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.



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!