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Robertson Promotes NIEHS at SLA Centennial

By Eddy Ball
August 2009

Powell and Robertson
Powell, left, posed with Robertson following the keynote address. Under Powell's leadership, the Department of State invested heavily in the special resources of the Ralph Bunche Library, which was founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1789. (Photo courtesy of Mark Rinerston, The Photo Group)

a bust of Jefferson
In the Great Hall of the Library of Congress, a bust of Jefferson, whose personal library made up the first volumes of the collection, overlooked SLA members at the banquet and reception. Special lighting added to the atmosphere as attendees mingled with a string quartet playing in the background. (Photo courtesy of Mark Rinerston, The Photo Group)

NIEHS Library ( Director Dav Robertson was in Washington June 14-17 in his role as chair of the Special Libraries Association (SLA) Centennial Commission and 2009 Conference Committee, when the group celebrated its 100th anniversary at the annual meeting at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Robertson was recognized with a speaking role at the SLA Centennial opening session welcoming the 6,000 attendees. He was followed by the keynote speaker, former Secretary of State Colin Powell. On June 16, Robertson was part of the SLA Salutes! Award and Leadership Reception held in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress.

During the rest of the meeting, Robertson was on hand for professional development and networking, along with four others from NIEHS - Biomedical Librarians Larry Wright, Ph.D., and Stephanie Holmgren and Library Assistants Brendan Thompson and Katie Jelen, student interns from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on their first trip to an SLA meeting.

"Our involvement in SLA is a good way of promoting NIEHS to the organization's 11,000 members worldwide," Robertson explained. "These specialized information professionals are the people who serve as conduits for getting information about NIEHS to their constituents - the people back at the university, the research institute or wherever special librarians are at work."

Robertson and his staff are active in the SLA Biomedical and Life Sciences Division, where specialized information professionals in the field share information about new technologies and methodologies in special sessions over the four-day conference. "This is really our primary resource for updating our skills and for networking," Robertson said. "We can bring leading-edge technology and strategies back to apply here at NIEHS to benefit our scientists."

At the division's business meeting and luncheon on June 16, Nature was honored as the most influential journal of the past century, and Robertson presented Elsevier with an award as the most influential publisher.

The Centennial closed on June 17 with a general session on innovation in information featuring moderator Judy Woodruff of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) program "News Hour" with panelists Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ph.D., a Hayden Planetarium astrophysicist featured on the PBS program "NOVA," Forbes Magazine Senior Editor Robyn Meredith and former IBM vice president of Internet technology John Patrick.

From the organization's beginning, SLA members have taken pride in being pioneers in a new and ever-evolving kind of librarianship, one devoted to using practical information to achieve positive results in business, government, social agencies and parts of the academic community (see related February 2009 story (

The group's Centennial is a yearlong celebration with events scheduled through the end of 2009. According to Robertson, attendance at this year's conference was up 16 percent - at a time, he noted, when many organizations are experiencing a decline of as much as 30 percent.

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