10 reasons why YOU specifically should apply for the SLA ECCA prize

Hey you, yes you! You may not think you are eligible for the Special Library Assocation's Early Career Conference Award, but there's a good chance you are. You may not think the SLA is relevant to you because you don't work in a 'special' library, but it IS, trust me.

Winning the ECCA award could change your whole outlook. It could be incredibly beneficial. Here are 10 reasons to apply:

  1. You don't have to be THAT early in your career - it's within 5 years of obtaining your Masters. So in other words, I could apply! (Former winners can't actually apply but the point being, I qualified in 2009 so I am eligible in that sense.)
  2. It's probably the best single prize it is possible to win in librarianship. To quote SLA-Europe's website: "Each Award is worth about $4000. It covers the full cost of Conference registration, hotel lodging, economy return airfare to Vancouver, and meals and appropriate incidental expenses." I mean, come on! I should just copy and paste that for the remaining 8 things. It's a ludicrously good prize by any measure.
  3. Whatever your sector, the SLA has relevance to you. The SLA isn't all about special libraries. There is, of course, a lot of good content (both in the conference and the organisation more generally) if you're a legal, health, business or pharma librarian - but a huge percentage of members are from the academic library world, for example. There's public librarians too. But the information you can glean from the talks will apply to any sector - it's just really high quality speakers talking about really relevant things.
  4. The SLA Conference is completely and utterly brilliant. It is SUCH a good event. I have only been once, but by all accounts it's amazing every year. I am going in 2014, I have FORCED myself to find a way back* because it was the single greatest experience of my professional career. It's on an epic scale but it's focused - you come away inspired, no longer gripped by whatever existential crisis is wasting our time in the profession, buzzing with ideas, and equipped to be a better information professional.
  5. The SLA Conference is made more brilliant by experiencing it with the other ECCA winners. There will be 3 winners this year, from different divisions. The three of you will form a little gang and roam around Vancouver together and it is SO much richer for that. I won't labour this point because people told me about it before I went and I didn't really appreciate what they were going on about until it happened - but basically you make friendships and you have this great communal experience in a sort of ECCA bubble and it's ace. Also, everyone is incredibly friendly and welcoming to the ECCAs.
  6. There is a very flat hierarchy at the conference. There aren't cliques of senior people and junior people. Everyone mixes with everyone, everyone has time for everyone else. It's a great opportunity to actually exchange ideas with very high-up people and be treated as an equal. You are, as Penny Andrews put it, valued. She also points out something I've mentioned a lot - the LMD (Leadership and Management Division) is NOT just for senior people, it's for people who want to become or learn from leaders and managers.
  7. You get to travel and interact with the international community. Every time I've had the chance to go abroad I've found the international perspective on libraries and our profession invaluable. And you get to hear amazing speakers like Stephen Abrams and Mary Ellen Bates who rarely come to England (and then chat with them afterwards - see number 6, above).
  8. You will become an SLA member if you aren't already. Becoming part of SLA is awesome. Everyone I know who is a member values it enormously. I've written before about how being part of the SLA gives you confidence. There are plenty of relevant events in the UK too. Also, you tend to go on to get involved with the SLA in some capacity or other - for example Sam Wiggins who won an ECCA the same year as me is the Chair of SLA-Europe next year, I've served on the main SLA Online Advisory Council and as an ECCA judge - the list is endless really. The ECCA is just the beginning.
  9. There is a serious emphasis on fun. The SLA take the profession seriously but they take their fun seriously too. There are events and parties every night, there is a ludicrous amount of booze, and you have to really go out of your way to actually pay for anything. The conference never really stops the whole time you're there. It's intense, overwhelming, but, as Simon said, you still feel like you're buzzing a month later.
  10. If you win the ECCA, then on June 11th 2014, you'll be on a plane back home, a more knowledgeable, creative, inspired, happy, confident and future-ready information professional.  It really is that good. .

Notice that none of the above are 'it's good for your CV'. Of course, it IS good for your CV, to win a prestigious international prize. But it's really not the winning itself which matters, it's what you get from it - and you get so much from it, that the CV is just an afterthought.

Finally a couple of quick tips for your application (speaking as a former judge):

  • You will be representing SLA-Europe as an award winner. Remember that - it's not just about all the amazing things you've done in your career so far, it's about actually being in Vancouver as a sort of ambassador for the division.
  • On a related note, your letter of recommendation matters too. The judges want to know what your referee things about you - they also want to know what they think about you winning this prize and going to Vancouver, interacting, networking, learning and so on.
  • Part 2 of the application - "What specific benefits and knowledge do you hope to gain from attending the 2014 SLA Conference and working with SLA Europe and your chosen SLA Division in the future?" - is important. There are a LOT of very good applications for these awards, so it's really nice for the judges to be able to filter out a whole bunch and put them on the pile marked 'apparently just fancies winning an award / going on a free trip abroad'. You need to talk about the relationship you are entering into with the SLA and how that will develop over time.
  • If you've applied before and not won, don't let that put you off. I didn't get it the first time I tried, I know other winners who were second time lucky. .

If you have any questions, leave them in a comment and I'll endeavour to answer them. Basically I can't recommend applying for this highly enough - it will make your life awesome if you win.

Finally, you can read my own reflections on the 2011 ECCA experience on SLA-Europe's blog, and embedded below is the video I made at the conference. GOOD LUCK!


(Here's that application link, one more time.)


*It's amazing how many ECCA's find a way back. Many have gone most years since they won. Despite the massive logistical effort it constitutes, and having to find ways of paying for it, it's so completely amazing that you find a way back.

Bravery based librarianship is the (only) future

Fearless man  

In recent months I've been fortunate to meet a few people  I admire. Stephen Abram, Terry Kendrick, Andy Woodworth, and Jim Neal* are all people whose ideas about librarianship I've been inspired by.

I'm really interested in a common theme, one which the SLA2011 conference really hammered home for me. All of them have talked about the need for for a little chaos. They've all talked about the need to build in the potential for chaos into the fabric of librarianship and the libraries we work in - to deal with what Stephen calls the "asynchronous, asymmetrical threats" libraries are facing. He believes the only way to deal with this is through pattern disruption (and incidentally, points out that pattern disruption is a lot easier to achieve with people than it is with buildings or books).  In other words, mixing things up. Not just plodding along the same old route.

I think that chaos - deliberate, sanctioned chaos - is very, very hard to engineer. The whole thought of engineered chaos is almost oxymoronic anyway. You can only build in the potential for chaos but you can't be completely sure you'll be able to decide what that chaos will be. So you have to be really brave.

I think that bravery based librarianship is the only future we have. At some point, we have to disrupt the patterns and set a new path. Many libraries are doing this already - our profession is, of course, much more responsive to change than most people realise. But fear-based librarianship, or at least caution-based, still seems prevalent. Many a decision is made in order not to upset the minority, rather than to potentially please a whole new majority. In many cases, this approach is taken with good reason. But we're talking about the survival of our profession, here.

But what strikes me is how often I hear about bravery-based librarianship that goes well. There were loads of these at SLA2011. So many times when libraries take the plunge on some decision or other, the outcomes are positive. I know failure is less likely to make it into the public eye, but even so enough people are trying interesting things and discovering that - hey, guess what - the world DIDN'T end and the earth DIDN'T swallow them up, and in fact everything carried on, but slightly better. So we should learn from them.

So many great ideas get bottlenecked by trying not to upset people. We are at a time when we need to inspire people, not protect their delicate sensibilities. Merely not failing is no longer enough. We have to succeed in such a way that the odd failure happens too - otherwise we're not speculating enough to accumulate sufficiently. And I'm not talking about whole libraries, I'm talking about the ideas which drive them. Can we get ourselves into a collective mindset where we don't fear chaos?

If you have an example of bravery-based librarianship, either succeeded or failing, I'd love to hear it in the comments.

Andy Priestner, another librarian for whom I have much admiration, is a good example of someone who has reached a senior position and still innovates, forward-thinks, and generally terrorises the establishment. (He's even employed a Special Projects Officer who has the freedom to make chaos happen, in a good way, because they're not tied in to the daily grind of the library. This is, thus far, the only clear example I've seen of what Jim Neal advocates - to build in to your organisation at least one position with real freedom to innovate, react with agility, focus on new ideas and so on.) What Andy does at Cambridge works!  Bravery-based librarianship really can be done.

- thewikiman

* I didn't actually meet Jim Neal in the end. He did a talk at my previous institution, and it was amazing - I queued to meet him but ahead of me in the queue were all the really senior people in the organisation, including my boss and the librarian etc. So I thought they'd think I was out of place, and he probably wouldn't want to be bothered, so wussed out and left. Later, I found out he knew who I was because of the Movers and Shakers thing, and wanted to meet me. Moral of the story - if you get the chance to meet someone inspirational, just take that chance and filter out all the things which might cause you to leave instead! Don't let caution get the better of you; bravery FTW. :)

My SLA2011 Experience, in video form...

A while back I made a video about SLA 2011, the annual conference of the Special Libraries Association. I was lucky enough to win a place to attend this - I've been holding off putting the video on my blog until the Leadership and Management Division, who sponsored my award, had put it on theirs, as I made the video primarily for that. Anyway, here it is:

I made the video using good old fashioned Windows Movie Maker, and I've used the same techniques as in my Library Day in the Life vid to try and keep the viewer diverted! So it's not just me talking at the camera.

The whole SLA experience was so amazing, really I haven't even fully processed it. I keep going over my notes and spotting new things to go away and think about. If you're interested in some more reflections on the conference, I wrote a post on the SLA-Europe blog; I'd also recommend reading the reflections of my fellow ECCA winners, Sam Wiggins, Natalia Madjarevic, and Chris Cooper. And I would SO recommend applying for the ECCA next year!

I do have one over-arching conclusion from the conference, though. Which is... in my next post. :)

- thewikiman

Average is no longer enough? Noted. Now let's move on.

Picture of a spoon A lot is being made of the fact that in librarianship, Average is No Longer Enough. Was average enough at some point previously? Possibly; it doesn't matter. What matters is that there are enough librarians in the profession who love it enough that they don't want to be average, rather than reluctantly excelling themselves because they've been told to do so at a conference or by a blog post.

I predict that the total number of information professionals (in the current understanding of the word) will shrink at a fairly steady rate during my career. The Average will probably be the first to go (the Really Bad being, in my experience, remarkably stubborn). It'll be a Darwinian process - the people that really love this will probably be strong enough to survive, because they're the ones likely to be enthusiastic about embracing new challenges.

In a job market where there are far more qualified professionals than there are professional posts, the whole idea of trying to turn the drifters into yet more super-librarians is perverse anyway. The people who think average is enough are probably never at the kind of events where people say it isn't. Let's stop telling each other what we already know, take the non-existence of THE SPOON as read, and use our time in conferences and on social media to talk about something more useful - like specifically HOW to find your 'extra' rather than just the fact that you need to.

- thewikiman 

p.s Please use the Comments section for all puns about what mean-spirited post this is. :)