#SLA2013: Penny Andrews’ reflections – valued, value and values

Penny Andrews shares her reflections on attending the SLA 2013 conference in San Diego as one of our Early Career Conference Award winners.

My title for this blog post is “valued, value and values”. I hope that will make sense as I go on to reflect on my ECCA experience.


I never expected to win an ECCA. Oh, I hoped, and I approached my entry like a serious job application, but at the time of writing I have worked in a library for less than a year as a graduate trainee. Everyone in the past has at least been towards the end of library school when attending the conference, if not qualified and in a professional post.

To be not just accepted but embraced by SLA Europe and no less than the Leadership and Management Division, therefore, feels almost unbelievable. At the Division breakfast, I stood up in front of a room of the leaders in special libraries and felt an awful lot more than grateful. I wasn’t the work experience kid, I was a valued member of the Division and somebody they had chosen to win their award.

Conference badgeIt can seem like LMD is all about people who have already reached the top, but it isn’t like that at all. We want anyone who is interested in leadership and management to join. That’s right, “we”. I’m one of them now, even though I am not even a librarian yet.

I can contrast my first time at SLA with my first big UK library conference. I was at Umbrella, CILIP’s big bash, as part of Library Camp. We were running the unconference element, which felt closer to the spirit of SLA than the main event despite SLA CEO Janice LaChance as a keynote speaker, and every SLA or Library Camp attendee there felt they wanted to session-hop and to have “non-conflict” time, to have that more free-flowing experience.

For me, however, the most notable difference was that with a few excellent exceptions, UK events are not egalitarian. The hierarchy and “establishment” vibe of the workplace is preserved, and Umbrella was dominated by people at the very top of their profession who could afford the high fees/are funded by their employers and new professionals who had won bursaries or were speaking. At SLA I could talk to professionals from every sector at every level as equals and not feel like they were doing me a favour. Even the vendors didn’t think I was a waste of time just because I don’t currently have buying power.


I squeezed the pips out of my trip to the US. I never know if I will be able to go back, having never afforded travel like that before, or even if I will work in a library again. In this economic climate, many excellent candidates work in paraprofessional roles and short-term contracts even after spending a large amount of money on postgraduate fees and working hard for the qualification. Paraprofessional roles are difficult with my disabilities, and I wanted to get everything I could out of both my graduate trainee year and the ECCA experience. I have loved both.

My blog posts over at pennybinary.com tell the story of SLA 2013 and San Diego. I filled my days with session hopping and incredible conversations with wonderful information professionals and every other spare bit of time with what I could see of the city. I handed out tons of business cards – the advice to first timers about taking a lot of these is so true – and even met people who shared my interests and took an interest in me on the last day on an escalator. SLA is that kind of event.


What really made me feel at home at SLA 2013 and in SLA Europe is that people there generally have the same values as me. The slogan of the organisation is “Connecting people with information”. That’s what I love, that’s what I do. People were not on the whole running around in panic about MOOCs and gamification but thinking seriously about technology, leadership and the future. Both SLA and CILIP have their fair share of difficulties with managing falling membership and revenues, but at least SLA 2013 tackled it in public with the figures on giant screens in the closing session and a commitment to turning things around. Time will tell which organisation’s rebrand succeeds, or even happens, but SLA is where potential is valued and ethics were part of the values of everyone I met.

I feel at home in SLA.

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