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SLA Caucuses: Creation, Purpose and the GLIC

Didi Pancake on Special Libraries Association Gay and Lesbian Issues Caucus

Information Outlook, April 2001 v5 i4 p47

COPYRIGHT 2001 Special Libraries Association

 

One of the primary reasons for joining an association is that it allows access to peers who can enhance your professional life. Associations also provide continuing education, advocacy, and often, peer recognition. SLA provides the opportunity to join either formal groups (chapters and divisions) or informal groups (caucuses) which provide subject or technical networking opportunities. As defined by the SLA these informal groups are "intended to serve as a focus for the interaction of members who share a common interest not covered by an association chapter, division, or committee. "Howard Fuller took some time to talk with a two SLA members to discuss the initial creation of caucuses at SLA, and in particular, the formation of the Gay and Lesbian Issues Caucus (GLIC). Didi Pancake, a former SLA president, was instrumental in bringing the caucus structure to SLA. Richard Hulser, SLA member since 1983 and past Division Cabinet Chair on the SLA Board of Directors, was instrumental in forming one such caucus in 1995, the Gay and Lesbian Issues Caucus.

 

Howard Fuller: What motivated you to establish caucuses within the SLA?

 

Didi Pancake: I did not establish them. The SLA Board of Directors established them. I merely suggested them. The motivation, as I recall, was the Women's Issues Group (now caucus). They wanted to be a division, since that was the only subject-oriented unit we had at the time, but the Board, and many other members did not want to see the SLA get too overly involved with "social issues" as the American Library Association had. On the other hand, it was felt that there needed to be a "home" for that and similar issues interests within the SLA.

 

HF: What purpose did you envision caucuses serving?

 

DP: The idea was to provide a mechanism whereby members could come together to communicate around a wide variety of issues without the strict formality of the Divisions. All that was needed was a convener and a statement of purpose...no bylaws, no long list of officers, no major drain on the association's finances, minimal reporting requirements, minimal involvement in conference planning, etc. The idea was to allow caucuses to form easily and also to disband easily depending on the needs of the members at the moment, instead of the strict requirements involved in forming a Division. This is why the Board must reauthorize all caucuses every three years or they automatically die, and also they automatically die if there is no one willing to serve as convener.

 

HF: Was there opposition to establishing caucuses? If so, what rationale was given to oppose establishing caucuses?

 

DP: I don't recall any objections. Oh, there was discussion, but no particular objections. Originally they were started on a "let's try it and see how it goes before we change the association Bylaws" basis. Since it answered a particular set of problems that had been going on for a while, it was welcomed. Many people were involved in making caucuses a reality. In 1988 the Committee on Association Structure submitted a memo to the SLA Board entitled "Guideline for Caucuses." Besides myself, Jack Leister, Lou B. Parris, Doris L. Schild, and David Bender signed the memo.

 

HF: According to Who's Who in Special Libraries 2000-2001, there are 12 caucuses comprising 875 members. These numbers demonstrate that caucuses fill a need for these groups. Did you have any idea that these groups would be this successful?

 

DP: The original situation involved only finding a home for those interested in the area of Women's Issues. I expected that other areas would surface, but I wasn't sure exactly which ones. I think the current number is probably about what I would have expected. I agree that the caucus idea has been a successful one.

You may not realize (or remember) that the Solo Librarians originally began as a caucus. It grew to over 300 members within its first year (much larger than a caucus structure could handle effectively), so I helped them engineer the switch to a formal division in 1991.

 

HF: Are you a member of a SLA caucus? If so, how has caucus involvement enhanced your SLA membership?

 

DP: Yes, at present I am a member of the Retired Members Caucus (and a former convener of it and currently its newsletter editor). Participation in the caucus usually provides me with enough of an excuse to continue attending the Annual Conferences even though I'm not active in the field any more. Well that's not exactly true. I've been active in the SLA for so long that I really don't need an excuse to attend Conferences. I've held at least one elective or appointive office at the Chapter, Division, association or Caucus level every year since 1970. so I'm not really a "representative sample" for that question.

 

HF: Richard, the Gay and Lesbian Issues Caucus (GLIC) was formally recognized as a caucus in 1995. GLIC has maintained a membership of between 65-80 members and continues to generate interest, increase involvement with the association and host some of the best attended social events offered at the Annual Conference. Why did you start GLIC? What purpose did you envision this caucus serving?

 

Richard Hulser: First, I was one of a number of people who helped start the caucus. Caucuses by their nature can only exist if a group of people are interested, though it is important for someone to spearhead some of the administrative details and coordinate the activities as convener in order for a caucus to start and remain in existence. I credit a bunch of brave and supportive individuals in the association for GLIC's existence, both from the gay and lesbian community and also, just as important, from outside that group. Without support from everyone, this caucus would not be in existence today. In particular, I must credit David Jank who served as co-convener with me during the start-up years of the caucus.

 

Given all that, the reason why we started the caucus was twofold: the need for the association to recognize that there is a part of the membership whose needs should be considered, let alone represented, and also as a means for us to identify each other and gather to share ideas and thoughts about issues concerning us in the workplace, the association, and whatever else was pertinent.

 

As far as the vision for the caucus, you can look at the scope note which states that the caucus "...provides a forum for resource sharing and to address issues of interest to the gay and lesbian membership within the SLA, as well as for all members of the association." Admittedly, I wrote that, but it was approved by all the founding members of the caucus and the SLA Board. Personally, my vision was to have a more direct way to meet other gay and lesbian members and to have a way to identify our issues and have them addressed as appropriate. I was envious that the ALA had their group, but was particularly motivated by the wonderful librarians in the Art Libraries Society of North American who showed how such a group can be an integral and positive part of an association.

 

HF: Was there resistance from any SLA board members to form a caucus that focused on gay and lesbian issues?

 

RH: Yes, there was some concern that the group would only be social in nature or have a political agenda. It took a number of discussions with the SLA leadership by me and others to point out that there are libraries of gay and lesbian materials, that the topic is important from a management standpoint-both as employee and employer, and a number of other points. Issues such as employee relations, health benefits, promotions, work environments, and others such as catalog headings are all important to warrant a forum for discussion. My personal intention was not to have a political or other "hidden" agenda at all, but rather to address issues of importance to the members of the caucus and which affect the greater association as they arise. As far as the social aspects, show me any group in SLA or elsewhere that doesn't have a social aspect. That's part of the reason we join organizations.

 

HF: How have you and the caucus gotten the word out to association members that this caucus exists? Does one have to be gay or lesbian to join?

 

RH: The caucus is listed in Who's Who in Special Libraries and on the Web site. I have made it a point to mention it as part of the many aspects of the association when giving talks at library schools and elsewhere. The discussion list and cosponsored programs are other ways of publicizing it and show the ongoing activities of the group. The GLIC invites all association members to join the caucus and/or attend its meetings regardless of sexual orientation.

 

HF: GLIC regularly attracts 50-60 attendees to its business meeting at the Annual Conference. What do you think accounts for this high rate of participation?

 

RH: The first meeting we had, which was during the Montreal conference, had over 100 people in the room. It was amazing to me. I think a strong part of the reason for that number of people showing up in the beginning and the continued strong participation is the fact that our issues are important and only through active participation can they be addressed. Also, I know that David Jank and I wanted to have a very positive atmosphere for open discussion on issues, with the inevitable disagreements, and all the conveners since that time have done the same. We have to keep in mind that we invite everyone in the association to attend and participate in the business meeting, not just the gay and lesbian caucus members.

 

HF: The caucus co-hosted their first annual conference programs in Minneapolis (1999). One program focused on "forming employee groups" and the other "prejudice in LC subject cataloging." How do you feel they were received?

 

RH: I attended the employee groups session, so I can speak to that, but was unable to get to the other one. There were about 20 or 30 people at the employee groups presentation and discussion. I think there should have been a lot more. The presentation covered more than just gay and lesbian groups and their formation and existence in organizations, but also other under-represented groups. Sharon Lane from IBM provided an excellent example of the need for this awareness. Ms. Lane, an African American lesbian, added that she's a part of the Employee Alliance for Gay and Lesbian Equality (EAGLE) at IBM and used that group as a case study in her discussion.

 

There are many association members who are managers or directors and who have gay and lesbian employees in their organizations, perhaps even in their own department. This was an opportunity for them to get an understanding of another segment of their work force and the concerns and issues. Therefore, I think many more people should have been in attendance, though the programming at the Annual Conference is so good that I know it is difficult to get to all the sessions. I had to jump from one to get to this one myself. I also know that sitting in on such a session still presents the underlying concern that all attendees are gay and attendance implies that. People shouldn't feel that way. After all, I go to other meetings and I really don't concern myself that I might be considered a heterosexual by participating in those meetings.

 

HF: Sharon Lane, who presented "forming employee groups" discussed two overriding problems when dealing with companies/institutions. First, people often refer to gays and lesbians as "those people," and second, gays and lesbians are an "invisible minority." Did you see this as a problem in founding the caucus?

 

RH: As I mentioned previously, there were some concerns with the formation of the caucus by various members of the association, including some of the leadership. While our society has made some progress in appreciating diversity in all its forms, some areas still have a way to go and that is just the way it is. The fact that GLIC exists and continues to thrive in SLA is a positive statement in so many ways and that should be the focus.

 

HF: One question asked of Ms. Lane during the Q&A concerned itself with locating gay and lesbian-friendly employers. Do you feel this is an ongoing problem for GLIC members or gay and lesbian librarians in general?

 

RH: The short answer is yes, but less so every day. More and more organizations are explicitly stating in their job advertisements and actually supporting nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation. Does there need to be more? Absolutely, but we are making progress. The Internet has also helped because of the ability to search for jobs much more easily and the discussion lists enable people to ask others about the "friendliness" of a particular company or organization. Word of mouth has always been important and technology has enhanced this information exchange.

 

HF: Currently employment discrimination based on sexual orientation is legal in 39 of the 50 states. For this reason, some SLA members have voiced concerns about formally joining GLIC. How has this been addressed by SLA? What specific concerns are members voicing?

 

RH: Oh, this is a big issue and not only for SLA but for many organizations. When I was employed at IBM, we had the same issue with the EAGLE group. It is a double-edged sword in that formal membership in a group such as GLIC shows that we exist and are large enough in numbers to warrant attention, but it also exposes members to potential discrimination. A number of us, including the SLA staff, have worked to try and find a reasonable, yet effective, way for members to join or at least be made aware of GLIC activities and get their concerns addressed. This is not an easy thing, to be sure. It requires additional administrative work which can get out of hand as numbers grow. The SLA Board and staff are aware of this issue and have been understanding about it. I wish I had a clean, easy answer, but I don't.

 

HF: As one of the founding members of the GLIC, how do you feel this caucus has enhanced the SLA experience of its members? What kind of job, do you feel, SLA has done in serving its "invisible" members?

 

RH: The caucus has provided an additional formal unit with which members can identify and use to discuss their concerns. The support of the existence and activities of the caucus by the SLA Board and staff demonstrates the positive environment and good infrastructure available to our "invisible" members. However, it is up to the members who comprise the body of SLA to ensure that this continues to be the case. Coordinating sessions at the Annual Conference and other activities is necessary to show the general membership the value-add of the group. As a member of the SLA Board of Directors, I had an opportunity to point out GLIC concerns when it was pertinent to discussions, so that has been another way.

 

HF: What future programs do you envision GLIC sponsoring? What issues do you see as important for this caucus to bring to the table?

 

RH: It is up to the membership to decide on future programs, and they all need to take an active role in suggesting ideas and coordinating sessions or workshops or whatever. It was great that the Insurance and Employee Benefits division was willing to co-sponsor the "formation of employee groups" session in Minneapolis. I personally hope that other divisions take an active role in co-sponsorship of sessions where gay and lesbian issues are a pertinent topic. For instance, I think issues such as team building, the human side of the work environment, and ensuring hiring and promotion of a diverse work force are all topics that are clearly of general interest yet are also important to gays and lesbians. I am a strong proponent of a mentor program within SLA for the gay and lesbian community and have volunteered to be the first one. Information about the GLIC mentor program can be found on the caucus home page. There already is a website for GLIC and it is linked to the SLA main Web site, so that's wonderful.

 

Interested in Forming a Caucus? Members interested in forming a caucus should consult the SLA Bylaws, Article XI: Caucus, located at: http://www.sla.org/content/SLA/governance/Policies/65-95.cfm. For a list of available caucuses, go to: http://www.sla.org/content/community/units/caucuses/index.cfm


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