A Vote for Global Connections

By: Mark Athitakis

The Special Libraries Association uses its board election to spark international conversation. [Titled "Global Confidence" in the print edition.]

The Special Libraries association has 9,000 members in 75 countries, and approximately 20 percent of its membership resides outside the United States. Beyond those numbers, CEO Janice R. Lachance is proud of how SLA's international chapters self-organize, launching their own conferences and partnerships.

"It's bottom-up," she says. "It's all their initiative."

But that's not to say that SLA doesn't provide support from its Alexandria, Virginia, headquarters. It helps global chapters manage logistical and legal issues and makes board and staff available to international meetings. Perhaps most important, it builds its global presence by actively cultivating an international board, recruiting candidates from around the world and encouraging them to speak out on international issues.

For example: SLA presidents are elected by membership, and during the election period last year, candidates were invited to answer a common set of questions on SLA's blog. Among them: "How can SLA involve and reach out to members outside of North America?" Last year was the first time that both candidates for president hailed from outside the United States; the election's winner, Kate Arnold, is from England.

Lachance is careful to remain hands-off during the board election process, but in consulting with the nominating committee, "I always make a point of saying that we are a global organization and that we should reflect that on our board. And they have taken that seriously."

The transparency about the importance of international efforts is a response to member demand, Lachance says.

"I don't think SLA really came to terms with being an international organization until eight or nine years ago," she says. "Now that is part of our expectation, in part because our members, no matter where they're located, want those connections around the world. They need them to be successful in their jobs."

Mark Athitakis is a senior editor at Associations Now. Email: [email protected]

Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis is a contributing editor to Associations Now.