Wednesday, October 3, 2007

A Dispatch From SLA 2007

By Amy Donahue ‘07, MLIS

The first time I went to Denver, I tried local brews. I heard Al Gore speak. I took pictures of the Colorado Capitol Building. I stayed in a hotel where lemonheads instead of mints were left on the pillow. But I wasn’t an ordinary tourist taking my fill of the Mile High City – I was an attendee of the Special Library Association’s annual conference. And I have to admit; I had an amazing time and learned far more than I could have learned just visiting.

I first became involved with SLA because of an internship I had in a biotechnology company’s library. For the same reasons that I applied for the internship in the first place (in a nutshell, an interest in science and health), my focus within SLA has, and continues to be, within the Pharmaceutical and Health Technology Division. And I found myself with a fabulous opportunity in the form of the conference to both further explore this aspect of librarianship and to expand my horizons to areas ranging from global librarianship to non-profit and government. And that doesn’t take into account the vendors and social events!

As a matter of fact, two of my three favorite sessions weren’t related to science at all (well, I suppose they are related to library science…forgive my poor joke). The Synergy General Session, held at the beginning of the conference, featured a round-table including the well known Stephen Abram, Clifford Lynch and Eugenie Prime. Tom Hogan asked difficult questions and received some intriguing answers that motivated me for the rest of the conference: check out for a short clip.

I also thoroughly enjoyed Marcia Ellen Bates’ program on “How to Convince Your Clients They Desperately Need You”. Bates is a highly capable speaker who had me hooked the whole time (I believe I actually laughed several times—some librarians can make jokes). As a bonus, everything she said was applicable to any library situation you may find yourself in, from consulting to public. One suggestion: give your clients a survey asking which provided services are useful. Give them the option to choose none of the above. If they actually choose that option, provide new (not just improved) services! It may seem obvious, but frankly, I don’t think it’s said often enough.

Finally, the second to last session I attended was amazing, and did actually have something to do with science. Next-Gen scientists, to be precise. The session was a unique format; we were arranged in small groups and had open discussions that we shared with the whole large group at the end. While the sound system and the logistics of the set-up weren’t quite perfect, I still found myself overwhelmed by the intelligence and openness with which we talked about controversial issues like getting rid of scientific books (costs of new editions every year; younger scientists more used to everything online anyway) and the loss of the reference desk. My then-future colleagues were not afraid and met these issues head on. Needless to say, I walked away with several new business cards.

These sessions barely touch the surface of my overall experience at SLA ’07. I spoke with vendors, met amazing people at division lunches and socials (both my own and others), and heard Al Gore and Scott Adams speak (SLA really does get amazing speakers). I met a friend whom I had only known through e-mail and phone conversations (we worked at the same biotech, but on opposite ends of the country). The list goes on and on, but I’m sure you have homework you should be doing.

Before ending this brief synopsis, I would like to thank Nancy Gershenfeld and the committee of the Frost-Gershenfeld award for making my trip possible. And I would like to extend to all readers an invitation to e-mail me with any questions about my experience at SLA ’07 (a note to future attendees: wear comfortable shoes and pick sessions before you head out)! Also feel free to check out the 2007 Conference website at (there’s even a blog).

See you in Seattle for SLA ’08!

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