A number of surveys have been taken of science, engineering and medical librarians who work at colleges and universities asking them about their preferred professional affiliation, or about which professional meetings they have attended most often, or most recently. The results are inconsistent as to which library association is one top, although it is always clear that either the science-oriented divisions of SLA or the ACRL/STS (Association of College & Research Libraries Science & Technology Section) is either number one or two, and that the results are fairly close in the polling.
This would not be surprising save for one striking fact. ACRL/STS has three times as many university science librarian members as all the science-oriented divisions of SLA put together. You would not expect SLA to do nearly that well in polling of university science librarians, given those numbers.
Therefore it must be something about the SLA experience that gets both members and non-members to identify with the association, or alternatively, to attend some of its functions as non-members.
In a recent paper by this blogger, a number of explanations were offered based on reading the details of other polls and by analyzing the membership records of the science-oriented divisions of SLA. (ACRL forbade access to their records).
· First, SLA university science librarians are nationally rather evenly distributed across the country. If you divide up the country into four regions, you find that the region with the lowest number of SLA university science librarians is the South, but the South still accounts for 22% of them. The Northeast, which has the most, accounts for only 28%. This statistic leads to an important corollary: if you are in a regional university consortia anywhere in the country with as few as eight schools, chances are, you will know an SLA university science librarian.
· Second, while 70% of SLA university science librarians work in science branch libraries, 30% work alongside their other-science or non-science peers in the main university library’s s reference or collection development departments. This leads to a wider awareness of SLA activities by non-members than might be expected if all SLA science librarians worked in relative isolation.
· Third, SLA university science librarians very frequently hold office in SLA units. A third will hold geographic chapter office. Ten percent will become chapter presidents. Six percent are their chapter’s webmasters, listserv owners, bulletin editors or blogmasters. Eight out of the last 30 SLA international presidents served as SLA university science librarians at some point in their career. Given that university science librarians earn tenure, promotion or raises based partly on their level of professional assocation participation, it would seem that being active in SLA would be highly beneficial, and an opportunity for service or election often taken.
· Fourth, the best single predictor of what academic library is most likely to hire or to have SLA university science librarians is its annual US News & World Report ranking. If it is a Top 50 school in overall ranking as a national research university, or as a graduate program in engineering, or as research-oriented medical school, it is twelve times more likely to have at least one SLA university science librarian, and usually several more, than not. The best and the brightest schools gravitate towards SLA university science librarians, and vice-versa. These librarians and their generally well-endowed institutions are more likely to host, sponsor, and encourage their SLA university science librarians to speak at continuing education meetings for all librarians, including SLA functions.
Source: Stankus, T. 2008. Relative national membership and self-reports of professional activity among academic science, engineering and medical librarians: Some hypotheses on why SLA is mentioned so often. Science and Technology Libraries 28 (3): 195-207.
Tony Stankus email@example.com Life Sciences Librarian & Professor
University of Arkansas Libraries MULN 223 E
365 North McIlroy Avenue
Fayetteville, Arkansas 72701-4002