Comments on “SLA: Succeed. Lead. Advance” Recommendations Report (May 2015)

I haven’t been tracking the activity around the consultant’s report that was commissioned by the SLA to guide the organization’s future development, but now that some of the proposed changes have been brought to my attention by others more attentive than I, in my role as president of the SLA Eastern Canada Chapter I feel I should share my thoughts on these recommendations and specifically how I believe they are likely to impact our Chapter.

This is a long report that makes recommendations across the full range of SLA activities and operations. I recommend reading Kendra Levine’s thoughts on these recommendations if you haven’t already. She’s been more involved in the SLA than I have over a longer period of time (although I would guess that we would still both be considered newcomers), and that commitment shows in her comments.

I’m going restrict my comments to what I find are the most relevant sections of the report, specifically aspects relating to revenues, sponsorships, and fundings for chapters.

Note: The opinions expressed here are my own and should not be considered an official statement from the executive board of the SLA-ECC.


Area I: Business Partnerships – 3.1 – Point 3 – Should a geographic unit obtain sponsorship for a local event, the revenue is shared (50/50) with HQ in recognition of the value of the SLA brand used to obtain the sponsorship (the franchise model).

Working at developing, securing, and fulfilling the obligations relating to sponsorship is already a lot of work. If half of any sponsorship dollars raised in this way are going to go to SLA HQ for the privilege of using their name, than it isn’t really worth our chapter’s time to work on developing these partnerships. If SLA HQ wants to develop and bring funding opportunities to us, in exchange for half of the revenue from that opportunity, I expect that we would be open to that, but only to the extent that we could ensure that the sponsorship activities provide real value to our members.

Area V: Revenue Model and Financial Review

7.1.3 – point 3 – Consider accessing unit funds through an assessment on all unit accounts.

Imposing an “SLA tax” on chapters, even if based on their ability to pay, would of course not be welcomed. SLA already keeps most of the revenue generated through membership fees (soon to be 100% according to recommendations 7.2.a), so to try to claw back more of that from chapters who have worked hard to establish a solid financial base would be short-sighted and would undermine the sustainability of chapters.

7.2.a – point 2 – Terminate the practice of issuing allotments to units.

If I take the consultants’ recommendation that the proposed changes be implemented as a whole, with the termination of allotments to units SLA HQ would remove the last reliable revenue source that our chapter would have. The costs of chapter activities would therefore likely need to be passed directly on to members, who will already potentially be paying more for membership (see below).

7.2.a – point 3 – …establish a revenue sharing model with units who contribute to the successful conclusion of a sponsorship agreement.

With this recommendation in place, the objective driving the chapter activities would become to execute on the terms of sponsorship agreements, to provide value to vendors (through holding events that promote their company, products, and/or services) and to SLA HQ (through the 50% of the sponsorship funding that SLA HQ would keep as mentioned above).

Of course, if the goal is to force chapters to participate in sponsorship activities in order to fund their activities, then these changes taken together would likely be effective. Chapters would have little choice but to drive sponsorship activities to SLA HQ, who would then negotiate the terms of the sponsorship agreement with the vendor and bring it back to the chapter(s) for them to execute. SLA HQ would keep 50% of the sponsorship funding for their troubles.

I’m certainly not against partnering with vendors to fund chapter activities, and wouldn’t be against SLA HQ offering as an option to provide and manage sponsorship agreements centrally. But to force this behaviour but cutting off chapters base revenue and preventing them from doing their own local sponsorship activities is heavy-handed and does not, in my opinion, contribute to the kind of relationship that SLA HQ should be seeking to have with its chapters.

7.2.b Realign Dues and Fees

While not stated directly, I can’t imagine that the goal here will be to reduce dues and fees to make membership more affordable. I recommend being careful on this front as too great a price increase will likely cause members to review the benefits of SLA membership and may cause them to reconsider renewing if they find SLA’s offerings wanting. This would leave you collecting higher fees from fewer people, with potentially no net gain in overall revenue.


I’ll wrap up by saying that I resent the picture painted by this report of units as almost-rogue organizations that have taken advantage of the SLA brand without paying sufficient compensation to SLA HQ. Similarly, the portrayal of units as being good potential leads for sponsorship deals but not all that effective at extracting the maximum revenue from those opportunities isn’t appreciated. While this narrative may help to justify the changes being proposed, I think it does a great disservice to the hundreds of professionals who over their years through their dedication have volunteered their time and energy to building their units. These units and their members are the SLA: they are the value that membership delivers, the brand that vendors seek to be connected to. Without these units, there are no members. Without members, there is no SLA.

The concerns that I’ve voiced here all stem from my personal philosophy that a decentralized structure is the best way to build a sustainable organization, and that it is the local face-to-face activities that provide the most value and constitute the “SLA brand” in the mind of members. This report puts forward a centralized, SLA HQ-centric model that doesn’t share this philosophy, so I am not surprised that I don’t agree with all of the recommendations. It doesn’t mean that this is a bad plan: there are a lot of points that I agree even coming from a different perspective as I am.

Like most units (and many professional organizations), SLA Easter Canada is already facing an uncertain future, and is having to rethink how it operates in order to continue to deliver value to members in a way that is sustainable. The changes proposed by the consultant’s report undermine aspects of our business model that we had thought we could count on (i.e. membership allotments, potential sponsorship revenue, and our existing funds) as we embark on our own planning exercises.

I can only hope that the board will be able to make a clear decision one way or the other on the recommendations in this report at the upcoming conference to provide the clarity we need to be able to overcome the challenges we all face, to move forward and ensure a bright future for the SLA.




I recently received word that I was due for a new machine at work, and despite the lackluster options, I’ve decided to go ahead with my plans to switch over to Mac.

My desire to switch is based mostly on the fact that we switched our home machines to Mac a few years ago and I’d like to be able to focus my leaning and know-how on one environment. I can get done what I need to get done equally well on either platform, so i opted to go with the choice that would make my life easier.

Originally I was hoping I could convince the Library to spring the few hundred extra dollars it would cost to get me either a MacBook Air or an iMac (non-retina, of course). Unfortunately, the powers that be are not willing to deviate from the standard options, which for an academic like me that means an entry-level MacBook Pro:

MacBook Pro (MD101)
Intel Dual-core i5 2.5 GHz
13.3″ LED backlit glossy display
500 GB (5400 RPM)
4.5 lbs. (ugh!)

While this machine is certainly adequate for my needs, the reality is that it is going to have to last me somewhere around 4 years. This means that I’ll have to both get really good at optimizing the machine as well as lower my expectations about what I’ll be able to use it for.

I’ve also heard horror stories from my peers at the Library who report that whatever configuration McGill IT does to the machines to get them connected to the university network and infrastructure introduces significant performance issues. I’m optimistic that I can find a way to fix or work around that, despite the evidence that the many who have gone before me and tried have all failed.

I’m planning on sharing my experiences switching over here on my blog and on twitter. Also, any pointers or advice would, as always, be greatly appreciated.

Speaking with faculty about research data management

This morning we’re having the first of four meetings with faculty to discuss their research data management needs. These meetings are the start of our outreach efforts as we move forward with our planning work to implement a research data repository. Although we have a good sense of what other folks have tried at their universities, we feel that it is important to touch base with McGill researchers early in the process to make sure that we understand their needs and their priorities.

We haven’t mapped out the rest of the planning process in great deal, in part because a lot depends on what we learn from these meetings. Rest assured that there will be more opportunities for faculty, other researchers, and librarians to be engaged in the implementation process!

GLIS 650 Digital Libraries – Class 2

(Normally I would post these notes as soon after class as possible, but work and life conspired, so there you go…)

  • The topic for last Thursday’s class was “Digital libraries as organizations”. With digital libraries the focus is typically on the content, the technology, and maybe the users. Less often considered is the organizational context of digital libraries, whether the DL is embedded in a larger organization or has enough dedicated organizational trappings to be considered an organizational unit or even an organization in its own right. I felt it important to discuss this at the very beginning of the semester, since understanding the organizational context of a DL is important for its development and critical for its sustainability.
  • Throughout the course I’ll plan on biasing the topics and approach to non-technical issues such as these, primarily because this is the situation that the students in the class are most likely to find themselves in. Their project involved building a prototype in Omeka, so they will get their hands dirty and gain some practical knowledge as well. But I think that we’ll be fine skimming over the detailed and highly technical plumbing and wiring that are under the hood of digital libraries.
  • We spent a bit of time focusing on the how the organizational culture of libraries can both facilitate and impede a DL initiative. Just because the name “digital library” has the word “library” in it doesn’t mean that it is a perfect fit for a library’s organizational culture. DLs are different from traditional libraries in several significant ways, to adoption and support won’t necessarily be automatic.
  • The class ended with the students getting into their groups/teams to brainstorm and choose the digital library they are going to propose. I had a chance to move around the room and sit with each group to talk about their ideas and (hopefully) help them make a choice. I’m glad to see that the groups seem to be engaged and working well together. They all have good, interesting ideas, and I’m looking forward on seeing them develop them over the course of the semester.
  • I’m slightly concerned that I might be assigning too much reading to the course. I’m not asking them to memorize anything, but I am adding a fair number of chapters, articles, and sometimes entire books to the ‘required’ reading list. Although I make sure to provide context notes and guidance on how closely and completely they need to review the texts, I’m worried that some students may find it overwhelming. Something I need to watch.

That’s it for now. Pardon the bullet-point approach, but if I polish these notes into flowing prose it will never get done!

McGill Library’s new orientation video

In order to improve the reach of our library orientation, this year we decided to supplement our traditional tours and workshops with a series of short videos. The first of these, the general orientation video, went live yesterday, and I think it is wonderful!

This video came out of the work of the Library’s orientation committee, of which I am a member. The committee is made up primarily of liaison librarians from across the Library, but also includes myself as well our communications officer. We began working on this at the start of the year (January? February?) and the result is far better than I had originally expected us to be able to pull off, especially since this is our first attempt at creating videos like this. Don’t let it be said that nothing good ever came out of committee work!

My personal involvement was mostly in the initial planning and story-boarding stages. We started by thinking about the kind of video we felt would be most effective: length, style, tone, etc. When then began to iterate through the content, starting with a brainstorming session of most of the things we could talk about but then reviewing and editing the content down so that we had only the key points that wanted to get across.

We then started to put that content into storyboards, to discuss the visuals and copy we would use to communicate each point. When we were done, we had the foundation for a good orientation video.

At that point, our communications officer took over the production process and worked with some of the very talented staff we have in the Library to get the images and video, record the voice-overs, and produce the final video that you see today.

(Full credits are listed at the end of the video.)

I wasn’t involved in the production process at all, and so only saw the video for the first time when it was almost done. I was surprised by how professional it was, not because I don’t think my co-workers are talented but because I know how hard video production is, how hard it is to get all the small details right. I also know how busy the people who worked on this are: video production isn’t their main job responsibility (not even close), and they all have so many other projects and work going on. It wouldn’t be too much of an overstatement to say they did this work off the side of their desks, which for me makes the accomplishment all the more impressive.

As I said before, this is the first in a series of videos to help people learn the ins and outs of the Library. Subsequent videos will be much shorted (around the 30 second mark, if I remember correctly), and will cover most of the main points that we would normally cover in our Getting Started workshop. If this first video is any indication, I expect these will be a big hit with students and will be a great resource that will see a lot of use throughout the academic year.


First class!

Last night was the first class of the course I’m teaching this semester (GLIS 650 Digital Libraries), and I have to say that I think it went rather well. It’s been about a year since I last taught at SIS, and I have to say that it felt great to be back!

  • We spent a good part of the class going over the syllabus in some details. I think it is important from day 1 to be able to visualize the entire semester and understand how everything fits together. Also, as the course doesn’t follow a simple lecture/assignment/exam, there are usually a number of questions and concerns about how things are going to work out, so I try to address those at the beginning as well to alleviate people’s concerns as much as I can.
  • We had two group discussions in the course of the evening, the first of which started at around 7:30 PM. Still, there was a good energy in the room and the conversations and ideas seems to flow well. Given that a good part of their learning and coursework will happen in this groups, that’s a positive sign!
  • I had forgotten about the extra bonus of teaching in the Bronfman building: it is one of the last/only places on campus where the classrooms still have PCs in them! (The typical classroom has a/v hookups but the instructors need to bring their own laptop.) No more need for me to lug around my Thinkpad X, which is a good thing since I tend to not go back to my office after teaching and instead walk straight home. The classroom is also on the ground floor, so no waiting for elevators or climbing stairs. A+
  • As expected, by the time class wrapped up at 8:30 PM I was exhausted. I’ll need to work on strategies to stay well-rested, well-nourished, and in shape! Making sure that I don’t talk for 3 hours straight will also be important.

That’s it for this first update. More to come!


Getting involved

Earlier in the year I did a fair amount of thinking about my involvement (or rather my lack of involvement) in professional organizations. The reasons for this lapse on my part were varied, but in end it came down to a question of not having the time, or rather, not making the time. But I was starting to get signals from a variety of sources, from people I trust, from that vague, hovering cloud that are one’s tenure requirements, from inside myself even, that maybe it was time to re-evaluate this stance. Maybe it was time to start making the time.

What clinched it for me was reflecting on the experience I had had in organizing the Access 2012 conference. A great team, a great location, and even better attendees and presenters, all came together to create what will always be one of the accomplishments for which I am truly proud.

So I decided that this year I was going to get involved, to work with people to make things happen. Once that decision was made, a series of offers and opportunities presented themselves and I decide to take advantage of them. Of all of them!

To start, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve joined the executive board of the SLA Eastern Chapter as President Elect. In this role I am responsible primarily for the programming and organizing of events for the chapter. This is, however, a position that would have normally started in January, so I’ll only get a few months under my belt before assuming the role of President of the chapter in January 2015. I’m slightly daunted by the amount of work but far more excited by the opportunity to move things forward and start to build some momentum behind SLA as a key organization for information professionals in Eastern Canada.

In addition to my new role with the SLA, I’ve also joined the organization team of several other Montreal-based organizations. The are all organizations doing great work, ones where I felt I had something to offer, and that of course had something to offer me as well. But for this to work, for it even to make sense, I made sure that my role in the organizations was somewhat similar and also something that I was very comfortable and capable of delivering. With that in mind, here are the other organizations I’ve joined over the past few months:

  • Webmaster for l’Association des bibliothécaires du Québec – Quebec Library Association (ABQLA) – This is an established organization who over the last few years (at least!) have been doing a lot of solid work growing the organization and putting on great events and conferences. There is a good crossover of librarians from public, school, and academic libraries which I find very interesting and valuable. There’s a lot I can learn from these folks, and I’m glad to be able to contribute in any way that I can.
  • Communications / Web Manager for Association of Information and Image Management (AIIM), Montreal Chapter – The Montreal Chapter is a startup effort by a group of local AIIMers looking to step out from under the wing of the Toronto Chapter and create their own presence entirely focused on and of the city. I know about AIIM from my Sharepoint days (of which we shall not speak), and was asked if I was interested in being part of the team to help get this off the ground. Again, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with a group of talented, smart people to make something happen and learn a lot in the process. The membership also cuts outside of librarianship and academia, being from what I understand made up of information professionals of all walks and grounded primarily in industry. I can’t help but feel that there is a chance for some cross-pollination of ideas, or at least a mixing of various networks of people, librarians and other professionals who might have otherwise been siloed in their various traditional groupings. I’m not sure how I/we might be able to bring this about, but the potential is there.
  • Webmaster, James McGill Society – I’ve actually been in this role for some time, but I thought I would mention it here for completeness, but also because I’m planning on shifting gears a bit. Initially, I came on board to help migrate their web site over to the University’s web content management system. Since then, my involvement has consisted primarily of keeping the website up to date. What I want to do now is to help the Society improve its overall online presence and reach, to use social media (and more traditional communications tools) to get the word out on campus and to anyone interested in the history of McGill. This is a topic that means a lot to me, so anything I can do to help get the word out and bring new people into contact with the Society, well, that is certainly work that I consider worth doing.

So that’s it. Well, at least as far as professional organizations go. I’ve also joined the program committee for the 2015 DLF Forum. I was part of that committee for the 2013 Forum, and if all goes well I expect to be heading out to Atlanta in October for the 2014 Forum to immerse myself in all things DLF, to meet up with more good people and get inspired and energized.

That should keep me busy! I hope to write and share more about all these activities here and on Twitter. Follow along and feel free to drop me a line on any of this, especially if you’re part of one of these groups and we have yet to meet. Do drop in!


Still here…

Sorry, I haven’t had much time to post recently. Focused on the regular pile of summer development projects… I have a few drafts on the go, so I hope to be able to share something soon!

(This post, while true and somewhat informative, is mostly for testing purposes.)

Changes: Organizational and personal

If I’ve been somewhat remiss in posting updates on the state of web services at the McGill Library it’s mostly because I’ve been too busy but also because of looming changes to how our department is organized. Last week, the new organizational structure was revealed to us, so I feel like this is as good a time as any to resume sharing my thoughts and experiences on web services at the Library.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll limit my discussion for now to how the changes impact me and my team. I’m assuming we’ll be sharing news of the new structure and roles publically at some time in the near future, so I’ll share a pointer to that info once it is available.

The short version of the change: (a) our department is now called Digital Initiatives, (b) the developers are now a separate unit within the department. (This doesn’t do justice to change, but is an overly concise summary of what has changed, at least from my perspective.)

Within the new structure, my title is Coordinator, User Experience and User Support. I’m responsible for both the user experience as well as the support of public and internal users across most of the Library’s systems. What this means in terms of concrete change is that in addition to the web services and I’ve been responsible for up to now, the scope of my responsibility extends to other online services such as the discovery layer. The main exception to this remains our ILS (Aleph) which is managed by another team. (I expect that I will work with this team on any UX work involving the Classic Catalogue, though.)

As mentioned previously, the two developers that were on my team are now part of a separate applications team. I expect that I will still work with them (and other developers, now) on my projects: they just won’t report to me. (Fortunately, I still have two people who report to me.)

The new structure came into effect last Wednesday, so while the structure and responsibilities have been put into place, a lot of work remains to be done to revise job descriptions of people on the various teams, and to determine how projects and operations will be managed in the new structure. In addition, aside from the ILS, we need to clarify who (aside from our AD) has overall responsibility of each of our systems (assuming we decide it is important to have individual responsibility for systems).

My immediate priorities have not changed. My high-priority projects remain (a) upgrading the Library’s web site to Drupal 7 (a.k.a. WMS 2014), (b) managing the decommissioning of our MetaLib and SFX services, and (c) implementing an intranet for the Library. Beyond that I think that most of my time in the near future will be spent adapting myself and my team to the new organizational structure.

As for how I feel about the changes, I’d say that overall I’m feeling optimistic but find the uncertainty around how we will coordinate projects and operations disconcerting. Although the new structure will give us more flexibility in how developer resources are assigned to projects, the amount of coordination required to move things forward is going to increase. There are other potential benefits aside from increased flexibility. Having responsibility across all online services, for example, makes a lot more sense since it is how our users conceive and experience our online services: as one system. However, since I started at the Library three years ago I’ve been focused on leading my team through through an ever-growing pile of work, on getting things done, and so my first instinct is to evaluate the new structure from this perspective. We have a good team, though, and I know we will figure things out. I just hope it happens quickly!

Risks of using embeds in digital collection sites

This morning I read the news that Getty Images was going to start allowing people to use their images for free for non-commercial uses. This would be accomplished via an embed mechanism common on many other media sites where the sites provide some HTML code that you can paste into web pages or other online services. The code will retrieve the image from Getty’s servers whenever the web page / blog post / tweet / etc is viewed.

While certainly a useful feature and one that will make it a lot easier for people to share these photos legally, the use of embeds does raise an issue that I think librarians need to be aware of:

“Embeds from Twitter and YouTube are already a crucial part of the modern web, but they’ve also enabled a more advanced kind of link rot, as deleted tweets and videos leave holes in old blog posts. If the new embeds take off, becoming a standard for low-rent WordPress blogs, they’ll extend that webby decay to the images themselves. On an embed-powered web, a change in contracts could leave millions of posts with no lead image, or completely erase a post…”

This reminded me of a discussion I had earlier this week regarding the potential use of embeds in a future digital collection site. Specifically, one of the curators was interested in using TimelineJS to create and embed a timeline as supplemental content to the digital collection itself. The TimelineJS allows you to create a timeline on their site and then provides you with code that you can paste into your own web pages. That code retrieves your timeline from the TimelineJS web site and displays it in your own web page.

I can understand how this kind of functionality is attractive to librarians, since it allows you to provide enhanced content, integration, or functionality on your web site with very little effort. In addition, there no need to go through your likely-already-overtaxed systems group to implement the same functionality on the library’s own servers. You can just cut-and-paste and you are done!

In some cases, this approach makes complete sense, especially when you are dealing with information or content that is temporary or transitory. (Note: There are risks relating to security and privacy when embedding someone elses code on your web site. Do your homework!)

When we’re talking about digital collections, however, our timelines stretch out some. Most folks expect digital collections to be available for a long time, sometimes persisting as-is, sometime via a series of platform migrations. For me, if a curator invests their time in developing a timeline to accompany the digital collection, I want to make sure that timeline, like the digital objects that make up the collection, is available to visitors for as long as the site exists. If I use an embed to pull the timeline from another web service, there is a good chance that in 2, 5 10 years that the embed will fail resulting in an empty space on my digital collection site.

There are ways to mitigate against this problem. For TimelineJS we could grab the source code and run it off our own servers, but that requires time from the systems folks and becomes yet another web service that we are committing to run and maintain. In many other cases, setting up a local instance of the service isn’t even an option. At the very least, make sure that you have some sort of local copy of the content that you could use to recreate and/or replace the embed should you need to. For example, if we decided to embed a timeline using TimelineJS we’d want to try to grab a static image of the timeline as well as the source data the curator uploaded to Timeline JS to create it.

The ability to embed content and functionality from other services into your library’s web site can be an effective way enhancing your patrons user experience on the site, but remember that when it comes to building digital exhibits and collections we need make sure we don’t sacrifice long-term access and preservation requirements to our desire to just get things done.