ECCA winner Helen Monagle reflects on SLA Annual Conference 2016

Many thanks to Helen Monagle for her reflections on the SLA Annual Conference 2016, which took place in Philadelphia in June. Helen is a Serials Librarian at Manchester Metropolitan University. She successfully completed CILIP Chartership in July 2015 and graduated with a master’s degree in Library and Information Management from Manchester Metropolitan University.




Where to start? It has been over a month since I attended the conference as an ECCA winner and in that time I have created a Storify and have reflected on my experience, which I will now try to articulate!

After previously applying for the ECCA award (at least twice), I was gobsmacked when I received the email confirming that I had been chosen as the winner of one of this year’s SLA Europe Early Career Conference Award, co-sponsored by the Academic Division. In order to prepare myself, I took advantage of the pre-conference guidance available in the form of posts on social media, a webinar and valuable information offered by Tracy Maleeff (bringing layers was particularly useful as I had not thought about air conditioning and was solely planning attire for the outside temperature!) and set about planning my schedule.

So having received confirmation in March you can imagine how excited I was on Saturday 11th June when my partner, Gary and I set off for our first trip to the U.S! The images below show Canada and the U.S from the air (I have refrained from including pictures of my inflight meal).




Once we arrived and successfully made it through customs we headed to our hotel. Given the time difference we grabbed a bite to eat, had a wander around then had an early night in preparation for the conference the next day.



One the first day of the conference I was introduced to my mentor and myself, John and the other ECCAs headed over to the convention centre. As has been mentioned by previous ECCA winners, the scale of the conference is enormous. In order to provide you with an idea I have crudely drawn a circle on the map to outline the convention centre (below).


The conference began with Tom Rink (SLA President) telling us we would take lots away from conference, thus the theme was making SLA members the best info profs they can be. This was followed by rapturous applaud for organisers, board members and award winners. The recognition given to members, especially the Rising Star awards was a very inspiring way to start the conference. The conference began with Erika Andersen’s keynote session. The takeaways from this session were:

  • Our knowledge is doubling so quickly & that is propelling change every day.
  • We need to turbo charge our ability to learn at this is at the heart of leadership “s/he who learns, leads”
  • The key drivers needed are:
    1. aspiration
    2. neutral self-awareness (we can control our response to things by recognising you are talking to yourself, revise this internal dialogue to be more hopeful/accurate and then repeat)
    3. endless curiosity (reengage your childhood curiosities – start asking how, why and I wonder questions)
    4. a willingness to be bad first (accept being not good and believe in your ability to get good)
  • How to increase your aspiration:
    1. Find the benefits – what is personally motivating to you
    2. Envision the future
  • We need to overcome learning obstacles by being willing to be bad first & by using positive “self-talk” to improve.

I am not going to go into detail about all the sessions I attended, instead I will pick out highlights:

  • Relevant Issues: Academic Librarianship Roundtable
  • The Conscious Leader – Nine Principles and Practices to Create a Wide-Awake and Productive Workplace


For those unaware of how these sessions work, the room was set up wiacath a number of tables which had topics on for discussion, attendees sit at the table of the topics they want to discuss. After the first round of discussions the topics would then be moved to another table. On my table, we discussed e-resources, affordability, OERs, tenure, scholarly publishing, recruitment and budgets. The topics generated good discussions from an international perspective (Canada, U.S and UK) and enabled me to develop my knowledge; particularly on the subject of tenure, which was something I was not really aware of. I had never attended a roundtable session before but would thoroughly recommend the experience and would like to implement the process in future events that I organise.




lead1The Conscious leader session (see the Storify for a roundup of tweets from this session) was one of the Masterclass sessions, which aim to cover advanced topics relevant for management professionals. As my role involves managing staff, I thought this would be a good session to attend. Shelley began by asking us the following questions: are you awake? Is your psychological self with you? Stating that we better start understanding the human psychology in the workplace. When something goes wrong and it does not make sense we need to look into what lies beneath – the psychological state. An example of this is the Germanwings plane that crashed in 2015, the psychological state of the pilot was the last thing that was checked with weather, terrorism etc. examined first.




Principle 1: Human beings are not rational and every day their illogical minds are walking into the workplace with a hidden agenda. Defence mechanisms sometimes stop working and make for problems in workplace as your unconscious agenda bubbles up. Thus when people’s buttons are pushed arguments, which have nothing to do with the project in work, take place. Where you come from comes into the workplace and affects how you perform in the workplace, potentially sabotaging your career

So what does 21st Century leadership look like? Transparency and empathy, collaboration & co-creation are all key in addition to a focus on listening and reflection.


Principle 2: Self-delusion is the single biggest trap for a leader. Ask a confident what help you need/what you are lacking, think about what you do know about yourself more importantly what don’t you know think about what you do know about yourself more importantly what don’t you know think about what you do know about yourself and more importantly what do not you know. There was then a practical exercise focusing on the courageous conversation you are not having with yourself, as that is the path to the blind spot. This involved:

  • Thinking about something that holds you back from creating a new story/path
  • Then working in a two person team (one is team A and one is team B), team A asks the question what is the quality or behaviour that you need to change in order to write your new story?
  • Team B answers over and over and over again for 5 minutes whilst team a listens intently without any interruption of any nonverbal ticks


The listening element was hard because when you are listening you want to provide advice/help so intense listening is hard. The lesson from this was that we need to listen intently so we do not miss anything. Furthermore, as a leader it is essential to learn to listen as you might miss something. This is important as it puts an end to collaboration and co-creation. The answering element was very useful as it allowed me to articulate all the issues I had and visualise ways in which I could change these.

More lessons learnt included:

  • feedback is not optional for leaders and they must learn how to solicit it – once a year is not enough for feedback; both for you and staff you manage
  • understand the why of processes in your organisation thinking about how you can connect with the mission and embody it
  • if you are a leader discuss and acknowledge change in order to move from scary phase to opportunity phase


I left the session brimming with ideas to help me on my path to becoming a conscious leader – what more can you ask for?!


Ing1 addition to attending sessions, I enjoyed the networking side of the conference, which included informal networking with other attendees, the SLA Fellows and First Timers Meet and the International Reception. This gave me an opportunity to speak to members of SLA and find about what the community means to them. I also enjoyed putting faces to some of the people I had engaged with on social media.


In the final keynote presentation, Marilyn Johnson underscored the importance of leadership in the profession asshe recounted some of the countless way that librarians have influenced her own life. The role of librarians as activists was especially pertinent and reminded me of the hard work librarians do on this front e.g. Voices for the Library. This was a lovely way to end the conference and hopefully I am well on the way to being the best info prof I can be!


Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.