Searcher, Information Today, and on the AIIP and SLA Solo listservs. It’s been an interesting discussion some of which I agree with and much that I don’t. BUT — I am deeply distressed and disappointed in your decision to “sever… [your] long membership with SLA [because of] its decision to launch its second century by joining the opposition to Google Books.” I believe that to be a totally unacceptable position to take.

Granted I haven’t read everything about the settlement, let alone the full text, but there is one rather glaring hole that I don’t believe has been adequately addressed by you or anyone else. I refer to the bit about setting aside free access to one seat per library.

To begin, is it one seat per branch, per building, or per system? Even if one seat per building how is it supposed to work? Is one supposed to sign up ahead of time? Do you get to spend the whole day reading the book? What about lunch and bathroom breaks? What if you need more than one day to finish reading? Or do you only get to read for an hour (half-hour when busy) at a time? Timed spots might work for reference books but clearly are untenable for fiction.

Everything I’ve read seems to indicate that one has to read the book in the library. If this is really the case I can’t begin to imagine how any library, including NYPL, is going to be able to afford enough seats, let alone have access to enough computer terminals to make this a reasonable method to access these books — as it is there isn’t enough room, and certainly not enough terminals, in any of their buildings for those who need to use them. And, even if it is permissible to download the book and “take it home” I don’t believe any library is going to be able to afford to have more than a couple of people at a time using the service, which means that it’ll still make more sense for a library to do an interlibrary loan for most books than to give someone even a few days to read the book. The only time that I can see it making sense to use Google is when a book is just too fragile to travel and I suspect that this does not constitute the vast majority of books scanned.

And, finally, there’s the problem that even with all of the copying that Google and others are doing, there is a whole class of books being left out of the equation: paperbacks. Whole categories of subject matter are being ignored, things like mysteries, science fiction, romance etc.; things that never made it into hardcover but that are a priceless resource for lovers of those genres (as a lover of mysteries of the thirties, forties, fifties I’m left going through used bookstores hoping to find ever more elusive titles!).

So, yes, it’s great to have all these books potentially available. But there are a lot of legitimate issues that have not really been addressed, issues that SLA and others are right to take issue with. That does not mean, however, that going off in a huff because you dislike this particular position is acceptable. There are any number of things about SLA that I too take issue with — not the least of which was the recent attempt to change its name, as a quick check of the listservs will show. Thankfully in this case more of the members voted with than against my view. And, surely, if the past is any indicator of the future, the issue will come up again. The point, however, is that irrespective of the outcome of that vote I would have continued to remain a member of SLA because it speaks to all of my concerns and offers a wealth of opportunities for growth and networking. It simply behooves me to continue arguing and working for what I think is the best way to go.

That you’ve chosen not to do so is very sad; I do hope you’ll reconsider.

Deborah Falik

Author’s Response:

It may seem unfair how editors always seem to get the last word, but I do need to make some comments.

As to some of the questions raised by Ms. Falik about the plans for post-settlement Google Books, I believe it’s one free access terminal per library building. The library has to promise to dedicate one computer to Google Books and Google will supply the software. How the library partitions the use of the machine is the library’s business, the same as it is with all public computers now. You have to remember that people probably won’t use Google Books the same way they use the library’s books. They will probably do a lot more hopping around, from chapter to chapter or even page to page. That has problems of its own for users, but that’s just the way it goes with digital collections. And, of course, once a library subscribes to the emerging Google Books collection, they can open the doors to patrons through general computer access.

As to the “uncovered” material, if a contributing library has collected fiction, as probably many have, then it will go in. Paperbacks are not usually the focus of university or research libraries, but who knows? Perhaps paperbacks will come in from publisher partners and that may involve some expense for users.

However, Ms. Falik’s overall objections to Google Books seem to be oriented toward how to get more out of it, how to use it better. If the Open Book Alliance — which SLA so foolishly joined — has its way, there won’t be any access to the collection at all. No one need worry about its deficiencies; the Google Books collection will serve next to nobody.

This is a potentially revolutionary collection. Think what it could do for distance learning. Think how it could bridge the digital divide when a junior college in Akron can tap into a research collection the equivalent of Harvard’s. Think how it could support a lifetime of learning and interest in things scholarly. Most of the other members of the Open Book Alliance don’t care about getting books to readers, they care about selling books to readers, or maybe they just don’t want Google to succeed again at anything.

This action by SLA is professionally embarrassing. It either looks like we’re so incompetent that we can’t even see how much it could mean to the world (and our clients) OR it looks like we are more interested in clinging to the status quo and our careers than the welfare of our clients (and the world). That’s why I resigned. But if you’ll read my editorial to the end, you’ll see that I long to rejoin. If SLA dropped out of the Open Book Alliance, I would be back in a New York minute.

bq

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