The recently-concluded 2017 SLA/Special Libraries Association annual conference was a goldmine of networking, learning and socializing opportunities. And despite the well over 100 degree temperatures each day, the Phoenix Convention Center was a comfortable, easy-to-navigate place.

The conference was inherently future-focused. Information professionals (whether librarians or otherwise) were searching for networking, professional growth and learning opportunities to further their careers and improve their lives. The conference’s exhibitors were there to make new contacts, pitch their new products and services, and ideally book new business for the future.

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Here is a brief overview of my conference experience:

Keynotes. Both speakers, Lulu Miller of NPR on Sunday and Moriba K. Jah of University of Texas at Austin on Tuesday, were engaging and enlightening, in completely different ways.

Tuesday’s general session,  “Dream Jobs for Info Pros,” was a thought-provoking panel on the information career journeys of Brendan Thompson (Uber), Rosanna Lindquist of The Hershey Company and Robin Dodge of the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM).

I also attended panels on a variety of subjects, including:

Artificial Intelligence. Panelists: JP Ratajczak of Aurora WDC, Laura Gordon-Murnane of Bloomberg BNA and Ethan Redrup of The Martec Group.

Competitive Intelligence. One session featuring Lynn Strand of Outside Knowledge; and another featuring Scott Brown of Oracle.  

The Gig Economy. Panelists: Ellen Naylor of the Business Intelligence Source; and Yili (Kevin) Hong, a professor at Arizona State University W.P. Carey School of Business. Moderator: Marilyn Bromley, the recently retired library director at Bloomberg BNA.

Information Architecture. James King and Lissa Snyders, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Library.

Interactive Instruction. Yvonne Mery and Leslie Sult of University of Arizona.

Project Management. Rebecca Jones of Dysart & Jones Associates.

The attendance at the the Gig Economy session should have been larger, as that way of organizing work is going to represent the future for so many people at the conference and other information professionals, by choice or necessity.

A thread running through most of these sessions (implicitly or explicitly), was what information professionals can do in the face of inevitable competition from robotics/automation and artificial intelligence. Not surprisingly, there aren’t easy answers, but it helps to build and refine your skills and education, think about how you could work in tandem with robots/artificial intelligence, broaden your professional network and think and act in multidisciplinary ways.

I visited many exhibitors (the lifeblood of the conference), in the INFO-EXPO hall, including Aurora WDC and their Founder and Chairman Arik Johnson, whom I wrote about in Create Your Future the Peter Drucker Way, and Wiley (I am Managing Editor of their journal Leader to Leader).

What I learned, and the people I met and/or reconnected with at the conference provides a perfect lead-in to the course The Special Library/Information Center, which I have taught  as an adjunct since 1996, beginning June 27 at the Catholic University of America Department of Library and Information Science. James King will be a guest lecturer during the first class of the semester.

The world of information professionals, inside or outside libraries, continues to change in ways we could only glimpse 21 years ago, when I began teaching. Attending events such as the SLA Annual Conference remains one of the best ways to anticipate the future, and to create meaningful and purposeful change on both personal and professional levels.