In the latest in our series of member profiles we talk to Tracy Z. Maleeff about her time as Chair of the SLA Legal Division, her experience as an American attendee to the BIALL conference, and why she is a member of SLA Europe. Tracy is the Library Resources Manager at Duane Morris LLP in Philadelphia.
Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you first become involved in the information profession?
Are you familiar with the Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken?” This excerpt pretty well sums up my background – “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference.” I spent most of my 20s working as a travel agent, while sporadically taking classes at a few different universities. I really took that extra step to help connect people with information in my role in the travel industry, which was a great foundation for later learning about the reference interview. It was fun to have travel perks, but I knew from reading the trade papers that the winds of change were blowing, and I set out to pursue something more secure. I worked very hard over the next six years and earned three degrees (A.A. from the Pennsylvania State University, B.A. magna cum laude from Temple University and an MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh). I was always a friend of the library and volunteered in the past, but working in one still hadn’t crossed my mind. I was fortunate to have an internship at Temple University’s Urban Archives and that led me to a job as a cataloguer for Baker & Taylor. It was there that I learned that the MLIS degree even existed. I worked my way through library school as a clerk in an academic library. After graduation, I worked in bookstores and academic libraries until a corporate librarian job at QVC fell into my lap. That temporary work assignment then gave me the foot in the door I needed to get into a private law firm library. That was seven years ago. I don’t think I would be here today if I didn’t have this “non-traditional” experience. There’s no one “right” way to be an information professional. Through networking and simply chatting up librarians, I was able to get insight that helped me on my professional path. We all need to be ambassadors for our profession.
You attended your first SLA conference as the 2007 Legal Division New Member Professional Grant recipient. How has your career developed since then?
I credit that grant as the reason for my current success as an information professional. I worked hard to get to that point, but that only just got me in the door. The grant and the SLA conference itself is what inspired and propelled me to greater heights. Not only did my first SLA conference provide me with great professional development opportunities, but I’m still friends with pretty much everyone I connected with through networking there. It gave me the knowledge and the confidence to be the best information professional I could be.
What was the greatest challenge you faced as Chair of the SLA Legal Division for 2012?
I became the Chair of the Legal Division a mere 5 years after I won the New Member Professional Grant, which kind of blew my mind at first! I think my greatest challenge as Chair was to engage the 1,000+ members in 12 countries – to make them feel valued as members, to provide them with relevant professional development information and to just overall make them feel happy and proud to be a part of our professional association. I know the adage that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but I believe that a responsibility of a leader is to give it your best shot. I hope that the Legal Division thinks that I came remotely close to that goal for them.
You attended the BIALL Conference 2012 in Belfast – what did you find were the major differences between British and American conferences?
First, you need to understand that I’m sort of a geeky Anglophile (OK, fine, I’m a huge geeky Anglophile). So anything that British conference attendees thought of as ordinary, I thought were extraordinary (e.g. The tea breaks with real china and biscuits consumed me with glee!). The more intimate and concentrated BIALL conference really allowed you to delve deeper into the topics which really pertain to the law librarian community. As opposed to SLA or another larger conference that hosts librarians from a wide range of disciplines, but that has its own positives as well. I learned the hard way that British conference attendees are very punctual and don’t leave in the middle of sessions (so, um, sorry about that).
I was told that the British and Americans network differently. While I have no problem approaching strangers to chat them up and hand them my business card, I was informed that it wasn’t the “English way” (so, again, sorry about that). Everyone was hospitable and just lovely to be around. The sessions were so informative and I brought back information feeling like I had a real advantage at home.
How did you first come to join SLA Europe, and what do you value about the SLA Europe chapter?
I joined the Europe Chapter in 2012 for a variety of reasons that are important to me. First, the members are just great people who I enjoy interacting with – really bright professionals who have great innovative ideas and visions. Second, my own personal and professional desire to be better acquainted with the global community. I find that just being in the loop of the Europe Chapter’s activities to be interesting and useful, even if I can’t attend in person (thank goodness for Twitter – it’s like I’m there!). I hope that my membership in the Europe Chapter isn’t seen as being an interloper. I am definitely willing to contribute however possible.
What are your plans and predictions for 2013?
I wish to continue to grow professionally, through learning and networking. I will continue to be actively involved in SLA because I believe in giving back to the organization that gave me so much. My goal is to increase the quality and frequency of my blog and to continue my presence on Twitter as @LibrarySherpa.
My professional prediction for 2013 is that libraries are going to be forced to deal with major decisions regarding digital content. One won’t be able to stand on the side lines much longer. Speaking strictly from a private law firm library point of view, legal publishers will keep making digital content advances that are outpacing the technological capabilities of the law firms (who are, historically, slow technology adapters). As a result, libraries will have to develop aggressive 2-3 year plans, as opposed to the more traditional 5-10 plans of the past. I suppose that isn’t a ground-breaking prediction, but keep in mind that most private law firm libraries I’m aware of operate differently than other libraries in regards to technology.
We would like to thank Tracy for giving us her time for being interviewed, for her infectious enthusiasm, and would also like to confirm that she is a highly valued member of SLA Europe and is certainly not seen as an interloper!