Special Libraries Association Launches D&I Caucus

The new group is the product of a reboot of SLA’s diversity and inclusion efforts—and unlike its other caucuses, it’s free to join.

For a long time, the Special Libraries Association (SLA) maintained a standing committee dedicated to diversity and inclusion. A noble effort, but it experienced the kind of decline that many standing committees do—lack of focus, makework, ever-vaguer justifications for its existence.

“It became focused on awards and lost its purpose,” said Amy Lestition Burke, CAE, vice president of member engagement at MCI USA.

When she came on as CEO of SLA in 2016, Burke was eager to bring a D&I initiative back into the association, but with a more targeted goal. So, at the end of that year, it put out a call for a diversity and inclusion task force, with a more focused mandate of identifying ways to make D&I part of SLA’s work as broadly as possible. “When I talk about diversity, I don’t mean just ethnic diversity or age, I also mean skill set,” Burke said.

The resulting task force included six volunteers and three staff liaisons, including Burke. The product of that effort, announced last week, is a Diversity, Inclusion, Community, and Equity caucus, which according to a statement is designed to address concerns within membership like “gender roles and pay equality issues; ethics and bias in algorithms; and intersectionality and identity issues, to name a few.”

During the task force’s deliberations, Burke encouraged the group to think outside of SLA’s traditional structure when it came to creating new ideas. And though SLA already has caucuses dedicated to particular affinity groups within the association, the DICE caucus has an important distinction—unlike other caucuses, it has no dues requirement.

“I thought, well, if this is that important, why are we following the confines of the caucus structure in terms of members having to pay for it?” Burke said. “If we want this to be a fluid conversation, and if we want to move the needle for diversity within SLA, then we want to make this more than just like the award of the past. And if we really want to make a difference in our members’ customers, in our members’ organizations, then this caucus should be free. It should be part of their membership dues.”

SLA members aren’t automatically added to the caucus, however; they need to opt in. “We ended up going with the opt-in because we wanted the quality of the conversation … to be for those who really want it to be part of it,” Burke said.

It’s too early for Burke to report on the signups for the caucus, she said, but anecdotal feedback has been positive. As for the task force: Having done its job, it’s now been disbanded. But Burke said that the experience shows that it has an effective model for staff-volunteer relations that it can use in the future.

“It really was a joint process between the volunteers and the staff,” she said. “I think that we were all in agreement that something had to be done. And I think that’s important because sometimes with a new initiative that could be one-sided either way, like the staff wanting something or the volunteers wanting something. Sometimes there aren’t synergies between them. The profession has changed over the years and [we’re] finally getting the membership to be steady instead of decreasing. And this caucus will help us with some of that.”

(malerapaso/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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