An Affectionate Memoir
Having recently received from the Special Libraries Association (SLA) the John Cotton Dana Award for lifetime achievement, I am experiencing a rather emotional time thinking about what the Association has meant to me over my 47 years of membership. Having received this honor has given me the opportunity to think about those 47 years, and to be particularly grateful for what SLA – as a professional association – has meant to me.
The award was presented on Sunday, June 16, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio, at the 2019 SLA Annual Conference. It might seem like a cliché, but I was deeply honored to have even been nominated for this award. And now that the award is a fact, I am doubly honored and I must add, deeply humbled that my career’s work is being so recognized. To all who have had a hand in the nomination and the decision to give the award to me, I say a very special and heart-felt thank you. I am very grateful.
The award is named for the Association’s founder and first president, who with a group of colleagues in the summer of 1909, sitting on the porch of a resort hotel in New Hampshire, decided to band together in support of a “branch” of librarianship that was obviously different from the more recognized and readily understood types of librarianship. And John Cotton Dana? Well, I got to know plenty about him (and to admire him and his work) when I was commissioned back in 1999 to research and write the official centennial history of SLA, published in 2009. [Although the book is out of print, a pdf version of the typescript for SLA at 100: From Putting Knowledge to Work to Building the Knowledge Culture,is at SMR Share, SMR International’s corporate knowledge capture site.]
In researching the early years of the association, it is easy to see why John Cotton Dana’s name is attached to the award. He was a very special person, and I wish I had known him. The description of the award includes the terms “lifetime achievement” – a term I always associated with very, very old film personalities being recognized at the Academy Awards – but I suppose the term can be used in other contexts as well. And that is why I am so honored, because the awards team at SLA tells us the award recognizes me not only for my life’s work but for “exceptional service to the association and to the library and information profession.”
A very special honor indeed.
And it comes with yet another honor, this one combining the personal and the professional. Another announcement from SLA referred to me as the “father of knowledge services,” a title about me that has been thrown around for several years from good friends and professional colleagues. Perhaps they were being just a little silly, or teasing me a bit, but most of them know that in my writings and my teaching, I allude frequently to one of the great influences of my professional career, Peter F. Drucker, who himself has come to be recognized as “the father of modern management.” So when the publicity about the award went on to identify me with a similar “father of…” description, I realized that all my many references to Drucker and his importance to our work had earned me a similar accolade. How lucky can a man be?
And while this is not the place for a full list of all that I purport to have learned during my years of membership in SLA, the title of this little “affectionate memoir” refers to the two highlights for which, I expect, I will be remembered (certainly – egoism notwithstanding – I would like that!). With respect to the first – one-person library management – after a few years of working as a librarian, I was engaged to come to New York to be the librarian for a private library of about 40,000 volumes. There were no other library staff members. As I began to think about how I might best do my job, I identified three important directions. Of course I learned the value of applying management and leadership principles, however I could adapt them as a single-staff employee, primarily through working with others in management positions in different departments of the organization. I also learned about networking and the real benefits of professional development (we just called it “training” in those days). For all three (management and leadership, networking, and professional development), I discovered – through the kindness of generous members of the New York Chapter of the Special Libraries Association – that I could get help when I needed it. And in particular I began to benefit professionally from regular attendance at the SLA Annual Conference. I learned that management and leadership, networking, and professional development are all essential to success as a librarian, especially as a specialist librarian (my name for those of us who earned our livings in our particular “branch” of librarianship). I learned in SLA that no matter how serious or concerned I was about a problem or difficult situation, through SLA I could find support to help me resolve the issue.
Professional development could almost be singled out as my best success in SLA, both as a student in the variety of workshops offered to members and, to my great advantage, eventually as a leader of SLA workshops about one-person libraries (and later, about other topics as well). The one-person library management programs were amazingly successful, and thanks to brilliant support for the Association’s Executive Director David R. Bender and the Continuing Education Specialist (later Professional Development Director) Kathy Warye, we created a nearly three-year program of two-day workshops that took me all over the United States and Canada and, when I was working with my own company on international assignments, offered to SLA members in places such as the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and in other countries.
As for knowledge services (the other half of the title of this post), the subject just “came about,” we might say. Although I had been thinking about and teaching knowledge services since the mid-1990s, the subject for me “fell into place” as a full-fledged professional attribute for specialized librarianship by June 2001, when my article “Knowledge Services: Your Company’s Key to Performance Excellence” was published in the SLA journal Information Outlook. I then continued to write extensively about the subject, and to teach knowledge services in a wide range of workshops, in a series for SLA taught with Dale Stanley, Deb Hunt, and Scott Brown from 2007 through the final course on June 16 of this year, at the most recent SLA Annual Conference, in corporate and organizational seminars and webinars, and of course, as part of consultancy assignments, and in academic courses. These last, in particular, were in affiliation with my early work with the M.S. in Information and Knowledge Strategy program at the School of Professional Studies at Columbia University in the City University of New York (where I now teach in the school’s Business Certification and Post-Baccalaureate Studies programs). My first book-length study of knowledge services was Beyond Degrees: Professional Learning for Knowledge Services, published by De Gruyter Saur in 2003, followed by Knowledge Services: A Strategic Framework for the 21st Century Organization (also published by De Gruyter Saur, in 2016) and coming in November 2019, The Knowledge Services Handbook: A Guide for The Knowledge Strategist, co-authored with Barrie Levy, my Associate Lecturer at Columbia and Knowledge Services Coordinator/Knowledge Strategist at Kohn Pedersen Fox, Architects. This book, too, will be published by De Gruyter Saur. As part of all of this activity focussing on knowledge services, I now serve as the Series Editor for Knowledge Services, the new series from De Gruyter Saur, for which The Handbook from Barrie and me is the first title (with three other titles currently scheduled for 2020) and for which I am enthusiastically seeking additional authors from the SLA community.
In Cleveland on June 16, at the presentation ceremony, SLA President Hal Kirkwood, in introducing me, covered most of my SLA history. And even though many of these stories had been told – on a larger scale – in SLA’s centennial history, I am very pleased that President Kirkwood recognized my own relationship with the singular organization with which I’ve been associated for 47 years and included highlights of that connection in his remarks. His introductory comments, along with my own response, are captured below. And for those who are interested, there is a video recorded by my good friend Gita Saadat from the audience. It is on YouTube, and it is just under ten minutes long. It’s titled Guy St. Clair SLA Award.
Remarks at the 2019 Special Libraries Association Annual Conference
Hal Kirkwood, Bodleian Business Librarian, Said Business School, University of Oxford, and 2019 President, Special Libraries Association (SLA), speaking at the Opening General Session of the 2019 on June 16, 2019:
Let’s honor our 2019 John Cotton Dana Award recipient.
The John Cotton Dana Award is named for SLA’s founder and first president. It is granted to an information professional to recognize a lifetime of achievement as well as exceptional service to SLA and the library and information profession.
This year, we present the John Cotton Dana Award to Guy St. Clair.
Guy almost needs no introduction, because in many respects, he is SLA. An SLA member since 1972, he served as president in 1991-1992, was named a Fellow of SLA in 1996, and was inducted into the SLA Hall of Fame in 2010. In 2009, Guy wrote the definitive history of SLA’s first century, titled SLA at 100: From “Putting knowledge to Work” to “Building the Knowledge Culture.”
Guy coined the term “one-person librarian,” which today we call solo librarianship, and he received SLA’s Professional Award in 1989 for recognizing the role that one-person libraries play in the library community. He is also the foremost expert in our profession on knowledge management and knowledge services, and he has lectured and taught courses on those topics.
Altogether, Guy has written or co-authored more than a dozen books and numerous articles about information management, knowledge management, knowledge services, and strategic learning. His next book, co-authored with Barrie Levy, is titled The Knowledge Services Handbook: A Guide for the Knowledge Strategist. It will be published in November.
Guy speaks affectionately about how he would not have had a career if not for his many years of volunteer work with SLA. He is a longtime member of the New York Chapter and served as chapter president in 1989-1990. He chaired the Museums, Arts, and Humanities Division twice, in 1976-77 and again in 1983-84. He helped found, and was a longtime member of, the Knowledge Management Division.
And because of his work abroad, he was able to assist with building the Australia and New Zealand Chapter.
I could go on and on about Guy, but I think his favorite quote, from the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, says it best:
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no “brief candle” to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to the future generations.
Please join me in presenting Guy St. Clair with SLA’s highest honor, the John Cotton Dana Award!
Guy St. Clair’s Comments accepting the SLA John Cotton Dana Award:
Mr. President, Board Members, Officers of the Special Libraries Association, Fellow SLA Members, Association Staff, and Distinguished Guests.
Thank you. I can’t begin to tell you what an honor it is, for me to be receiving SLA’s John Cotton Dana Award.
And can you imagine: Forty-seven years in SLA! Wow!!
And I am going to surprise you. For me, part of my great honor in receiving this award is to share it with you. I am giving this award back to you, to the members of the Special Libraries Association.
Why? Well, let’s look at what I wrote in the final paragraph of the association’s 100th anniversary history, published exactly ten years ago. You’ve already heard President Kirkwood mention that I wrote the history. It was a long journey (it took ten years!), but it was a splendid journey and I’ll never forget what I learned while I was writing our history.
And in particular, as I went through the history of our organization and continued to move forward with my own exploration of knowledge services – ten years of knowledge services by 1909 – I had a message for you.
In that last paragraph of the SLA history, I said that you – as knowledge services professionals and as members of SLA – you are building and implementing the prototype and the inspiration for the knowledge culture, in your parent organizations and – as I see it – in society at large.
And that knowledge culture will lead us, I predict, to a “golden age” in the management of information, knowledge, and strategic learning in the organizations, businesses, and institutions where we work. And, as I say, in society itself.
So let’s think about that a little bit. Coal and oil fueled the advances of the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Computers and microprocessors fueled the advances of the Technical Revolution in the second half of the twentieth century. And I stand before you today to say to you that knowledge will fuel the advances of our own time, now and into the future. It will be a time that I predict will come to be looked on as our new – and thrilling – Knowledge Revolution.
And it will be the knowledge strategists and the knowledge thought leaders – that’s you, the members of SLA – who will be managing and leading this effort.
No one knows better than you how to develop knowledge, how to share knowledge, and how to use knowledge. And you delight in – for it is your professional calling – you delight in playing a leading role in ensuring that the Knowledge Revolution is every bit as significant and as critical for all our citizens as were its predecessors, the Industrial Revolution and the Technology Revolution.
And I believe – as strongly as I have ever believed anything – that it is through you that the Golden Age of Knowledge Sharing will be achieved. It’s not me, it’s not my generation. We’re just those who came before you and, we hope, helped inspire you to move in this direction.
And as you just heard, like George Bernard Shaw, I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, the community of specialist librarians, to you. And to those with whom you work and move forward to guarantee that this Golden Age of Knowledge Sharing will reach its peak, will be as good as it can – and will – be.
So take back the award. It’s not for me. It’s for you. And take up that torch, that torch that George Bernard Shaw handed to us. Carry it forward, hold it high, and let it burn as brightly as it can … Lead us, and bring us into our new Golden Age of Knowledge Sharing.
I love you all, and I thank you very much.
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