ECCA Winner Ruth McMullen Reflects on SLA Annual Conference 2017

ECCA Winner Ruth MacMullen Reflects on SLA Annual Conference 2017

Ruth MacMullen is Scholarly Communications Licensing Manager at The University of Sheffield.

SLA Europe would like to congratulate Ruth on standing for election to be the Legal Division’s Chair Elect Elect!




Getting there and getting orientated

I start my blog post by thanking Ned Potter for suggesting that I give the ECCA application a whirl (and for his encouraging and informative blog post). It took me many years to find my professional feet and to get onto a career trajectory that offered progression and inspiration – and then I found copyright! I followed my heart when applying to the Legal Division; although I am not a traditional law librarian, I have experience in legal information management. I also wanted to collaborate with law librarians, to see if there are any gaps between those in academia and industry, and how these can be bridged.

The prospect of travelling to Phoenix was incredibly exciting. It seemed impossibly exotic and did not disappoint, with endless blue skies, blazing sunshine, and cacti everywhere. Did I mention that Arizona is rather hot? We were there in a record-breaking year, too. I wasted no time in finding the nearest cacti to pose with, although the affable gent who took my photo informed me that it was a tiddler!

Sporting my UK Copyright Literacy t-shirt!



Amy and I found the ‘real’ cacti during our post-conference hike to the desert botanical garden


I’m grateful that we were given a day to settle in before the conference started, and for the pre-conference phone call with Tracy Maleeff, who gave us invaluable information about conference survival! I arrived late on Friday night and had the Saturday to attend orientation sessions. The first thing that I attended was the Legal Division Board Meeting. This was a great way to meet Division members early on and to find out more about the overarching strategy as well as the workings from the ground up. I met with the Chair, Victoria North, and my mentor, Jessica King – both of whom were amazingly welcoming and helpful. A bonus was the

slap-up feast at the awesome Breakfast Club – all that travelling had given me an appetite! The SLA First Timers and New Member Orientation was next, a brilliant way to get to grips with SLA as an organisation – the structure: around 5000 members with 26 chapters, 53 divisions, 9 caucuses – wow! and what it stands for: leadership, career success, professional development. We were encouraged to get involved in voluntary opportunities wherever possible, and to network. The informal and inclusive nature of SLA really shone, here – UK libraries, particularly academic ones, are very hierarchical, which can make it difficult for early career professionals to develop project and leadership skills.

The final orientation event on Saturday was a smashing meal with the SLA Europe chapter.

The sessions

The opening ceremony on Sunday was truly spectacular I have never before seen so much energy on stage at a library conference, with music and dancing! The celebration of effort and talent was lovely to see, such as the Rising Star awards. Lulu Miller’s opening keynote was simply excellent. I was spellbound by the way in which she drew the audience. This was my first takeaway: that I would always try to tell a story in my teaching sessions and presentations – nothing engages an audience like bringing a topic to life.

The Info-Expo was really impressive. It’s basically a huge ‘marketplace’ full of vendors, along with activities and games, and lots of food and drink! Highly recommended as a location to meet people – and to practice handing out your business cards.

I went to an immense number of useful, often zany, and always inspiring sessions. My highlights were:

  • Legal Division Knowledge Cafe – run by Marie Cannon (SLA Europe Chair), Victoria North (Legal Division Chair), and Bobbi Weaver (Legal Division Chair-Elect). We covered five pertinent topics and I enjoyed the innovative format and discussion opportunities.
  • Commercialization of Intellectual Property: a session run by the Business Intelligence Unit of the University of Arizona Libraries, who work in partnership with Tech Launch Arizona, looking at their impressive and hands-on workflow for exploiting and commercialising patentable inventions. I feel that librarians are natural partners in this type of research – here, they take part in an early stage technology evaluation: assessing the IP, searching and evaluating existing patents in order to understand the existing competition and state-of-the-art – and I would love to see this model replicated in UK universities.
  • The Scholarly Communication sections of the Academic Division ran a roundtable session on the current landscape. Facilitated by Geraldine Clement-Stoneham, this was a very popular and lively event that was attended by lots of people whom I recognised from professional reading and research; I was slightly star-struck! Talking with US librarians about issues including copyright ownership of scholarly works, publishing models, open data, roles for information professionals was probably the highlight of the conference for me. Geraldine did a sterling job of chairing, and the session showed how the simplest ideas can often be the most effective.
  • Fair use in the Digital Age: this session was run by the Copyright Clearance Centre and the United States Copyright Office (a cynic may say that a session on copyright that is sponsored by Elsevier cannot be neutral; I couldn’t possibly comment). Overall, it was an informative tour of current developments in US copyright law, such as a review of the unpopular DMCA Section 1201, which criminalises circumvention of TPMs even if access to or use of the work would be lawful (there are equivalent provisions in UK law).

The activities

This was the first conference I’ve attended where exercise classes were integrated into the conference schedule, and I cannot overstate how much I appreciated this. Conferences tend to involve lots of sitting, listening, watching, thinking. Physical movement is so important to energise and relax, and to have fun! Phoenix was so hot that sessions took place very early (conference sessions tended to start earlier than UK ones do, too – 7am starts are par for the course!) 7am water aerobics as the sun rose, and driving into the mountains at 5.30am to join the local division of the November Project were particularly memorable.

 The people 

As we were told at the First Timers Orientation: network, network, network – and the people made the conference. From structured events such as the fun Fellows and First-Timers reception, Legal Division reception, and Bloomberg Breakfast Meeting (with a truly excellent southwest style breakfast) to chance encounters in the hallway and on the dancefloor at the infamous IT Dance Party, there were helpful and friendly folk everywhere. Using Twitter during the conference was helpful, too, as through a chance encounter I got a meeting set up, and this meeting has progressed into a significant collaboration opportunity since I returned home. You just never know when it will happen!

Staying on after the closing general session is a nice way to wind down and to continue the conversations you’ve started, and start a few new ones in the process! I highly recommend the brilliant Military Libraries Division Reception.

Certain encounters gave me a real ‘small world’ moment, such as the gentleman who’d won an award to attend a BIALL conference in Liverpool whilst a UK winner came to SLA on behalf of Legal. I’d also heard from people who’d moved countries for their job and, thanks to SLA, had an instant network of supportive peers. We were encouraged to ‘make SLA our professional home’; an attractive proposition indeed.

What’s it done for me?

Attending SLA has increased my professional confidence so much. It sounds a little cheesy but it’s encouraged me to think outside of the box more, look past initial difficulties, be courageous, and above all to think about where I can add value. That’s the nature of ‘special libraries’, after all – perhaps a little atypical, with a niche skill set, but lots in common with other libraries and a huge amount to bring to the table within organisations.

I end my blog post again with thanks and gratitude as SLA impresses the value of recognition: to SLA Europe and Legal, for giving me this honour and opportunity; to Matthias and Laura for making it all possible; Marie, John, Tracey, Jessica, Victoria for your support and humour before and during the conference; to Amy for being a plucky and inspiring conference, chicken wings, and cacti buddy! It was a pleasure getting to know you all.

Marie , Ruth &  Jessica at the Bloomberg Legal Breakfast.

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