ECCA Winner Helen Doyle reflects on SLA Annual Conference 2016

Our thanks to Helen Doyle for writing about her experience at the SLA Conference in Philadelphia. Helen was one of the ECCA winners for 2016, co-sponsored by the Legal Division, and joined the Library and Information Services team at Norton Rose Fulbright as an Information Officer in March 2013. Helen also has an interest in cataloguing. She has been Treasurer of CILIP’s Catalogue & Index Group for three years and combined this with her interest in law at the 2015 BIALL conference, where she gave a paper on the latest cataloguing standards and their application to law libraries.


It has been nearly three months since I attended the SLA conference in Philadelphia – where has the time gone?? – so this is a good point to look back on my experiences and see what impact the conference has had on my professional development. The results have surprised even me!

There were several conference ‘highlights’ for me. The opening keynote session really set the tone of the conference for me, and I knew the next three days were going to be truly eye-opening. Erika Anderson spoke on the topic of learning new things. The total sum of human knowledge is doubling every year, a rate unprecedented in human history, and so it is more necessary than ever that we adapt, change and keep up. This is something we are often reluctant to do. Erika addressed this by providing a toolkit for learning new skills: aspiration (finding a benefit in the new skill that personally motivates you to learn it), neutral self-awareness (being aware of your natural strengths and weaknesses), endless curiosity (finding an angle of the new skill that really interests you) and, crucially, a willingness to be bad at first – you will improve!

Another session which really stood out for me was Shelley Reciniello’s talk entitled “The Conscious Leader”. The session contained some fascinating insights into how our psychological self impacts our attitudes to work, both day-to-day and in terms of future career goals. I was also impressed by Mary Ellen Bates’ session, sponsored by the Legal Division, which took the skills needed by entrepreneurs and showed how these can be applied in the more traditional workplace, something I had never considered before. The shorter ‘quick take’ sessions packed masses of information into just 20 minutes, and I picked up some new resources to use at work which will be very useful! I spoke to some of the vendors in the Info-Expo hall, and attended panel discussions on the ‘skills gap’ and how librarians can future-proof their skills sets. It was great to hear from a variety of perspectives as well – I met people who were early career professionals, like myself, but also heard from managers and leaders of library teams.

A major facet of the conference for me was networking. Before attending the conference this term filled me with fear, but after attending two sessions specifically on how to network and having numerous opportunities to put the theory into practice, I feel much more at ease than before. I am increasingly seeing it as simply “meeting new people” and not a terrifying ordeal to be endured! I have a new-found appreciation for my professional network and will definitely be expanding and maintaining it, something I have been too timid to do up till now.

From a European perspective, I also really appreciated experiencing the North American approach to librarianship. I feel that the US has a confidence and a certainty in what they do that can be lacking in the UK. Where we tend to tiptoe around our expertise and play down what we can do, the Americans shout it loud and clear. It was really empowering to spend some time in such a confident environment, where people proudly and assertively state that librarians have distinct skills and can provide real value to their organisations.

And since Philadelphia?

I knew the conference would have an impact, but I am amazed at how central my conference experience has been to my professional work ever since. As a member of SLA have posed a question on the open forum message boards and got some really helpful responses. I have looked at my career path in a totally new light and signed up for a leadership and management course. I have had the confidence to speak up more in team meetings and attended a couple of networking events, and actually talked to new people! And I have had the courage to try some new things, safe in the knowledge that I will be bad at them at first but knowing that is all part of the process.

Looking back I think this has been my biggest takeaway from the SLA conference – it gave me the boost I needed to become more engaged and more passionate about the profession. As well as practical tips, the whole experience has filtered through (sometimes almost without me noticing!) and my career and professional outlook are very different now from how they were three months ago – more energised, more focused and more willing to explore new avenues.

My immense thanks to SLA Europe for making all this possible.


Leave a comment

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