Posted on December 15, 2009.
Since the late 1970s, Martha McPhail has not just been an SLA member, she’s gotten the most out of her membership by seizing leadership opportunities and staying engaged with the association’s decision making and strategy. Here Martha shares a few thoughts regarding the value of her long-term involvement with SLA.
Currently, Martha works for San Diego State University as a catalog librarian and women’s studies librarian.
If you’d like to contact Martha, please write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Talking with Martha McPhail about the value of SLA
As an academic librarian, how do you benefit from SLA?
SLA’s broad scope allows many academic librarians to identify and network with compatible colleagues. I certainly have, through the three divisions I belong to: Museums, Arts and Humanities; Social Sciences; and Education. All of these are relevant to my daily work as a bibliographer for women’s studies.
I do belong to more specialized associations, such as SALALM for Latin American subject librarians and ACRL to keep up with academic trends. I belong to ALA to read American Libraries and to support our public and school libraries through ALA’s lobbying efforts. ALA conferences are too large and overwhelming.
SLA’s annual conference is right-sized, the exhibits showcase new technologies and services, the programs are educational, and I enjoy being in a different city each year. So I find SLA suits me professionally and personally.
What do you remember the most, or the most fondly, from your years of SLA membership?
I first joined SLA in the late 1970s while serving as a sci/tech librarian in Sorrento Valley, back when there were horses on the hillside. I conducted all the online searching for our scientists on topics such as astrophysics, geothermal energy and nuclear testing. I also had to acquire, catalog and reshelve the books and journals: the whole gamut of operating a small special library.
Networking with other one-person library colleagues was greatly helpful to me, and I met them through our San Diego SLA meetings.
But then I decided to retool and pursue my personal interests, so I attended night classes at SDSU to get my second master’s in Latin American Studies. I was very fortunate that SDSU Library needed a librarian to catalog all the Spanish-language materials, and they hired me in May 1988. I’ve been able to merge my personal interests with my professional responsibilities, to serve twice as a Fulbright Scholar in Honduras and El Salvador, and to be professionally active internationally.
I’ve had a great career, and SLA has played a big role in my success.
What do you feel has been your biggest contribution to SLA?
That’s a hard question. For SLA-SD, I’ve served as the archivist, a director of the chapter’s annual seminar, and the president during 1996/97. For SLA international, I’ve served as Chair of the Division of Museums, Arts and Humanities; on the Committee on Cataloging several times; on the Denver Conference Planning Committee; and on various task forces.
Chapters are the core of SLA, and as the SLA-SD Chapter president, I initiated the President’s Award which acknowledges outstanding service by a chapter member. I appointed our chapter’s first liaison to LIS students, beginning our support of scholarships for emerging young leaders. I am pleased both have continued. Serving since 1991 as one of SLA’s representatives to IFLA, the International Federation of Library Associations, I’ve been a big booster of internationalizing SLA. Locally, I organized a bus tour of special libraries in Baja California and arranged for our chapter to pay two Mexican librarians’ SLA dues for two years. Some of our members still talk about that great bus tour.
If you had it to do all over again, would you still contribute so much time and energy to SLA?
Yes, indeed! SLA has advanced my professional development and enriched my personal life. I owe SLA a great deal; it is why I have accepted various posts when offered. SLA is run by volunteers and is only effective when members contribute their abilities.
When you look in the crystal ball, what do you see in coming years for SLA and SLA-SD?
It’s pleasing to meet new colleagues at chapter meetings and events; SLA-SD has a bright future in our beautiful corner of the world. SLA will provide outstanding opportunities for learning, networking and service for us librarians and information professionals, and hence for our patrons. “Putting knowledge to work”: that’s SLA!
What’s next for you?
I am retiring in June 2010! I’ll continue working the spring semester at SDSU for a couple of years, but will live in North Carolina during summer and fall. I expect to volunteer at an art museum library, assist Latinos with learning English, attend folk music festivals, read novels and travel.
I wish continued success for SLA-SD. Ya’ll come visit me in my beautiful Blue Ridge mountain home!
Interview conducted and written by Daria DeCooman