Special Libraries Conference Experience Gives Non-Profit Director Expansive Vision for the Future

“I appreciate the iSchool’s willingness to fund this travel scholarship. The information, resources and insights I gained from attending SLA’s [annual conference] will help shape my academic and professional pathway in numerous positive ways.”
Dana Lema
MLIS student
San Jose, California

When Dana Lema lived in Anchorage, Alaska, managing a non-profit agency dedicated to supporting people with intellectual and physical disabilities, the outdoor environment was cold but the work was satisfying. Lema’s organization, Access Alaska, sought to prevent social segregation of disabled adults from the rest of the community, ensured they received appropriate housing and supported primary caregivers. Well regarded by colleagues and clients, Lema was recruited to the far north after devoting several years to comparable work with adults and children in St. George, Utah.

All this transpired after completing an undergraduate degree in journalism at the Utah State University in Logan, Utah. Lema’s writing moxie, positive outlook, concern for inclusion of people with differences and the ability to think expansively about her future came together in a first job developing grant proposals for the Arthritis Foundation. She parlayed that opportunity into something much greater.

The same is true of Lema’s involvement with San Jose State University’s MLIS program.

MLIS at SJSU is Right Thing at Right Time
After 10 years in Alaska, Lema struck out for warmer climes, joining her fiancé in San Jose, California. Her change in circumstances created perfect timing for “a fresh start,” she says. “I always wanted to do a master’s, and started exploring the possibilities.”

Networking was key to her ultimate decision. “One day, I was talking about this with women I knew. One expressed so much enthusiasm about San Jose State’s MLIS: how fabulous and extensive the program’s offering are, how it was both renowned and accredited – and that it was all online.” It struck Lema how well a library and information science master’s degree would suit her, and she checked it out right away.

“I’ve always valued access to information and am an avid reader,” Lema noted. “It’s really exciting that this is exactly the master’s program I wanted!”

Lema plunged full-time into prerequisite classes, happily exploring the technology and overcoming the challenges of online group work. During the first semester, the world of library-related possibilities continued to expand. “The iSchool pays for one year of membership in a professional organization. I used this opportunity to join the American Library Association(ALA). On my own, I also joined the Special Libraries Association (SLA) and ASIS&T, the Association for Information Science and Technology.”

Special Libraries Emerge as Focus
“Serendipitously” and fortuitously, she remembers, she quickly found herself invested in the world of specialized libraries, beginning with the iSchool itself. “A few weeks into my second semester, students received an email request for volunteers to assist Dr. Sandy Hirsh in developing the convocation program for that year’s graduation and help in designing an online store for iSchool merchandise. The messages for the online store task force became increasingly desperate, and I decided to see how I could help.” Lema’s skills as a manager came to the attention of SLA Student Chapter (SLASC) directors. Her willingness to pitch in and take responsibility while working companionably and effectively with others, marked her as a leader.

At the same time, Lema was taking Dr. Cheryl Dee’s Info 204 Information Professions course. “Dr. Dee is the Special Libraries Association Student Chapter’s advisor. Elections to the executive committee took place at the end my first semester, and Dr. Dee asked me to run for committee chair.” Lema was elected to the position, taking the reigns in fall 2016. “It’s been a big learning curve,” she stresses. “I’m responsible for knowing the by-laws, understanding how the organization works and I’m getting to know the committee members and their personalities. It’s a close-knit group, and I’m enjoying the experience.” Lema is featured (center) in the photo here with members of the SLA Student Chapter Rebecca Leung (left) and Amanda Mellinger (right) in a recent tour of the San Jose Library Special Collections and Archives.

SJSU’s SLASC experience has opened Lema’s eyes to the role special libraries play in supporting information technology needs in a multitude of settings, including the medical profession. “I’m very interested in instructional technologies and in teaching tech. At the same time,” she explains, “because I’ve been involved in managing disabilities support and hospital services, I’m also looking at the opportunities available in medical librarianship. Understanding how agencies work, what language is involved – including writing grants, and using technology to meet people’s information needs – is very appealing,” Lema reflects.

“There are more possibilities than I can even imagine. Libraries are in so many different environments, meeting so many different needs,” she notes. Lema is also intrigued by map libraries, particularly the “history behind how these libraries develop their perspectives and collections.” 

Eye-Opening Experiences at the National SLA Conference
As in-coming chair of the SLA Student Chapter at SJSU, Lema was privileged to receive a travel assistance scholarship covering the cost of the SLA Annual Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “I appreciate the iSchool’s willingness to fund this travel scholarship. The information, resources and insights I gained from attending SLA will help shape my academic and professional pathway in numerous positive ways.”

Lema said the conference provided insight into “the incredible diversity that exists in library and information science careers. It was a tremendous experience.”

At dinner the first night in town, “I just happened to sit next to a woman who was also attending the conference. During our conversation, I learned she was an independent/solo librarian. She ran a library out of her home that provided research and reference services for several oil refineries in the Southern United States. Until that chance conversation, I had no idea solo librarians existed. I also didn’t know that special librarians filled such diverse roles for those who needed very specific types of information.”

Lema recalls how conference leadership workshops “were really helpful to me, especially those that addressed how SLA nurtures student leaders in college.” She notes in particular the importance of attending a session about networking for professional growth, essential to information technologists and providers as much as information users, because “we’re all connected to everyone all the time.”

In addition to participating in leadership meetings that brought together SLASC executives from around the country, Lema said it was especially enjoyable to meet face-to-face both students and iSchool faculty. “I even got see people from Silicon Valley and San Francisco I’d known only known through our online classes,“ Lema recalls. She notes with excitement that she “finally met our group’s faculty advisor, Dr. Dee, who lives in Florida, and the webmaster for the iSchool SLASC, who lives in upstate New York.”

Information Science is the Future
Looking ahead, Lema concedes she's already thinking about attending next year’s 2017 SLA conference in Phoenix, Arizona.

As for her professional direction, Lema is currently involved in local library and related services. She volunteers a few hours a week at San Jose’s Alum Rock Public Library shelving books and answering patron questions, and helps adults develop literacy through the library’s Partners in Reading program. “I enjoy teaching and creating lesson plans for adult learners.” While medical librarianship would capitalize on her previous non-profit experience, Lema says she is also considering a career in technology instruction and information intermediation. “I love technology! I love to use it, to learn it and to teach it,” she enthuses.