Special Libraries Association

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Special Libraries Association
Formation 1909
Headquarters Alexandria, Virginia
Website Official website

Special Libraries Association (SLA) is an international professional association for library and information professionals working in business, government, law, finance, non-profit, and academic organizations and institutions.


The Special Libraries Association was founded in 1909 in the United States by a group of librarians working in specialized settings lead by John Cotton Dana, who served as the first president of SLA from 1909-1911.[1] In the years prior to SLA’s founding Dana and other librarians had begun to recognize both an increasing demand for the types of materials that special libraries could provide, but also that many information professionals were working as professional librarians but largely without the professional support enjoyed by other librarian’s and professionals. The group addressed this motivation in the first issue of "Special Libraries", stating their goal was to “unite in co-operation all small libraries throughout the country; financial, commercial, scientific, industrial; and special departments of state, college and general libraries; and, in fact, all libraries devoted to special purposes and serving a limited clientage.” [2]

The SLA is now an international organization with over 9,000 members in over 75 countries and is organized by 55 regional Chapters.[3] Additionally, the SLA also has a number of Divisions devoted to specific topic areas.[4] Many Divisions also include Sections for sub-specialties. The current Divisions include: Academic Biomedical & Life Sciences Business & Finance Chemistry Competitive Intelligence Education Engineering Environment & Resource Management Food, Agriculture & Nutrition Government Information Information Technology Insurance & Employee Benefits Knowledge Management Legal Leadership & Management Military Libraries Museums, Arts & Humanities News Petroleum & Energy Resources Pharmaceutical & Health Technology Physics-Astronomy-Mathematics Science-Technology Social Science Solo Librarians Taxonomy Transportation

Naming Controversy[edit]

From the time of the founding of the SLA there has been some controversy surrounding the terminology used in the name Special Library Association. At the time of SLAs founding there was an almost immediate backlash against the term special library or special librarian. For some, the term was too specific in that it had been used on a limited bases to that time to define reference collections which were limited or narrow in some way.[5] For others, the term was too broad, focusing on a general type of collection rather than the work that the special librarian does.[6] John Cotton Dana himself acknowledged the inadequacy of the name in the years following SLA’s founding but noted the term was chosen by default as no other term would be as accurate yet encompassing.[7] This debate continues today among organization members and official name changes were considered in 2003 and 2009 but both were eventually voted down by the membership.


SLA membership is open to any person or organization. Members pay annual dues to SLA and additional fees for any Chapter, Division, or Caucus memberships they wish to obtain. [8] Members of SLA typically possess a master's degree in library or information science and may have an advanced degree in a related field such as law, medicine or engineering. While special libraries include law libraries, news libraries, corporate libraries, museum libraries, medical libraries, and transportation libraries, many information professionals today do not actually work in a library setting. They actively apply their specialized skills to support the information needs of their organizations. SLA members fill many non-traditional librarian roles such as corporate competitive intelligence analyst, researcher, or information specialist. Given the rapid adoption of information technologies for selecting, analyzing, managing, storing, and delivering information and knowledge, the average SLA member might be performing a range of services and employing a diverse mix of skills related to, but not exclusive of, library science. In fact, it is likely a special librarian does not work in a library, but rather an information center or resource center.[7]

Governing Structure[edit]

The SLA is governed by board of directors whom are elected by the membership according to the parameters set out in the SLA’s bylaws. [9] The board of directors is responsible for the overall direction and management of the SLA and selects the organizations officers. The board of directors is led by a President who is elected for a one year term. The CEO is selected by the board and is considered an employee of the SLA. The CEO oversees the day-to-day management and functions of the SLA and serves and open-ended term. Janice Lachance has served as CEO since 2003. Each of the regional Chapters and topical Divisions of SLA also elects officers and conducts meetings in a similar fashion to SLA. Members are entitled to vote in board elections for each Chapter or Division in which they pay dues.


SLA activities include conferences, professional education, networking and advocacy. SLA conducts two large scale conferences each year. These include the Annual Conference, usually held in the summer, all members are invited and encouraged to attend. This conference usually includes education programs, networking events, and information exhibits. The SLA also holds an annual Leadership Summit each winter which is focused on developing leadership skills for governance roles within SLA.

Publications and Awards[edit]


SLA publishes Information Outlook (formerly Special Libraries), a professional/trade magazine that is sent free of charge[10] to all members eight times a year.[11] Information Outlook is also available to SLA members via SLA’s webpage.


The SLA presents several awards, some on an annual basis.

Fellows of SLA is awarded to mid-career SLA members in recognition of past and present achievements and future service. In addition to the award, Fellows are expected to advise the Board and alter the membership to trends needing action. No more than five SLA members can be selected as a Fellow in any given year. Individuals receiving this honor will be able to use the title Fellow of the Special Libraries Association. NOTE: Members who are currently serving on the SLA Board of Directors are ineligible for designation as Fellows.

John Cotton Dana Award is given to an individual in recognition of a lifetime of achievement.

Presidential Citations are given to SLA members for important or notable contributions advancing the SLA’s goal or objectives during the previous year. The Presidential Citations are given at the pleasure of the SLA President.

Rose L. Vormelker Award is given to a mid-career SLA member who actively teaches or mentors students or working professionals.

SLA Hall of Fame is presented to an SLA member near the end of their professional career in recognition of service and contributions to the SLA and its goal and objectives.

SLA Rising Star Award is presented annually to new SLA members who show exceptional promise of leadership and contribution to the associations and profession. Nominees must have one to five years of professional experience as an information professional and have been an SLA member for five years or less.

Nominees must meet at least one of the following criteria: •Performed outstanding work and professional activities on behalf of SLA •Developed notable innovations on the job •Actively participated in SLA units and association programs •Promoted the visibility of SLA or the value of information professionals

No more than five SLA Rising Star Awards will be awarded annually. Recipients will receive complimentary registration for the SLA Annual Conference & INFO-EXPO in the year in which they receive the award. [12]

SLA Committee/Council/Unit Recognition Programs SAAAC Merit Awards

Presented by the SLA Student and Academic Affairs Advisory Council (SAAAC) in recognition of the active development and participation of student members through their involvement in SLA Student Group activities.

The SAAAC seeks to recognize and honor SLA Student Groups whose outstanding leadership, innovative programming, or creative use of electronic resources contribute to increased membership and expanded professional development. Award criteria may include one or more of the following:

•Increased student group membership;
•Expanded professional development opportunities (both formal and informal);
•Heightened profile of the SLA Student Group within their own school, on their own campus, or in the professional community;
•Success in bringing educators and practicing special librarians together; or
•Increased or enhanced profile of special librarianship and/or SLA within the academic or broader community.

Nominations will be ranked based upon clearly stated and documented quantitative and qualitative evidence. Be sure to clearly state the category of nomination and address any or all of the award criteria listed above. If applying in more than one category, please submit separate documentation for each and address the criteria for each. [13]

Several other awards are given out at the Chapter and Division level as well at the SLA Annual Conference.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "History - Special Libraries Association". Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  2. ^ Cromer, Donna E. (Dec 2009). "Special Libraries Association: The Importance of Leadership". Journal of Library Administration 49 (8): pp. 887–893. doi:10.1080/10930820903397226. 
  3. ^ "Chapters - Special Libraries Association". Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  4. ^ "Divisions - Special Libraries Association". Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  5. ^ Williams, Robert (Dec 2009). "Centennial Reflections on a Name" (PDF). Information Outlook 13 (1): pp. 16–22. 
  6. ^ Williams, Robert (Dec 2009). "Centennial Reflections on a Name" (PDF). Information Outlook 13 (1): pp. 16–22. 
  7. ^ a b Murray, Tara E. (Dec 2013). "What's So Special About Special Libraries?". Journal of Library Administration 53 (4): pp. 274–282. doi:10.1080/019308262013.865395. 
  8. ^ "Membership Application - Special Libraries Association". Retrieved 20 November 2014. 
  9. ^ "SLA Bylaws". Retrieved 20 November 2014. 
  10. ^ "Publications and Products". SLA. 
  11. ^ "Information Outlook Calendar". SLA. 
  12. ^ https://www.sla.org/get-involved/awards/awards-descriptions/
  13. ^ https://www.sla.org/get-involved/awards/awards-descriptions/