Letting Go: My last SLA Europe event

ECCA; Division; Chapter; Outlook; Click U; Open House; Leadership; Dance Party; Board meeting; SLA HQ…just some of the vocabulary that I’ve learned since winning an ECCA (Early Career Conference Award) that sent me to SLA (Special Libraries Association) Conference in Washington, D.C. in 2009. Until that point, I knew very little about the organisation. Then I was one of four award recipients that year and I discovered exactly what SLA was all about. I’ve been to four conferences and one Leadership Summit, meeting a truly amazing bunch of people along the way. I’ve served on chapter and division boards, mentored a new ECCA at his first conference, written for publications, followed Twitter chats and generally had my professional life changed by that one award application.

Last night was SLA Europe’s summer party, held at Barber Surgeon’s Hall. It was a splendid venue, with great company, tasty food and chilled wine – thank you to the sponsors (Dow Jones and Integreon) and those who organised the evening.

I think everyone now knows that in September I will be moving to Westcott House in Cambridge. Hence SLA Europe’s party yesterday was a lovely way to be able to lay a marker in the transition from librarian to ordinand. The discernment process – the time taken for me and the Church to decide if I really am called to ‘this vicar thing’ – has been the reason I haven’t returned to SLA Europe’s Board as I expected I would this year. Which means that I don’t have any real responsibilities to hand over – just enthusiasm for an organisation that has given me so many opportunities in the past few years, and a good number of friends too. I was amused – and touched – by the number of people who corrected me last night. “No,” they said, “you’re not training to be a vicar – you’ll be training to be a bishop!” I heard a lot of positive comments about the Synod vote this week – colleagues had noticed what had been going on.

Just to really make it a collision of emotions, an email with lots of new joiner information arrived from Westcott as I was on my way to the event. The City world is already starting to feel a bit alien – I thought for quite a long time about what to wear yesterday now the smart uniform is no longer default (and I went with comfortable-in-hot-weather rather than super-smart in the end). The library gang I leave behind will carry on with the same issues – the need for professional recognition; threats of job cuts and outsourcing; changing technology; budgets, training, development. They’ll need support, a peer community and development opportunities: the kind of thing that SLA Europe does well.
So, thank you, SLA, for what you have given me and the ways I’ve been privileged to serve my colleagues.

Closing Panel at SLA Chicago – updated

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This is the image I would have spoken about at the closing panel had we had time. It’s last year’s Great North Run. Here’s the fuller version of the thoughts I had about how this relates to me and to our profession.

(I am in the picture – just left of the Stig, blue shirt, beige cap, but it is a bit of a Where’s Wally/Waldo? kind of game).

I used this image because I like to run. I am not fast and I have finishers’ rather than winners’ medals. But I can also draw some parallels here with the wider world of work which hopefully aren’t too hackneyed.

We all have to run our own race and play to our own strengths. I think we need to remember that a natural sprinter would struggle over a longer distance – that we all have natural talents and gifts. The challenge is to find the role that lets us play to those; to understand what we can work on and improve and what other things we’re just best off living with. I think this is a point Mary Ellen Bates made: Work on making your strengths stronger and don’t invest energy into your weaknesses that you cannot change – learn to live with them.

Be aware of the competitive advantage that others have – even if it’s not exactly your ‘thing’ – do they have better processes, resources? Are they keeping up with the race because they’re keeping up with the industry and if so, what tools are they using? Who are they coached by? Friends, family, professionals, membership organisations – all have a part to play at various times. If you have been mentored, when in turn can you mentor? Who can you encourage today?

Sometimes we’re in teams and sometimes we’re on our own – can you adapt your style to deal with both? I’ve recently been running with a friend who, for the first few times, apologised for being slower than me. Now that to me is daft – I wouldn’t have invited her to run with me had that been a problem; and the benefit of an early morning buddy far outweighs the disadvantage of a slightly slower pace. I’ve adapted to a different pace and to enjoy that run for what it is. In Chicago, I was the one slowing the group down.

Nothing is permanent. Everything is for a season, and expecting to be able to progress by standing still isn’t going to work. If I stopped on the Tyne bridge because I liked that view, pretty soon all the other runners would have moved on and I’d be out of the race. If I never invested in my own development and training, I’d soon be an ineffective or limited information professional.

Updated July 23 2012