What I learned at #SLA2015


One event I regularly attend and rarely miss is the annual conference of the Special Libraries Association. For me, this year’s conference was unique, because it was the first time in a while that I wasn’t speaking or running a meeting. I had no obligations other than to learn and network as much as possible.

The About SLA page doesn’t do a very good job of explaining who its members are and what we do – probably because we’re so diverse. Mostly, we’re a group of about 7,000 people worldwide with Masters degrees in Library and Information Science who don’t work in traditional libraries. We’re employed in corporate, government, and academic settings – although a growing number of us, myself included, are what we call “independents,” or self-employed information professionals.

With its specialized content and library focus, finding sessions relevant to independents can be challenging at SLA, so I spend a lot of time in the exhibit hall, making connections with vendors and learning about new products for my and my clients’ businesses. But, once again, I still managed to hear a few great speakers and learn some new tricks of the trade.

What I learned at SLA 2015:

Using the Internet as an Investigative Research Tool – Julie Clegg, President, Toddington International, Inc.

This was an all-day pre-conference workshop and definitely related to my area of specialty. I could dedicate an entire post to my key learning points from this well-known investigator and trainer, so here are my three top takeaways:

  • Try to disprove your findings. Can you “blow your hypothesis?”
  • Finding what you’re not looking for vs. finding what you are looking for: Don’t let confirmation bias get in the way.
  • Google’s * operator is my new friend!

Opening Keynote – Leigh Gallagher, Assistant Managing Editor, Fortune

Honestly, I was so wrapped up in Leigh’s talk, that I didn’t take any notes. I can’t list her 10 key points, but, for me, the bottom line was this:

  • Make yourself indispensable to your clients. Leigh can’t do her job at Fortune without their information specialists – and she knows it.

Financial Services Section Meeting and Breakfast

In SLA, many of us consider the subject-specific divisions and sections our homes and the people involved in them our tribes. Because my focus in recent years has been on speaking, I’ve been homeless for a while, and, after attending this breakfast event, I have thankfully found my tribe. These info pros working with financial services firms speak my language, and the panel discussion was one of the most useful of all the sessions I attended. Again, this was such a valuable session that I could do an entire post on what I learned, so here are my top takeaways from the two speakers:

  • Cynthia Robinson, Research Director, Bain Capital: Don’t let vendors force their products or services on us. Tell them what you need, and ask if they can supply it. If not, find someone who can.
  • Bob Chow, Portfolio Manager, Fidelity Investments: “I don’t need more data, I need insights.”

Crime, Corruption, and Cannabis: Good News for Info Pros

Moderator: Ann Lee, Manager, Account Development, Dow Jones


Ingrid Verschuren, Head of Data Strategy Content-Risk & Compliance, Dow Jones
Liz Walsh, VP, State Street Bank
Betsy Ware, Information Officer, Word Bank Group

Ann Lee does a great job of putting together a thoughtful, educational panel without it turning into a commercial for Dow Jones’ products. The basic premise was that fields related to risk and compliance offer lots of opportunities for information professionals. I definitely agree, because this is one area where the DIY trend in research doesn’t cut it. No interns, no Googling for answers – just loyal clients who recognize that professionals should be managing and implementing the due diligence process. There were lots of  takeaways from each of the speakers, but, overall, this was the key point:

  • According to Dow Jones research, increased regulations, enforcement, globalization, and concerns about corruption have led companies to ramp up their anti-corruption and due diligence programs. Info pros need to seize this opportunity!


Spending time in the exhibit hall is one of the top reasons to attend SLA. Information and technology suppliers have long known that librarians and info pros are not only a great source of direct business, but they often make product recommendations to their clients. Like many associations, we have fewer exhibitors than in earlier times, but – at SLA – you still need comfy shoes, a strategy, and an entire day to do the INFO-EXPO justice. This year’s takeaways include one positive observation and one suggestion for improvement:

  • Vendors are more willing to work with small, independent businesses and adjust their business models. A loud hooray from this independent!
  • Vendors still think theirs is the only tool in the library and info pro toolkit. Tell us how your product works with others, not how it’s going to replace them.

Closing Keynote – Kim Dority, President, Dority & Associates

OK, I confess. I didn’t actually attend this keynote, since I had to leave early. I did read the tweets, and Kim – who speaks and writes about career resiliency – is a friend, colleague, and Phelps Research’s first client. Since I’ve seen her operate in just about any setting, I know that Kim is always the smartest person in the room (although, in true smart-person fashion, she would argue that point.). My favorite tweets from this keynote:

  • Perfect will keep you where you are today. Want to move forward? Be fearless.
  • The action game of improvisation: Learn like crazy. Network like crazy. Pay attention.

Additional takeaways from my overall  SLA 2015 experience:

  • I’ll be back next year. There’s something special about spending a few days with people whose eyes don’t glaze over when you talk about taxonomies, facet searching, and the joys of the * operator in Google.
  • Never have I seen so much self-interest in place of what’s good for the association. I support the consultants’ recommendations (while not agreeing with every component) and hope for a healthy future for SLA as a whole.
  • I can’t blog when I travel. Despite my good intentions, I could not muster up the focus needed for blogging. Hence, last week’s lapse. No more, as I promise to create plenty of back-up posts in case anything gets in the way.

As I said, my goal this year was to learn and network as much as possible. Mission accomplished, and SLA remains on my list of must-attend conferences. What conferences are on your must-attend list? If you attended SLA 2015, what where your key takeaways?


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