Imagining with Members: DC Chapter

US Department of Education
US Department of Education

My July visit to Washington, D.C., combined a great DC/SLA Chapter program, several library visits, and a quiet dinner with a friend and mentor.

I began my tours at the U.S. Department of Education, National Library of Education, where I met with Karen White and Pamela Tripp-Melby. The Library has a total staff of thirteen. Director Tripp-Melby works with White on outreach efforts, including presentations on services and resources for the evidence-based research that is conducted across the agency. The Library serves Department employees and the public. A major project is the cataloging of a textbook collection that dates from the 1830’s to the 1940’s and includes 28,000 volumes. This project highlights the extension of traditional library competencies into areas of special collections and digitization. Pamela leads Open Access for the Department of Education, and worked with other Department employees to draft their policy. A challenge in the Ed policy is the definition of research. Much Department funding goes to programming that may or may not produce a scholarly paper. Data  and data storage also present unique policy challenges. With no central education data repository, researchers will need  to store data in local repositories. Education data includes a significant amount of human subjects data, which must be handled with care.

Turning to SLA, we bridged the open access and data discussion with career opportunities for data librarians. Researchers need people who can manage this information. This is a career development opportunity for SLA and its units. Other emerging careers for information professionals include user experience  and information architecture professionals. Indexers and catalogers are re-imagining themselves as metadata specialists. Special librarians have skills and knowledge of organizations that can be leveraged for new career opportunities. Understanding emerging fields and practices is critical, and our conference programming must reflect this content. A shift in our conference planning cycle to a competitive programming model could assist in delivering fresh, broad content.


Making use of Uber, I navigated to National Geographic, where Barbara Ferry gave me a tour of the library. Maggie Turqman joined us for a conversation, and I learned about the Library’s development of the National Geographic Virtual Library. The Library’s internal Library web site is built entirely on Springshare’s LibGuides. Library staff provide orientation to new employees, and are partnering with other resource units such as the image library for a broad introduction to Society resources. The Library identifies and purchased sources that can provide impact metrics on Society grants and initiatives.

Several library staff, who were once centrally located in the Library, now work in Education, Science & Exploration, Technology, and within the magazine. There are benefits and challenges to this structure. The embedded presence brings information skills to point-of-need. However, professional development and communication are more challenging to coordinate among professional librarians who report to other divisions. Another challenge that is common to many libraries is the need to provide more services with fewer resources. National Geographic’s Library is focusing on services with the greatest impact. A group challenge is understanding what constitutes success in the Library. What metrics should be used? Simple circulation or reference counts are not adequate and do not necessarily measure the broadest impact. Understanding how other special libraries tell their stories is valuable, and resources such as tips & tricks along with templates are needed.

I rounded out my first day in D.C. with a chapter event, a “Meet the Candidates Happy Hour.” Karen Reczek and I had the opportunity to meet members, hear concerns and answer questions. We focused on four core questions, which can be viewed on the DC/SLA event site.

USAID Library
USAID Library

My Thursday morning began with a visit to Susan Press, Library Team Lead, US Agency for International Development. The library collects across development, climate change, infectious diseases, business & economics and literacy & education topics. Data resources are collected and there is staff membership in an open data group. Collection costs are an ongoing challenge, especially as customers are located internationally in offices and in the field. USAID maintains a Development Experience Clearinghouse (DEC), which serves as a repository for reports, awards and records.

The USAID Library focuses on staff communication. A culture of listening to each other and sharing information is encouraged.Professional development for staff members is supported, and individuals rotate to the SLA Annual Conference. Career paths need to be explored. Once again the options for upper managers was discussed. Can SLA help address the needs of late career professionals?

Reading at Hoover's Desk
Reading at Hoover’s Desk

Leaving USAID, I walked across the street and met Karen Krugman, Director, Commerce Research Library, U.S. Department of Commerce. Karen oversees a beautiful space that is a favorite for Department events, including the Library-sponsored series Enterprising Women of Commerce and Around the Bureaus. Marketing is a major focus for Karen and her staff, as is communication and impact. Springshare’s LibCal is used for scheduling, and an archive of past events is available to Commerce staff and to the public. The Library hosts a number of databases, and staff members provide guides and instruction, then conduct research to answer the tougher questions internally.  In addition to strategic planning, an annual management report was created in 2014 that includes photos, data and partnership highlights as well as comparisons, a metrics summary and highlights of library savings.

IMG_0858Professional development for Karen and her staff includes attendance at SLAComputers in Libraries and WebSearch University, as well as utilization of, RSS feeds and professional literature. Staff want to take advantage of local events that are available during working hours. Topics of interest include the user experience, interacting with the “C” suite, and practical case studies and training sessions. Looking toward the profession, information professionals need a fearless lobby with a strong voice.

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

My final visit was to Julia Leggett, who holds a number of SLA positions and is an Acquisitions Librarian for the Congressional Research Service. Over lunch we discussed SLA, member needs and the future of the Association. Information Outlook was addressed along with the importance of this tangible member benefit. Bringing back our physical publication was echoed in my visits to other chapters, including recent trips to New York and Colorado. A publication with high quality content has a range of benefits. A focus on our members is needed. Our systems lose members, especially in times of transition. How can this be addressed? We need to be vibrant and to grow, to focus on education, development and outreach. Our students are our future. We must focus attention and resources, here. SLA can improve the well-being of its members through better job prospects, job strategies and networking.

As I left D.C., I was brimming with ideas. Once again lively conversations underscored the talent and innovation of our members. I enjoyed every moment of imagining our future, and of making plans for creating that future together.

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