Special Librarians Do It Knowledgeably in Indianapolis

By Eberhart, George M. | American Libraries, August 1998 | Go to article overview

Special Librarians Do It Knowledgeably in Indianapolis


Eberhart, George M., American Libraries


Although not as well attended as previous conferences in Seattle and Montreal, the Special Libraries Association's 89th annual conference June 6-11 drew more than 5,500 librarians, vendors, and information professionals to Indianapolis. They came to the Speedway City to network with colleagues, to mentor and be mentored, and to explore new horizons of information service and delivery.

Founded by a group that included Newark Public Library Director John Cotton Dana in 1909 -- the same year that Henry Ford set up his first assembly line to mass-produce Model T Fords -- SLA is the second-largest library association in North America. It has 25 divisions (compared to ALA's 11) representing such diverse elements as scitech, corporate, law, map, military, and solo librarians.

When these groups get together at their annual conference, the atmosphere -- unlike ALA'S crowded theme-park ambience -- is like a summer camp where everyone has fun with friends and works hard for merit badges. SLA Executive Director David Bender agrees: "The schedule is more relaxed. Programs are over by 6 p.m. to allow chapters, divisions, and caucuses to meet and mix with exhibitors at receptions and open houses."

JoAn Segal, chair of the Museums, Arts and Humanities Division (and former executive director of ALA's Association of College and Research Libraries), told American Libraries that SLA divisions are "much more active in planning and organizing annual conferences."

In fact, six divisions (including Segal's), two chapters, and two sponsoring vendors pooled their resources to bring in renowned presidential biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin for the Social Science Division's 75th anniversary. Goodwin's anecdotes about presidents Roosevelt and Johnson, delivered at a rapid-fire pace, electrified the crowd. As a White House intern for and later confidante of LBJ, Goodwin had been privy to some intimate conversations: "You remind me of my mother," he once told her. From experiences like these, Goodwin said, "I feel I am most qualified to write a biography of the first woman librarian president."

SLAers have long had to deal with a hyphenated existence as librarian-information professionals and convince their specialized clienteles that what they do is both art and science. This year's buzzword is "knowledge management" (KM), a term that encompasses many things, but repackages them in a format that appeals to corporate executives. Outgoing SLA President Judith Field noted that the "K word" is increasingly in vogue, although she "hasn't seen it yet on city buses."

Knowledge management

In a presentation on KM, Elizabeth Koska, of the Booz-Allen and Hamilton technology consulting firm in Chicago, defined it as "managing internal capital -- capturing the best thinking of all the experts in an organization to ensure the highest quality, validity, and usability of information." By creating a central corporate repository of knowledge, librarians can transform themselves from information identifiers to evaluators, and their libraries from physical to virtual information centers. The net gain is a corporation that responds to client needs more quickly than the competition.

However, some foresee major stumbling blocks for the process. "Corporate cultural change is not easy," Frank Lopez, an information-resources team leader at Chevron in Richmond, California, told AL.

People view knowledge as power. Getting experts in a corporation to share their expertise is extremely difficult in companies where there is much internal competition." Lopez said that KM is merely a new term for the same concept of "competitive intelligence" that was fashionable in the early 1990s -- managing information and disseminating it from a central, library-controlled repository.

Davis defines the terms

Keynote speaker Stanley M. …

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