Review of the year by 2020 President, Seema Rampersad

2020 started in a fairly normal way in the first few weeks of January, but the restructuring news announced by SLA Headquarters seemed initially overwhelming and daunting, especially on how it would impact us at SLA Europe. In hindsight, the changes have been beneficial with #OneSLA allowing for improved access to all Communities without extra costs to members – we have thrived with a greater connection to other SLA Communities around the world. The restructuring changes also meant there were new by-laws and elections held in March, followed by the news of the name change to the Information Professionals and Specialized Librarians Association.  Although there were a lot more changes announced and implemented in the USA than for us in Europe, such as in financial reporting and organisation of local geographical chapters, the SLA Europe Board have concluded that we still have a good balance of autonomy to govern and programme events, content and manage the engagement for our membership, the community, and stakeholders in Europe.

We started 2020 with our popular Winter Warmer Quiz, which was a great success with over one hundred attendees and which was also kindly sponsored by The Business Research Company.  We will soon be hosting our 2021 Winter Warmer Quiz to virtually kick off the New Year, and I’m excited to hopefully get my family involved as my quiz team! By popular demand, we also held a tour of the British Library hosted by my colleague, Neil Infield (another SLA Europe past President) and myself.

We were just about to advertise our Early Career Conference Award (ECCA) and the Mid-Career Awards to the SLA Conference as well as organise a great professional outreach event at the Half Moon Theatre when the coronavirus pandemic disrupted our plans. As we all know, Covid-19 has been the most challenging aspects of all of our lives in this ‘unprecedented’ year. 

Due to the pandemic, the SLA Europe Events Committee were able to switch very quickly to hosting virtual events. We were able to use our digital presence to reach out and offer some empathy and support to our community and the wider network of information professionals.  Our first series of lockdown webinars were timely and well-attended, including our roundtable on how to cope during the pandemic, which was followed by our excellent webinar on addressing professional concerns, managing wellbeing and mental health with mindfulness exercises and techniques. We also realised that although we can thrive in a digital world, we have essential physical library spaces that we still are not able to use due to the pandemic.  As a result, members within our community and other SLA Communities were also reaching out to us for help and leadership throughout the year.

I was asked by SLA President Tara Murray-Grove in June to chair the Task Force on Reopening Specialised Libraries, which allowed me to work with fellow members from five countries to host roundtable discussions, organise research, and provide insights to SLA members. As most people continued working from home, providing reduced or curb-side services, switching to digital programming, the profession faced a plethora of new challenges and changes that required a response. The main aims of the Taskforce were to provide much-needed answers to allow for implementation so that services could continue and reassure stakeholders and ease the pressure for many within the profession. The Taskforce produced two key publications: the first was a resources list for the various organisations who were sharing best practice guides, research, and their own experiences with coping with the coronavirus and the second was a report, presented to the SLA Board containing guidance on the key issues on re-opening specialized libraries to our community on SLA Connect. In this year of upheaval, it was great to see the collaboration from SLA members across borders to work together on one of the biggest challenges facing us and our profession.  The Taskforce will resume roundtable discussions in 2021, so we look forward to hearing any further concerns or insights. I also must thank the fantastic international members on the Taskforce, for dedicating their time to gathering and analyzing the various resources and sharing the workload across timezones.

This year, I was keen on attending my first SLA Conference in the U.S. and launching our Early Career Conference Award (ECCA) (sponsored by the Legal Division and the Science and Technology Division respectively) and the Mid-Career Awards (which was sponsored by the Leadership and Management Division). Although the SLA Conference switched to virtual, I’m delighted that SLA Europe was able to offer three ECCA Awards and three Mid-Career awards and we’re absolutely grateful to our sponsors – congratulations to our six winners! I would like to thank the Divisions again for sponsoring these awards and especially thank our outgoing Awards Chair, Catherine Jenkins, for having to change the awards formats at such short notice. With the knowledge gained from the Taskforce for Reopening Specialised Libraries, I worked with Bronwyn Smyth from the Vancouver City Archives to present on this fundamental topic at the virtual SLA Conference. I also worked with Claire Sewell (SLA Europe President-Elect 2021) on an international virtual reception in the form of a virtual tour of the British Library – it was fantastic presenting and hosting for both of these events and I’m thrilled both were well received. 

By the summer, it was obvious we were firmly rooted in virtual attendance, both within our workplace and at events, so it was with great pleasure that I was asked to participate in the first SLA Info Trends, organised by the SLA Online Learning team. I must give special thanks to 2020 SLA President Tara Murray-Grove and Diana Schapiro for being absolutely fantastic at managing the virtual learning programme throughout the year and for allowing me to proudly represent SLA Europe. Other events held by the following communities: DICE (Diversity Inclusion Community Equity), Entrepreneurial and Economic Data, the Asian Chapter, Students & New Professionals, Nominations Committee, and even the fun karaoke/IT party were all fantastic international events that I was able to join and collaborate this year as part of #OneSLA.  Undoubtedly, our lives and profession have become more virtual with many leading the way, however, it is one of the true ‘silver linings’ of the pandemic with greater digital transformation, engagement, and a better reach to a wider audience. I am especially proud and grateful to be part of a community and profession that has showcased our resilience, leveraging our well-honed skill set to support our users, communities, and deliver change.

It hasn’t always been easy this year. There have also been personal challenges, affecting our own mental and physical wellbeing. This has also been the year when we must continue to advocate, stand up and shout about the social injustices and inequality that has been exacerbated by the pandemic, with threats to jobs in the profession, physical spaces, access to information, digital divide, as well as anti-racism stance when the world stood in solidarity with the Black Lives Movement.

I must conclude my year in review by paying tribute to the fantastic team of volunteers at SLA Europe.

Our Events Committee have been hardworking and fantastic at hosting our virtual events throughout the year, with particular favourites of mine including Hal Kirkwood’s Experimenting with Mind-Mapping, Dennie Heye’s knowledge management case study, and Teodora Petkova’s excellent introduction to social linked data (SOLID) and our digital being. These events were open free to all and uploaded to our YouTube channel. Many thanks to our DigiComms Committee: Amy, Nicola, and Julia (our incoming DigiComms Chair) for the amazing work on refreshing our digital channels and pushing us to another level of engagement.

We are now underway and planning our next SLA Europe Conference in 2021. We are also especially pleased that Stephan Philips has accepted the role of Conference Board Chair, having previously hosted two of our great events. Although Stephen has a busy year ahead, he has made great strides in our strategy and focuses on the type of virtual conference we want to deliver next summer.  With the newly established Conference Planning Committee for the 2021 Conference, Stephen will be working hard to organise sponsors, platforms, and an interesting programme that follows on from our first conference held last year in 2019 in Cambridge. We will be continuing and developing our plans for the conference proposals launch in January 2021, plus sharing the dates and programme so watch this space!

As I end this overview of the year and some of our main achievements, I must pay tribute to the whole of the SLA Europe Board and sub-committees.  We have all worked behind the scenes to deliver a full and engaging programme of events and awards for the years as well as managing all aspects of running SLA Europe in a very challenging and strange year, personally and professionally.  I want to say a big thank you to you all! 

I would also like to extend a very warm welcome to our new board members, Leanne Common, Stephane Goldstein, Fiona Lacey, and Tsveta Rafaylova. It is also with great respect and appreciation that we say farewell to our outgoing SLA Europe Past President Simon Burton, Event Chair Andrew Grave, ECCAs & Awards Catherine Jenkins, and Treasurer Laura Williams.  Thank you for all your hard work, commitment, and contribution over the years! In a year that would have been a non-entity due to the pandemic – you have all given your time and expertise generously.

There is much to take and reflect on for the future from this year, such as repeating the recent ‘Europe Calling’ event, where members shared their favourite places, and also develop our program of events from the feedback and ideas ‘It’s your SLA, Have your Say!’ in 2021 (our Padlet remains open if you would like to contribute).  In hindsight, the year has been extremely challenging and different, I am truly pleased and honoured to have served as President in a year that I can showcase my own digital, professional, social, cultural and leadership skills. It was great to have SLA and SLA Europe as my trusted friend and companion in a difficult, but opportunistic time.

The only Presidential task left for me to do is to wish you a healthy, safe, and happy Festive Season and New Year 2021!

Seema Rampersad

President 2020 – SLA Europe

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