SLA’s Alignment Success Provides the Opportunity of a Lifetime for Knowledge Workers
During the centennial year of the Special Libraries Association, I was honored on several occasions to be asked to speak about the growth and history of SLA. This topic was the subject of SLA at 100: From Working with Knowledge to Building the Knowledge Culture, the association’s commemorative history which I was kindly invited to write. The book was published in January, 2009.
As with the book, it seemed important for those presentations to connect SLA’s 100-year history with what would be expected of specialized librarianship in the future. Both in the book and in the presentations, one of the points I found myself making related to how close – as an association of professional knowledge workers – SLA came to taking a leadership position only to step back when confronted with the challenges the proposed change would require. Indeed, it was sometimes quite disheartening to research a topic and learn how people so talented and so smart – when they really needed to exercise their leadership – were not able to do so.
I’m put in mind of these several situations, what I’ve come to think of as SLA’s missed opportunities, as we engage in our discussions about the name of the association. I can’t help but wonder if once again we are going to not recognize a very special opportunity that is right in front of us.
So here a few thoughts from a colleague who has been a member of the association for nearly forty years, loving every minute of it and extremely proud and honored to be part of what I’ve always referred to as the most prestigious professional association of knowledge workers in the world. Perhaps these thoughts will be helpful as we think about the significance of SLA’s Alignment Project and its impact on our future.
In my work as a management consultant specializing in KM, knowledge services, and the development of the organizational knowledge culture, one of the most valuable goals we seek with our clients is the achievement of organizational effectiveness. Indeed, it’s not all about vision, mission, and values, for in the management community we long ago learned that there is more to it than dealing with the vision-mission-values framework. We must use the organizational vision, mission, and values to move the organization forward.
But what does an organization move forward to?
It’s organizational effectiveness, a phrase that represents a relatively new way of thinking about organizational success. Organizational effectiveness builds on the vision-mission-values construct and incorporates what we used to refer to as organizational development, but it is more, too. Now the emphasis is on what we are going to achieve, whether the organization is going to be effective in its dealings with customers, suppliers, workers, leadership staff, indeed, with anyone affiliated in any way with the organization.
And in SLA’s centenary year – as we also observe the centenary of the birth of Peter Drucker, coming up on November 19 (and also written about here, on October 29) – it seems only appropriate to think in terms of organizational effectiveness. Since Mr. Drucker helped us come to terms with the importance of effectiveness, this is a good time to think about how SLA can be more effective as an organization.
We know why the organization exists. We know that SLA is an organization created – in terms of our own vision, mission, and values – to provide education, networking, and advocacy for its members. What we also know – thanks to the excellent and so carefully planned work of the Alignment Project – is that we have a long way to go before we can say that we are effective in doing these things. We’ve tried on many occasions, of course, to move in the direction of organizational effectiveness (even when we weren’t calling it that) and some have been very successful (I’m naturally very proud of the efforts made especially since 1990, with activities like the work of The PREPS Commission and the publication of Competencies for Special Librarians of the 21st Century, possibly the most important publication the association has ever produced).
But we’re not there yet. We’ve not succeeded yet.
I think we’ll succeed when we recognize that we – as members of this association – have the opportunity to go further. Indeed, at this moment we have – if I may be so bold – the opportunity to lead a revolution in the world of knowledge, knowledge management, and knowledge services. Out in the larger world today, there is a new focus on knowledge; we see it in business, in the academy, in research, in the humanities, in government, in the sciences, and just about anywhere else specialist librarians are employed. Indeed, throughout society at large – both locally and globally – we are seeing an important new attention to the value of strategic knowledge and the management of strategic knowledge assets in the success of just about every organization. Equally important, it is an attention that is being recognized as an important and valued element in the management of organizations, of any type of organization.
And who knows more about the management and use of knowledge assets than us? Through our expertise in knowledge development and knowledge sharing – what we like to call KD/KS – we now have the opportunity to take the new focus on strategic knowledge forward, to bring about a revolution in how people think about knowledge and about the role of strategic knowledge in the workplace, and we are the very people who can lead them there. We can connect strategic knowledge to organizational effectiveness.
It’s a role we’ve been thinking about for a long time, from the days when we chose “putting knowledge to work” as the association’s tagline in 1916, all the way up to 1997 when President Judith Field pointed out that we – as leaders in our field – were positioned to transition from a library and information focused profession to one in which attention to knowledge would bring success. “The information age,” Field said in 1997, “has matured and we are seeing the rebirth of our profession and of our association.” Even as early as 1997, we could see that it was time for the association to take the logical next step, to “focus on what we must do to adapt to the knowledge culture…”
Well of course.
And now – 12 years later – the Alignment Project has given us the research, the background, and the authority of evidence-based study to establish our effectiveness. We will begin with our name, and with our new name and our new “game” we will go even further, ever upward and onward. We can no longer be the librarians of the past. We must now be the knowledge thought leaders – the strategic knowledge professionals – of the future. We will build on our past, of course, and we will combine our finest and most valuable attributes as librarians with the strengths and competencies of others who aspire to join us.
And it will be in doing this – in all of us coming together and combining the best of what we do – that we will lead society’s knowledge revolution.
What a grand and glorious future we will have! Let’s not let it slip away from us. We’re too good at what we do to slide, once again, into the background.
Our entire society is moving into a magnificent new world of strategic knowledge. Let’s be its leaders.
[SLA at 100: From Putting Knowledge to Work to Building the Knowledge Culture is available through SLA. Draft versions of the sections relating specifically to SLA's future – the two concluding chapters and the Epilogue – can be found at "The Knowledge Culture" at SMRShare, our company’s knowledge capture site. The text of the presentation on the history of SLA is at "SLA at 100," also at SMRShare.]