I recently enjoyed a conversation with Seema Rampersad, the current President of the Special Libraries Association. Our interview is below.
Please introduce yourself to Lucidea’s readers.
I am Seema Rampersad and SLA President 2023. I have been a library and information professional for over 30+ years and I still enjoy what I do. I had great experiences in the early 1990s pre-internet world when we were using online dialup systems and command language, then through the technological revolution, to the current “next-best-things” in our industry and sector. I truly believe we have one of the most exciting roles in society: to keep stories, research, and information flows alive and thriving. We continue doing great work and increasing engagement with physical and digital spaces, collections, information, and knowledge. I hope to be around for a while to see how things develop with future challenges and opportunities.
Please share about SLA. What are its goals? Whom does it serve?
SLA is a great professional association for specialist roles and organisations that want to learn, connect, and advance—for ourselves, our organisations, and the profession as a whole. Our value proposition is to learn and share insights from each other by meeting in person and online through our international connected professional network, which is at the heart of what we offer our members, sponsors, and partners.
Our main goals are enabling opportunities to learn, educate, and connect with each other, as well as to advance personally and professionally. The special libraries community is very diverse with about 70 subject specialisms, 52 geographical territories, and with 1000s of engagement opportunities each year for our SLA members and partners.
We offer education and practical advice on topics, best practices, and issues that affect our profession and the services we provide. We are a conduit to communities of practitioners and subject-matter-experts, which still make us unique in our specialisms and/or as generalists. Large professional associations like ours also add value with access to professionals, offering substantive or friendly advice when needed.
Why did you decide to get involved with SLA?
I am a long-time SLA member. I was interested in reading the articles in ‘Information Outlook’ before I realised the added benefit of going to in-person events in the early 2000s with the SLA Europe community. As technology developed, being able to ask and answer questions in an international network made me realise how truly great SLA is. I was able to do this in the global accountancy firm I worked in at the time, but to do so outside my professional network was also great.
As an avid member and events attendee of SLA Europe, I was asked to join the DigiComms Committee in 2009, and gradually others pulled me in to do more for SLA. I was reluctant at first as I was already extremely busy with a full-time job and volunteering at a local charity. However, as I let go of my charitable role, I had more time to take on my SLA roles. By 2012, I was working at the British Library and my great friend, colleague and fellow SLAer, Neil Infield, encouraged me to get more and more involved. As you know, I am currently President and it is truly an honour to serve SLA—and all our partners and supporters.
How has SLA influenced your career?
SLA has been great for giving me leadership and learning opportunities to develop new skills, competencies, and knowledge, as well as the venues to apply those I have built up over the years in my past professional and volunteering roles. I was asked to be on task forces (now called working groups) which gave me subject-specific interest and experience such as Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI), Workplace Preparedness and Crisis Management (which came in handy in a pandemic). Being able to chair one of the working groups, as well as serving as the President of SLA Europe, enabled me to develop my expertise over a vast geographical area with some truly amazing SLA members.
I know being SLA President now is a role that I will hold dear for the rest of my life. I feel the weight of the responsibility but I know it is my best opportunity to give back to an amazing organisation with a long legacy. I am the fifth person of colour to lead SLA and this too, is a great honour; I am proud to represent my multicultural heritage and identity as information professional.
What initiatives is SLA currently supporting?
We are currently in the midst of reorganising our management company and envisioning how to come up with a new strategic plan in the near future. This will continue to offer the best of SLA, and we hope to explore new areas for innovation, growth, programming and engagement in our membership. Our communities are very active, and are working very hard on programming that is valuable to members in terms of professional support, learning opportunities, and even socialising. We have recently started a new stream of work on Partners supporting our strategic goals, and missions, to ensure we are valuable to them now and in the future—for example at conference exhibitions or on a sponsorship program.
For SLA, now and into the future, there are multiple areas of focus, prioritising, and development for a fit-for-purpose, stronger and sustainable association.
What is the status of SLA membership in 2023?
We have had a generation of roles changing in the industry, and some recent economic challenges with the pandemic, but our SLA membership has held steady for the last year—and I would like to see us build on that retention rate. I know that our roles may be different and our job titles may not be the same as they were, but there is still a need for what special librarians are trained and qualified to do. We really know our stuff, we understand best practices, and SLA offers many opportunities to tap into our specialised network. I hope the roles and organisations that have specialised or non-specialised professionals in this field can join us for the benefits we can bring to them.
How is SLA preparing for the future?
We are hoping to have a successful joint Conference at MLA|SLA Conference in Detroit in May 2023 with a larger patronage, expanded conference program, and active exhibition hall. From July 2023, we will be moving to a new management company where we intend to relaunch with new impetus to make SLA succeed and thrive in the future. We know we must increase our membership to include the next generation, as well as the professionals who need us now…but who don’t know that yet!
Our value proposition continues to be great, and I remain truly inspired by the communities and members who share their knowledge, passion, and energy with others in SLA and beyond.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I work at the British Library’s Business & IP Centre—which is a great space for innovation and entrepreneurship—and the rest of the library is truly amazing. It is always interesting and a must-see for visitors to London.
I want to take this opportunity to thank Lucidea for being great partners of SLA over many years. Please spread the word for us, and we hope to see you soon too!
Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri, and a frequent presenter and interviewer on topics related to libraries and librarianship. Please read Lauren’s other posts relevant to special librarians. And take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus, used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all types, sizes and budgets.
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