Anneli Sarkanen’s #SLAChicago – Part Two: The Learning Experience

Cloud GateThis is the second half of my conference write-up. The first part focused on the conference experience as a whole. This second part will discuss my learnings and takeaways.

Immediately after SLA and for a couple of weeks, I began to worry I hadn’t really learnt lots at the conference. Similar to what Bethan Ruddock described in her initial post on the Conference, sometimes I don’t feel I have actually learnt if it’s not a new tip or trick or technique. So coming out of SLA, I was worried that my lack of lots of new skills meant I had not actually learnt anything. But what has occurred to me is that what I experienced at SLA was building on existing knowledge and helping me become more confident in my career.

And what I’ve taken from the Conference wasn’t just “for me” and my personal CPD, but I realised how I can take experiences from SLA and take them to another professional organisation I’m a part of and see how we can use them there.

What really made it clear that I had actually learnt quite a bit at SLA was how, at a recent London legal library event, I felt that so many of my sentences began with “At SLA…”. I felt a little like a broken record and I’m sure people were a tad fed up with hearing me saying “at SLA….”! Evident that despite my initial doubts about SLA, I had taken quite a lot from the Conference.

I didn’t want to go into too much detail about the sessions I attended at the Conference, but there were a few stand-out ones I wanted to highlight.

The first session I attended was on the Sunday morning at 8am – a Continuing Education course. At first I thought this would be a huge mistake – so early on the first day and it was for 4 hours! I needn’t have worried: my jet lag was alive and kicking that day, so 8am did not seem so early. Feeling a bit like the newbie who doesn’t know the rules or how things are done (do I sit at the front? Play it safe at the back?), I made it just in time for the start of the session with my bagged breakfast I didn’t have time to eat before (thanks to an alarm I didn’t set correctly the night before!).

The next 4 hours was spent with Jane Dysart and Rebecca Jones on thinking strategically. Both fluent and engaging speakers, I am amazed at how they were able to conduct the session without notes to read from! Truly inspiring! What I took away from this session, and this was echoed in some of the other sessions, was that we, as librarians, need to keep evaluating our services and if they are fit for purpose. That dead tree that’s fallen down in the wood – don’t just leave it there, clear it out! This isn’t rocket science and I know we all do this (there will be a few people reading this who I know will be thinking “old news”!), but it prompted me to really think about getting evidence and facts to show the use of our services and if they are still needed. I had already started this at my workplace but now I had the stats, I needed to do something with them! Connected to this was a phrase that struck me in the Seeing you Career from the Outside In panel session: doing the right thing verses doing it right. We might well be offering the most perfect database, but if it’s not needed, it’s no longer the right thing and therefore needs to be evaluated.

One idea I took back to my work from this session was Rebecca and Jane’s Standing in the Future, a technique that allows you to imagine your library service in the future (2016 in our case) and what would be the ideal. Using this is a great way to then work out what the steps and process are to take you there. Everyone in the team can be involved in this, and it is those new to the team who may have most to contribute, those with no pre-conceptions, by asking why and questioning existing services.

Tweet from Anneli says: "Just spent some time thinking about out information service of 2016... Seemed pretty good! #thinkingstrategically #slachicago"

Other good sessions I attended included the Role of Competitive Intelligence in Law Firms, which added to what I had learnt in a webinar by Cascade Insights Going beyond Google. Contract Negotiation was also an excellent panel session that had both librarians and vendors giving their thoughts on the best practice to approaching negotiations.

Tweet from Anneli says: "Key points I took from contract negotiation are: preparation is key and build relationships! Negotiation is the end so lots beforehand"

A session about defensive behaviour in the workplace by Kathryn Deiss was surprisingly interesting, and it gave me pause to reflect on why we act the way we do. Some tools Kathryn spoke about (the Ladder of Inference and the Left Hand Column Exercise) I was able to pass on to someone who asked on Twitter about defensiveness in work as they were required to look into if for the first time. A great sharing experience.

Tweet from Anneli says: "Our defensive behaviour comes from if we perceive a threat or will be embarassed. #SLAChicaco"Tweet from Anneli says: "Really interested in the Ladder of Inference and the Left Hand Column exercise. #SLAChicago #combattingdefensiveness"

The final session I want to mention was Social Media: #IknowTheBasicsWhat’sNext. This session was ideal for me, as I do know the basics and I was keen to know what I was missing. As it turned out, quite a bit! An informative session about the use of Twitter and other social media by Cheryl Yanek and her team at Catalyst, tips for getting the best out of it, what RT, MT etc means (ok, I knew RT but didn’t know about MT!) and how a tool like Hootsuite had worked well for them.

What next?

And now that SLA is fast becoming a distant memory (although its only just over a month since I came back, it seems like almost a lifetime ago… where does the time go?), how has attending the SLA Conference affected my career?

I certainly feel that I’ve made some fantastic connections through the conference – once you are in the “bubble” you have rooms filled with your peers and the moment you speak to someone, you find a connection. The conference has opened me up to a much wider librarian community; whereas pre-SLA I tended to socialise, meet up, “network” with legal librarians, post-SLA I am encouraged at extending my network outside of this sector. And now I have a large potential network to share ideas with; how embedded librarians like me work in their organisations, can something be learnt from this? The wider issue of workplace literacy, alongside information literacy, and what more we can do.

On a more practical level, I know there are competencies that I can develop, such as presenting skills (public speaking!) and aligning the library’s strategy with that of the organisation can be aided by any future involvement I have with SLA and giving me pause for thought about my career development as a whole.

And finally…?

Throughout this write-up I failed to mention the fabulous city of Chicago. And all I can say about it is: Go! Go for its architecture (great stories behind every building), its food (not just their pizzas but also the brilliantly named breakfast/brunch place Yoke, and WildBerry’s amazing pancakes), the people, Lake Michigan, the “bean” (aka Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor), and free jazz in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion.