Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Dispatches from the SLA Virtual Conference (as They Pertain to Genealogy)

Today I attended the Special Libraries Association (SLA) Virtual Conference.

Special libraries include businesses, museums, law offices, hospitals, government entities, solo librarians, independent information professionals (yo!) and everything else that doesn't fall under the traditional school/academic/public umbrella of libraries.

The special library track was my "thing" in library school. I loved the concept of subject specialty. I loved the science of research. Precision and recall are my idea of a good bar conversation.

Though I've moved to the genealogy world, I still like to keep my toes in the special library pool. You see, genealogy education is a drug of the over-the-counter variety. Nice for minor use, but sometimes I need a hit of Improved Research Skills and SLA is my dealer.

Some of what I learned on day 1 of this virtual conference translates to the professional genealogy world, so I decided to include a few sound bites here. Session titles are in bold.

1. A Profession in Transformation; Including Five Habits of Highly Effective Information Professionals
Simon Lord

One thing I love about SLA is that they know their identity. They are information professionals, plain and simple. Subject specialty doesn't matter. Credentials (or lack thereof) do not matter. Each member is an information professional in one way or another and they move the association forward as a unified body.

Information professionals are always communicating their value. They have to because their value to their employers is always being questioned. "Why do I need you when I can look everything up on Google?" Does this sound familiar, professional genealogy types? Info pros hear this All. The. Time. They answer with quality reports produced in less time which translates to savings for the company. However, communicating value is a never-ending task, which is why it stressed so heavily in info-pro circles.

Do you see ways professional genealogists can communicate their value, too? I don't mean walrus barking about your "qualifications." I mean busting your butt and producing quality work. I mean answering someone's questions and offering them a business card and a smile that says you're the right person for the job and you have the knowledge to back it up. You get the idea.

Every research or library-based group I've ever belonged to stressed the importance of information professionals "keeping current," especially with technology. This is more than downloading the latest app on your smartphone (or for some actually getting a smartphone).

In the information-professional world, keeping current is part of the job. In the professional genealogy world, I've experienced a weird indifference, especially when it comes to technology. Keeping current can save you time and money. Keeping current can make you a better researcher, writer, record keeper, etc. To do your job well, you should know the latest tech tools. You may not use them, but you should know how to use them and who else does. You need to know the latest databases online (and these are constantly coming online). You need to know what records repositories are adding, updating and saying online and offline. You need to know developments in genealogy software. How can I as a potential client or sub-contractor feel good about hiring you as a professional genealogist if you don't assure me you are "current?" You might miss the very item I need to make my project a success.

This virtual conference session also discussed more library-ish effective habits, but the best takeaways for professional genealogy (in my opinion) were promoting value and keeping current.

2. Go Beyond Google: Gathering Competitive Intelligence
Sean Campbell

I really dig competitive intelligence, so this session was right up my alley. I have found that the skills one acquires doing this type of research come in handy in professional genealogy, too.

Market analysis of the genealogy industry is best performed using competitive intelligence tools. These skills are also handy for finding living people, such as you would do in forensic genealogy.

This speaker had a background in the tech industry, but his knowledge translated well into other fields. He really liked Twitter as an information tool (as do I) and spent a large portion of the presentation on various Twitter analytic tools one can use to gather business information. This is more than just monitoring tweets. It's measuring the reach of hashtags, finding influencers and more.

Several tools were mentioned. They are, Follwerwonk, and

Much of the session was also dedicated to LinkedIn as a business intelligence resource. Again, this is a really good tool if you're trying to get information on genealogy companies (or those that have the data we want) or living people (as you'd want in forensic genealogy).

I learned some neat tricks in this session and I intend on practicing them by doing a little research of my own in the genealogy industry.

3. Just Say No to Aimlessness! Strategic Leveraging of Social Media Content
Ethel Salonen, Cheryl Yanek

The first speaker in this session was a librarian/social media person for a non-profit. She talked about how they used social media tools to reach their intended audiences. Some of the takeaways from which the pro genealogy world would benefit are:

Don't send the same message to all of your social media channels. Learn who your audience is on each site. This is a big pet peeve of mine. Many genealogy businesses and researchers phone in social media this way. You're not fully engaged and it shows.

Be aware of those who can influence your brand. These folks can come from media, celebrities, clients, peers, etc.). In the genealogy world, influencers can be those same people. Determining influencers can also be done using social media analytic tools, just like what was mentioned in the first session. See how this all fits together?

What is worthy of sharing? Keep your personal self out of social media. as I say, not as I do here. My single Twitter account is a free for all and I have no intention of changing it. However, as the speaker says, steer clear of the more personal rants on your business accounts. It seems like common sense, but I look at some accounts and wonder...

Social media is a conversation, not a monologue. Create an engagement strategy. Keep your followers engaged. Another huge pet peeve of mine in the genealogy business world. Lots of pushing products, links, etc. and minimal dialogue with followers. As the speaker was talking about this point, I started thinking about social media accounts in the genealogy business world. There is one account that keeps posting the same thing over and over. I will never understand it. Then I got to thinking some more and decided I really like the way initiates dialogue and engages followers on their Twitter account. I mentally gave them a gold star. Then I got to thinking about how if you ask RootsMagic a question on their Facebook page, you often have an answer from their team in a matter of minutes. I mentally gave them a gold star, too.

Don't be afraid to fail. Take risks.
This speaker was so cool. She's tried all these social media tools in her job and shared her experiences with them, even the ones that didn't work. It's a matter of learning what works for you and doesn't. Same thing applies in the genealogy business world.

The next speaker in this session talked about an in-house social media tool that her company uses. This did not translate well into genealogy so I used that time to start this blog post.

Overall my first day at this virtual conference went really well. I'm glad I spent the money as I feel it is helping sharpen my research skills. I hope my decision to blog about it here was a good idea. I just wanted others to see how information-based events from other associations outside the genealogy field are good for business within the field.

Read about day 2 here.

(Edited to add: The virtual conference sessions were done through GoToMeeting. I had three different unique links for three different log-in times (45 minute break between sessions). It was just like a genealogy webinar experience.)


  1. Great summary, Amy! Glad you posted this - good info for all info pros!

  2. Enjoyed reading this, Amy, thank you. A good perspective for all of us. I especially found your comments on Twitter interesting, as I generally feel the same way about that platform. It is, in my opinion, under-utilized by the genealogy field. Thank you for sharing. ~ Jen