Meet the 2018 Candidates: a Q&A with Kevin Adams and Hal Kirkwood

New York chapter membership submitted questions to 2018 President-Elect candidates Kevin Adams and Hal Kirkwood in an effort to get to know the candidates better from the perspective of issues of importance to our membership ahead of the Board Elections. These questions focused on addressing the global scope of SLA, member engagement, and improving SLA’s educational content. Their responses to these questions have been provided in this blog post.

A high level overview of both candidates is below along with links to their respective candidate profiles on the SLA site:

Kevin Adams

  • Has been an information professional for over 20 years and an SLA member since 1996.
  • Currently is an Information Specialist at the Institute of Environmental Science and Research in Christchurch, New Zealand.
  • Was one of the founding members of the Australia/New Zealand Chapter in 2005 and was secretary of the chapter for a number of years.
  • Belongs to the Solo Division; Environment and Resource Management Division; Food, Agriculture and Nutrition Division; Government Division; and Business and Finance Division.
  • Has held the positions of Director, Secretary and Chair for the Food, Agriculture and Nutrition Division, and was Chair in the Online Content Advisory Committee and member of the Information Outlook Advisory Committee.

Hal Kirkwood

  • Has been an Information professional for 24 years and an SLA member since 1992.
  • Currently is an Associate Professor and Business Information Specialist at the Roland G. Parrish Library of Management & Economics at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.
  • Current president of the Indiana Chapter.
  • Served as Director on the SLA Board of Directors from 2012 – 2014, specifically involved with the Finance Committee and as chair of the Conference Re-envisioning Task Force.
  • Was the first webmaster for the Indiana Chapter and the Business & Finance Division, the Mentor Chair and Chair for the Business & Finance Division, and Chair and Co-Chair of the College & University Business Librarians Roundtable.

As a reminder, SLA 2018 Board of Directors election voting opens up at 9:00 a.m. ET on Wednesday, September 6th and concludes at 5:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday, September 20th. More information on all 2018 Board of Directors candidates and the election process can be found here.

Please find the Q&A below. 

SLA claims to be an international association, but only a tiny proportion of members live and work outside North America. Do you think this is an important issue? If so, how do you intend to address it during your presidency?

Kevin Adams: Firstly, while the international membership of SLA is smaller than that of North America, I think that the proportion is not tiny. International membership certainly is less than that of North America, but given that membership of SLA has declined as a total I still think it is a significant and potential area of growth for SLA.

Secondly, as an international member I definitely think it is an important issue, for two reasons. Firstly, while we should always remember that SLA is a North America-based organisation, we have had for a long time in our outlook that we are an international organisation. In the last dozen years we have made a more concerted effort to emphasise this. Secondly, while we need to grow our membership, in North America, back to sustainable levels, I think the potential for both the association as a whole and for the international chapters is very large. Also, if we want to truly see ourselves as an international organisation we need to grow membership.

During my presidency there are a number of ways I would address the issue of international membership.

  1. From an organisational perspective I would use our Association Management Company. MCI has offices in a number of the regions we have members in. Therefore it makes sense to leverage off that capacity. We need to investigate how the local offices of MCI can help our chapters in Mumbai, London and the Arabian Gulf to increase membership. Further, given that many of SLA’s major sponsors have offices in the regions we have chapters, I see MCI as a conduit to bringing together the chapter and these local offices to enable them to sponsor SLA events. The synergy that MCI can bring in these chapters can be a tremendous help in boosting the growth of these international chapters.
  2. I would continue and perhaps strengthen the current International Task Force that president Dee Magnoni has established. This task force is an excellent way to find out what the international membership needs from SLA as an association and also a way that the board can act for their benefit.
  3. We need to find ways to make SLA (despite the issues of time differences etc.) the natural home of international members. We need them to see the value in becoming members. One way of doing so is to make sure the president visits their regional conferences or gatherings so that they know we as a board are invested in them. In 2000 there was the global conference in Brighton; perhaps it is time for SLA to investigate whether we can look at convening another conference such as this to make it easier for international members to attend, and to use them as a marketing tool to attract new members.

The chapters and divisions need to investigate ways of making it easier for international members to become members of their boards. In the past some divisions and chapters had stipends or set aside money for international board members to travel to conferences. Are there ways these can be reinstituted or new travel funds instituted to help these overseas members be an integral part of the boards?

Hal Kirkwood: SLA is an international association with members and chapters around the world. It has made some significant strides over the last several years to grow internationally. That said, we have much still to accomplish in this regard. We must look at the issue of international growth from two perspectives: first, to look at countries and regions where growth potential exists, and second, by focusing not on generic potential members but to identify the positions, the organizations, and the library & information science programs where our potential members work and are graduating from so that we have a more specific group to target our energy and efforts.

SLA must look to grow in North America and around the world. We cannot afford to ignore any information professional that could become a member. SLA must continue to develop quality products and services that attract potential members regardless of their location. SLA must continue to experiment and develop a high-quality, high-value annual conference that attracts members from all over the world.

If we are to grow our international membership, we must provide value-added content in a variety of languages. We must create events that consider the disparate time zones, by either having multiple versions of events or by recording events for non-North American members to listen to afterwards. We must seek out opportunities to partner with the local chapters, as well as the other local/regional organizations.

We must survey and communicate with information professionals, both SLA members and non-members, to determine what their most pressing needs are, what expectations they have from a supporting association, and what SLA can do to attract them as engaged members.

What are your plans for instilling more member engagement at the national level? Do you have any thoughts on how units can better engage membership?

Kevin Adams: At present I think there is a great deal of engagement by membership at the national level. Members have a great many avenues to communicate their thoughts and ideas on how they think the association is progressing. There are a number of committees etc. where members can contribute to the running of the association and to pass on how they feel about what the board is doing. Another avenue for members is via their leaders who can then feed information to the Division and Chapter Cabinet officers. These members of the board can then report to the board issues the chapters and divisions are having.

Can a board make this easier or more accessible? Of course, and we should always be striving to make sure that members feel they have the means to do so. The Presidential chats and the question time that the board make available at the end of the open board meeting are also a way that members can directly access those at the national level.

As to units engaging membership, I think that the efforts that the units are undertaking now, the webinars, social events, and in New York’s case the one-day conference they hold, are already great ways to engage members. How can the units better engage members? By finding out ways to add value to their membership. What educational webinars or in-person events do they see as being of value to them? Do they feel that the leadership of the units is providing them with opportunities to engage at the division or chapter level?

In the case of new members, if they want them to engage at the governance level, are they nurturing them by getting them to volunteer at the committee level instead of making them jump in at the board level? If they have identified someone that they feel is going to be a future leader what levels of support does the unit have to enable this person to progress?

All chapters and divisions should also be proactive, as should we nationally, in seeking out the new areas that professionals are moving into. What are the new titles that are being created/moved into? How do we engage these people? Again both at a national and a local unit level we need to show value to these individuals so that when they are looking for an association to join they think of us first.

All units are struggling to engage members in either a leadership role or in attendance at events. One way that some, but not all units could look at increasing engagement is by merging. We have already had some units do so but are there others that could think about doing so? By doing so they would combine the energies of groups of like information professionals (in the case of divisions) or enable geographical groups to take advantage of educational opportunities by the sharing of webinars etc. while still keeping a local presence via in-person events. It would make life easier for those units struggling with leadership engagement.

Hal Kirkwood: The SLA Road Map contains many relevant, actionable strategies for moving the association forward. As president, I will revisit this document and determine what opportunities are available from the significant amount of work that was accomplished.

To instill more member engagement at the national level the Board of Directors and MCI must create a clear path into national-level leadership positions. What I mean by this is that there should be a concrete plan to bring leadership from the chapters and divisions up into the national-level activities. Strengthening communication with the chapters and divisions will be valuable in this endeavor. As far as general membership, the development of project-based activities could be a potential option for increasing involvement. Everyone is extremely busy, which makes members reluctant to take on a significant and time-consuming role. Smaller, more focused activities and opportunities could attract more members who want to be involved but fear the larger time commitments.

As far as units specifically engaging with their membership, the association must develop value-added products and services that cannot be found elsewhere. Joining SLA must have visibly tangible benefits for information professionals in support of their professional growth and career development. We must identify members who are willing to share their expertise and their content for their own benefit, for our members’ benefit, and for the benefit of the overall association. SLA must also do a better job explaining and highlighting the benefits of SLA Connect to facilitate interaction and communication among members.

It appears that SLA’s focus has turned more to the academic sector in recent years. What will you do to ensure the members who work in the corporate sector are not overlooked?

Kevin Adams: My first answer to this question is that while it may seem that SLA has turned its focus to the academic division, the main reason for this is that the academic division was one of the fastest-growing divisions in SLA. However, if you look at the numbers in the divisions where the largest number of corporate librarians can be found (Business and Finance, Leadership and Management and Legal), you will see they far outnumber the Academic division.

SLA it seems to me does not focus on particular sectors. The board is there to focus on SLA as a whole and while certain sectors may need more help than others as they go through difficulties with membership, recruitment of leaders and financial issues, SLA is made up of a number of divisions and chapters and that is its strength.

SLA as a whole has suffered great attrition in membership and while it has been more dramatic for the corporate sector, I feel the reason it seems there is more focus on the academic sector is because they may not have seemed to suffer the same member attrition and thus the perception is out there that we focus on them more.

As president my job will be to make sure that while we may need as a board to concentrate on certain sectors in times of their need, we ensure that every sector of the association feels a part of the association. The corporate sector need not feel as though they are being left out of the association’s focus, or that its needs are being overlooked in favour of any other particular sector.

As president I will always be there to speak to the needs of a particular sector and if the corporate-sector librarians feel as though the association is overlooking them, then I am happy to discuss ways in which this can be rectified. However these need to be taken into consideration as part of the whole of SLA.

However I would also say that there are ways that the corporate sector can rectify this perception. As I stated above, the combined numbers of those divisions, and that does not include the numbers in the New York and DC chapters, mean that they can make themselves heard. As President I will be bound to take into consideration the concerns and act, along with the board and the AMC, to help any division or chapter that may need our assistance.

However, one thing to take into consideration is the way corporate librarians are employed has also changed, so how can we as an association move to meet that change? Of course this is not unique to the corporate sector but it is perhaps seen most often in that area. A number of librarians in the corporate world now do not have permanent jobs. By this I mean they are employed by placement agencies and thus move about companies. How can we as an association appeal to these librarians to become and stay members and what type of resources do they need from us in their workplace?

Again with these areas I would say your chapter, the DC chapter and the divisions I mentioned above are in the best place to let us as an association and the board know what support they and you need.

Hal Kirkwood: I disagree with this to a certain extent. SLA’s focus has not directly turned more toward the academic sector. The academic sector has simply been an area of obvious growth and engaged membership as many academic members have found more value in SLA than the other academic-focused associations. There is incredible value within SLA because of its varied membership. This varied membership is something that SLA must continue to leverage and capitalize on for the benefit of its members and for the overall association. SLA must maintain a balance of content within the annual conference to reach all types of members and at varied levels of experience and expertise.

The corporate sector has yet to fully recover from the 2007 recession that eliminated many positions. The challenge for SLA is to determine where potential corporate, and related organizational members may now be and attract them to join. There are new positions being filled, and new fields opening up that SLA could and should be supporting. Some of our most recent divisions include Competitive Intelligence and Knowledge Management, as well as several sections within the Information Technology Division. SLA must be aware of and responsive to the changing information marketplace as we create, and perhaps merge or eliminate, divisions. SLA must be a voice for the creation of information- and research-focused positions at the corporate level. We cannot expect the marketplace to change and adapt if we are unwilling to try and make the changes happen.

How do you plan to improve SLA’s educational content? Are there plans to create more or update the “Free to Members” content?

Kevin Adams: One way I plan to improve the educational content is to see what can be done to integrate the content, both current and future, that the chapters and divisions produce. We must try to stop chapters/divisions reinventing the wheel. There is a great deal of excellent content produced by these groups and we need to make it available in a way that benefits our membership. One of the areas that is already in place is the Shared Learning Resources Initiative Task Force. This group is trying to find ways of making content available to all groups within SLA by asking members to submit proposals to the committee which can then be used by other chapters/divisions.

We must also be looking for content that adds value at all levels of the association. It is not a new idea but educational content that speaks to where our members are in their careers seems to me to be a great way of engaging members. Also, we need to be looking at what other organisations that are similar to SLA are doing for their members. Can we piggyback off what ALA or some of the academic library associations are doing? Further, what are organisations that are specifically involved in management training doing? We need to think outside our SLA box and tap into organisations that specialise in such training.

This is where MCI can also be of great help. They manage organisations in a wide variety of areas and have experience in what those associations do for their membership that can be of benefit to our members. Also, can we partner with these other organisations, both library and non-library to bring relevant content to our members?

We as an organisation are always looking to improve the content of our website. One way we can create more content is to add what our members create. As I said above, our membership creates great content that may or may not be known to other chapters/divisions within SLA. This needs to be made available in a central place. More importantly we need to encourage those chapters/divisions who create this content to place this content on the website. Again, stopping the reinvention of the wheel, while also giving some ideas for people to build upon is a great way to benefit our membership. Also, if we can create partnerships that I discussed above we could possibly add those programmes from other library and non-library organisations to our website that benefit our members.

Hal Kirkwood: I would like to see a more concerted effort to leverage our members’ expertise by actively seeking and promoting the creation of additional educational content. This content could be recorded webinars, white papers, and best practice documents. We must determine how to incentivize these activities so that our members gain some benefit while at the same time help the association. An additional option is to revitalize the plan from the past to work more closely with library and information science programs to create some respected credit-level certificates that fulfill needs that the members have for their professional development.

As far as ”Are there plans?,” I am not sure what the current plans are for this area of SLA’s offerings. As I’ve said earlier, SLA must leverage its content and resources to create obvious value for members while at the same time providing access, for a fee, to content that could be useful to non-members. Finding additional sources of revenue is a primary concern moving forward. The annual conference can no longer be the only source of income for the association. We must look at other associations to determine other options for revenue to keep SLA viable. Educational content is certainly a potential opportunity for this.