Student Organizations and LIS Education

There’s been some vibrant and intense conversations concerning LIS ed in the last few weeks, one right here in on HLS. And in the spirit of HLS, in which LIS students feel empowered to take action and agency in their own education, I believe that student organizations are one of the best tools we have.


Do we have any Baby-sitters’s Club fans out there? Remember how the second chapter was always the story of how the Club was founded out of one of Kristy’s Great Ideas (the chapter you always skipped after reading two or three of the books)? Well, I’m a Kristy. I always have some Great Idea (or ten or twelve) that I want to get going, and being an officer in a student organization was a great place to make that happen. Being an officer gave some legitimacy to my projects, provided a reality check when the Great Idea was a No-Way-in-Hell Idea, and, best of all, put me in the situation of being able to support and contribute to the Great Ideas of other officers and students.

Student orgs, by their nature, are student-run. So if there is an experience or a resource that your program isn’t providing, student orgs can be the place to make that happen. They can respond to student needs much quicker than faculty or staff, and can be much more specific in their offerings. If a member of a student chapter of a professional organization, student members often get discounts on membership, conference fees, and continuing education webinars, as well as networking tools provided by the professional org. Service orgs not only give members a chance to put their education into practice, they also offer shining points on resumes. Special interest orgs– clubs for youth service librarians, letterpress groups, reader’s advisory book clubs– each gives students the space to explore topics that contribute to personal and professional development when the classroom doesn’t have the time or resources to do so.

Meeting the educational and professional needs that aren’t being met in the classroom. Networking and peer interaction. Resume gold.

So why do student orgs have such a hard time?

Talking to other officers, we all share the same problems. Getting students to serve as officers is difficult. Event attendance is low, and apathy is high.  I understand that students are busy, but I think that it goes much deeper than that.  When I volunteered for a library funding measure (through a student org!), much like our student groups, it was the same twenty or so people active and involved.  Is this just the nature of involvement?  How can we make people feel invested in the actions necessary for success?

Let’s make the comments section a type of brag book/wish list/gripe board. I would love to hear from people who are members or officers in online program student orgs, too! What is the best student org program or resource you’ve attended or offered? Does your program have any unique student groups? What services/programs/resources would you love your student orgs to offer? What about student orgs is difficult or doesn’t work?  What have you done that worked well?

Categories: Starter Kits

25 replies

  1. The biggest problem we’ve had in the Florida State ALA Student Chapter has been how to reach distance students, whom in our online program outnumber Tallahassee students by a factor of something like 40 to 1. I started a Twitter account as secretary & all our meetings are webcast, but I still run into people all the time in online classes who don’t even realize the chapter exists, much less that it’s there specifically for their benefit.

    The other big issue I have is that IMO student orgs of all kinds tend to be very cliquey and subject to personality issues. It’s been a constant struggle dealing with management style conflicts and differences over direction, and I really feel like this can be alienating to many students.

    Advice on either of these would be very much appreciated.


    • While I am part of FSU’s ALA Student Chapter, I really don’t consider myself part of it. I’m a distance student, so it is hard. We can’t go to any of your events, and your meetings are on Fridays…which are kind of hard to virtually attend. (That said, thanks for recording them!) Aside from the monthly meeting, I don’t know if the organization actually does anything else. And I think that’s, ultimately, the major problem. As a distance student, I sadly don’t know what’s going on, and I can’t just go to campus to find out. 😦 (This is in no way an insult to you or the group. I’m just saying how I feel about it. I’d love to participate, I really would – I was just never told how I can!)


      • Being an on-campus only program, my experience in publicizing events was different, but I’m curious what forms of publicity you think would be most effective, esp. for distance students. Is e-mail/list serves the best way to go? Twitter? Facebook groups?


    • When I was co-president of our ALA SC, if I had to try and negotiate engagement and attendance for distance students, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Kudos to your chapter for making meetings digital.
      As far as concern for the cliquey-ness of student orgs, I agree that it can be a problem, esp. as, in my experience and as I said above, the same handful of students tend to end up as officers (for our SC, we had a ton of youth services librarians as officers both years even though there wasn’t that many of us in the program overall). One thing I found that worked well was collaborative programs and events with other student groups. For example, a resume workshop is something everyone is interested in, so we worked with our SGB, SLA SC, SAA SC, the informatics group, etc., to host the program. Beyond the workshop, too, everyone sits around waiting for their turn and gets to chatting with people outside of their usual classmates.


    • My student group has recognized that as a problem too. We offer great events on campus for students to attend but that isn’t really feasible for the distance students. As a way to try and bridge that gap, my role as CIO is to tape some of our guest lectures and events and upload them to the website so that other students can watch. This is one way that we are trying to solve that problem.


  2. I know a big part of ours is simply scheduling. There is a 3 hr lunch break when no one has classes, but then everyone schedules meetings/events/etc during that time and everyone tends to do it on Tue, Wed, or Thu when the majority of students have classes…


    • We had the same approach to scheduling events– we would target the break between two core class sections, thinking people would stay late or come early for good programs. We didn’t have a lot of success with that. Sometimes, even, people would be sitting in the Commons waiting while an event was going on just down the hall, which was frustrating. We tried really hard to provide the programs students asked for, but when nobody showed up after talking about a need for exactly that program… What can you do about that?


    • My first semester, the SAA student chapter had their meetings scheduled at the same time as the intro to archives class. That’s 30 prospective members they missed out on; a lot didn’t get involved once they no longer had the time conflict, because they felt like the had missed out. I think it’s so important for the student leaders to think about these things when scheduling meetings


  3. Another problem that arises in programs that are typically only Masters degrees is the relatively fast churn rate of students through the program. I’m completing my MLS in 2 years, and I have colleagues that are doing it in 18 months. It is very difficult to build a sense of community, or start an viable long-lived organization when the originators are graduating in a year or so.

    I have a friend wrapping up her archaeology PhD at William & Mary, and since it is a much longer academic program, there has been greater opportunity to form an effective student organization.


  4. I have to agree with FSkornia on this one. I remember in under grad, we had a problem with turn over, and that was with four year programs.

    I think the best way to counter act this is to make sure that there is a system in place to ensure that organizational knowledge gets passed down generation to generation.

    For the our SCALA chapter, we keep things very simple. Our goal is to increase networking opportunities for our classmates. Our formula is to try and host a speaker a library tour and a social event during each semester. So far, it seems to work, and certainly takes a lot of effort.

    It helps that our program is a hybrid, so while it is distance learning, we do have face to face class meetings which is conducive for class meetings and holding events.

    So, my advice for student groups in graduate school: keep it simple and keep it structured!


    • Your goals are very much the ones of the student chapter that I was VP of until recently. We had at least three big events: networking, mentoring, and something fun. The officers had several meetings to discuss cool things to do, sent notices out via email, Facebook, and Twitter, gave presentations at the biannual student orientations, and visited classes to personally invite students to join the organization. Attendance was awful. The members that did show up were lethargic, offered no ideas and expressed no opinions.

      The department saw the student organization as a filler for things they did not cover: resumes, CVs, networking, mentoring, field trips, etc. We were also looked to as being the hands that would organize, set up, manage, and clean up department events.

      I’m really not sure what else we could have done to try and get students involved.


      • I found your point about filling in the gaps in your program interesting. I don’t know that our admin ever expressed that feeling, but ALA SC approached our planning that way. If there is this chunk of education that student orgs are covering (and I think that they are), yet no one shows up, what are the implications for graduates? I admit to being a student org junky, so maybe I’m overstating our worth, but: when it came to looking for a job, most of my classes just made me qualified. Writing and administering a grant, designing and carrying out a program, and working on a library funding campaign– all student org experiences– made me *desirable*.


    • When we passed the torch on to the new SC pressies and were reflecting on the year, the other president and I wondered if we overloaded the agenda. I love the idea of a simple mission: do one or two things and do it very, very well.


  5. I was the past treasurer of our ALA student chapter, our main problems were 1) money 2)scheduling that is convenient to everyone and 3)garnering interest since it is such a short program. IU Bloomington doesn’t have many distance students (if any…) so we did not have that problem as much as other schools.

    To combat these we tried to look for low cost programs, varied the times we had programs, and alternate types of programs. We tried to have at least one social event and one networking/professional speaker type event every month. We definitely increased attendance and involvement through that process, but of course it changes radically each year because it is such a short program.


  6. I’m currently an IU student and #2 has been my problem. I work full time, so I don’t get to attend much of anything, since the meetings are usually held during the day. On the other hand, since I’m taking classes part-time, I’ll be around the program for several years. I wouldn’t mind being more active in student orgs, but I’m just not available during the day.


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