Two Nights in Philly (Visiting SLA 2011)

On Monday and Tuesday evening this week, after a long day at work I hopped on the train to meet and dine with my fellow librarians in Philadelphia. The Special Libraries Association annual conference was in the area and I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to meet with a whole new set of librarians that I generally only know through Twitter, Facebook, or the blogs. Monday was a chance to meet students from Pratt at the Hack Library School meetup and then onwards to the people I consider to be my tribe, Library Society of the World. Tuesday, I will say, was the night I was really looking forward to as I got a chance to share a meal with Ned Potter. We’ve been corresponding back and forth for months on various library advocacy things so it was great to actually meet him. Later on, I was glad to meet Laura and Bethan as well as the other British librarians who had made the trip over (Chris, Sam, and Natalia) at the SLA Dance Party.

In reflecting on two days worth of conversations (both sober and slightly less than sober), I will say that it was a nice change of pace to hear about libraries that don’t face the same obstacles as public libraries. While socializing with the SLA Pratt students, the range of environments in which they were operating their libraries was fascinating. From hospitals to government agencies to non-profits, each person brought a new set of difficulties and challenges to the table. As someone who works in a public library and is generally surrounded by public librarians, it was like visiting a different culture which spoke the same language but had different customs. It was fun to question and explore what these students were doing and how their library experience was radically different or surprisingly the same as mine.

To me, it poses it’s own conundrum: how does one advocate for special libraries? This was uncharted territory for me; on top of that, it is very contextual. In some cases, it’s not an issue when the company, agency, or business has an output or product based on knowledge resources. In other cases, it’s a matter of convincing an executive or government bigwig that the library is not a cost center and has value on its own merits. In assessing it in the scope of Big Tent Librarianship, it begs its own question: so how does it fit under the tent? Where is the give and take as it relates to other libraries? These are things I’m going to have to think on now, but I welcome other insight.

It was a couple of great nights in Philadelphia. I hope to be able to see everyone again; in the meantime, I’ll see you online!

2 thoughts on “Two Nights in Philly (Visiting SLA 2011)

  1. Andy, I wish we had more time to talk at SLA, but I was swamped with junk. I think it’s interesting that you’re questioning how do special libraries fit in the scope of Big Tent Librarianship. I’m happy to hear you’re starting to look at how special libraries fit within your definition of the tent, but their place in the information landscape and how to advocate for them have been around for a while. Perhaps this i just my narrow view, since I’ve been very much a part of SLA for the past five years, but I think we need to work towards a greater awareness and better understanding of the roles of special libraries from the publics and academics. We need to foster partnerships for sure, but I am afraid of public/academic libraries not really listening to our needs, and shoehorning us within their scopes.

  2. Andy, it was nice meeting you at the @hacklibschool event! I really admire the work you’re doing with this blog, and am glad you’re making room for special librarians under the tent. Of course, my library doesn’t fit really well in any of the typical library categories, as we’re pretty focused on physical materials and operate a little more like a hybrid of a public library and Netflix. However, we’re “special” in that we operate in the context of a larger organization. I think one of the most valuable (albeit very basic) insights I’m taking away from this SLA experience is that all of us in the profession have the same core set of tools/skills, but how we choose to use them is what makes all the difference. It’s nice to remember the common ground, and it gives me confidence that there are a wide range of opportunities available despite whatever labels we may place on ourselves.

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