You, Too, Can Be a Change Agent

With the annual release of Library Journal’s “Movers and Shakers” awards, there seems to be an attendant wave of discussion about what, exactly, it takes to be recognized and praised in our field. This year’s Movers and Shakers were just rolled out this week, so the think-pieces haven’t quite started yet, but many of last year’s posts are worth revisiting. Critics of the awards argue that lots and lots of librarians make a difference in day-to-day activities that are never valorized in the press. Like the M & S awards themselves, however, these posts are all geared toward “in-the-trenches” librarians who are already established in their career paths. The discussion left me wondering, “What about students? In what ways, big and small, do we make our mark on the field?”

Library students tackle all kinds of projects and often contribute innovative ideas that they, and others, can build on well into their careers. We also often perform a lot of the routine work that helps our institutions run smoothly. But above all, we are in an excellent position to help identify issues in graduate LIS education and work to improve them.

Photo by Flickr user J MacMillan. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license.

Photo by Flickr user J MacMillan. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license.

Most of us in library school are extremely busy. We’re often juggling various jobs, internships, and/or volunteer opportunities on top of our course loads and personal lives. We’re trying to make connections at professional conferences, pursuing independent research, and searching for jobs. With everything else we have going on, it can be really tough to think critically about our LIS education and invest time and energy into improving the MLIS experience for future generations. Fortunately, it doesn’t necessarily have to become a full-time crusade. Below are a few ways that students have addressed issues and challenges in our program:

  • Some situations can be improved with something as simple as talking to a professor. When conflict arose with graduate instructors in our program, several students discussed the issue via Facebook message, and a student offered to approach one of our core professors about it. The professor made overtures to the instructors and helped us initiate a class discussion.
  • Officers of every student group in the school automatically become members of the MLIS Student Advisory Board. We meet once a month with various administrators. As annoying as bureaucratic meetings can seem, real change often comes of these! If you see an issue that the administration can address, ask if your school has a similar structure in place, and find out which students are on the board.
  • The Diversity Student Organization at my school had been neglected and gone defunct. A group of like-minded students got together to revive the group and have it re-approved by the school. They’ve been able to host fun meetings that really helped build a sense of community, in addition to hosting events and speakers that fostered much-needed conversations around diversity issues.
  • The graduate student government formed a Student Experience Assessment Committee to improve the flow of communication between students and the Dean of our school. We organized small focus groups comprised of undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral level students and facilitated by members of the graduate student government.

Have you addressed a problem within your program, or do you know someone who has? Does your school have some kind of mechanism in place for student feedback? Let us know in the comments!

12 replies

  1. Excellent post Anna-Sophia! Being an effective change agent is an incredibly important skill for any new LIS professional to have, and you have some great tips on how to start gaining experience in implementing positive change. Many of us who are still in school aren’t yet at the professional level where we’re given the type of work responsibilities to change things for the better. Having your ideas dismissed outright or not even being invited to the discussion can be frustrating for those of us who are passionate about improving services. Fortunately, we have the next best option, to improve our programs!
    Every program is different, and some are undoubtedly more receptive to student input than others. I’ve been very fortunate in my experience at CUA. We’re a relatively small program, and our full-time faculty also act as our academic advisors. If there’s an issue with a student’s education, it’s their responsibility to do their best to resolve it. I’ve found that they’re very invested in ensuring students have a positive experience in school. I know not everyone has had as great an experience as I’ve had (Read Becky’s post “When Library School Hands You Lemons”), but deviations are to be expected. I’ve been able to have some very positive conversations with our full-time faculty about things like curriculum planning and class scheduling. It doesn’t hurt that my interest in things like the accreditation process, placement surveys, and ALISE statistics have allowed me discuss some of the more administrative side of things with a few of our faculty (it may even have led to a new job opportunity! :-D).
    While my program is great at the faculty-led type of change, our student organizations face a few hurdles. CUA’s overall Graduate Student Association isn’t very attuned to the concerns of non-TT students (most LIS students won’t find all-day writing workshops very helpful). Our LIS department’s official student organization is likewise not good at addressing student concerns (or even following up on them). Fortunately, our student chapter of SLA (ahem, Secretary here) has been more successful. We just set up an official centralized events calendar for all our various organizational events on campus, and I’m working on setting up a discussion forum for our program so students can better coordinate events (think carpooling to symposia and meetups at conferences). I’ve still got some work to do, but then again, no change is ever easy (or quick in academia).
    Plain and simple, advocating for improvements in your program is critically important, both for your own education and that of future LIS students. I want to ensure that my program is as strong as it can be, and know that in 10 years time when I’m in a position to hire a recent CUA grad, that they’ve received a top-notch education. By being involved in the improvement process now as a student and later as an alumni, I’ll be confident that our graduates (myself included) will be prepared to be effective change agents.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Liz, thanks so much for your insightful comment! Spot-on to link this back to Becky’s post – I know every program is different in how receptive it is to student feedback. The avenues I mentioned above may not be available for everyone, and conversely, some folks may have the opportunity to get way more involved!

      I really appreciated your point about alumni also being in a position to be agents of change in their (former) programs. I think starting to build those relationships and paying attention to those issues as a student is the best way to be successful as an alumni advocate, but it’s never too late to start 🙂

      Finally, thanks for the emphasis on being an *effective* change agent. I could write a whole other post about that! I hope that by discussing what has worked and what hasn’t in a variety of programs and situations, we can start to hash out what is most effective for us to tackle as students.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for writing this post, Anna-Sophia – it’s really timely for me. I am just finishing three years and two master’s degrees at my program. In the beginning, I was really into making changes but I found that as I continued on I stopped caring as much. (Well, I still cared but I was less willing to act on it.) I didn’t feel that the administration really got the needs of library students and I saw so many of my peers who were ridiculously apathetic (and therefore pathetic IMO); they didn’t work, didn’t attend events, didn’t engage, didn’t fight for their future. I pretty much just decided that I couldn’t save everyone and why would I exert energy when I should be focusing on things that could help me get a job (working, presenting, online stuff like HLS). I don’t regret any of the work that I’ve done these past few years but now as I prepare to leave I feel like I should try to share my thoughts on the program in whatever way I can. We’ve faced big, big changes, like a merger with a large school on campus and getting a new Chair. The problems that I see don’t have to do with resources here… there are so many amazing opportunities to work your way to the job of your dreams at IU. I wholeheartedly believe that. It’s just about inspiring students and instilling MUCH higher expectations. Having conversations about what matters from day one (hint: it’s not grades).

    Clearly I need to reflect on all of this but it’s given me the push to share my thoughts again in one way or another.


    • Ooh, Brianna, I completely hear you. I’ve found that myself, even over the course of a one-year program, making that same journey. I started out with a ton of ideas and momentum, and I pretty quickly came to the conclusion that I couldn’t make any significant progress with the time and resources I had, nor did I feel that many other members of my cohort cared that much. I fell pretty quickly into that mentality of getting through, getting the most out of it that I could professionally, and getting out.

      Part of my motivation to write this post, perhaps, was to give myself some perspective and remind myself that my peers and I took at least some steps forward, no matter how small, and to hopefully plant some seeds for current and future students – and soon-to-be-alumni like you and me – to build a budding culture of constructive criticism.

      PS – I’d love to hear your further reflections on your program, in whatever form they eventually take!


  3. I passionately agree that students can and should be change agents– albeit our effectiveness is limited by how much administrators heed us or allow us to voice our views in the first place. I sat on a faculty search committee this term; the previous program leader would never have involved students in that process.

    Note that it can be very challenging for distance learning LIS students to engage, beyond the virtual lectures and classwork. On-campus students benefit the most from graduate assistantships, internships, mentorship, and other goodies. My school has an ALA student chapter, but only on-campus students know it exists. Getting online students engaged in their program is important. How to do that? Hmm…


    • Michael, you bring up a really important point here (and see Liz’s comment below about accreditation, which is another important avenue for students to give feedback). It brings to mind Natalie’s post last month on her blog Inky Reviews about ways to create community in online cohorts – I know she recently did some advocacy of her own surrounding support for online students:

      At least one of our student groups has made a significant effort to include online students in their meetings via Google hangouts and increased email communication, and the MLIS student advisory board also appointed an online student liaison since those students don’t have the opportunity to run for offices. If you run a student group, you’re in a great position to reach out to online students and help them be a part of student life!


  4. Michael, you’ve brought up an unfortunate issue in LIS education: parity in on-campus and distance programs. As someone who completed the majority of her undergraduate degree online, I can sympathize with those types of concerns (it was one of the big reasons why I chose to attend an on-campus program).
    Fortunately, the ALA Committee on Accreditation has added language to the Draft revised Standards for Accreditation of Master’s Programs in Library and Information Studies that addresses this issue: “V.12 Where instruction is delivered at remote locations or online, the program provides a reliable and functional learning environment for students; opportunities to participate in research; academic and career advisement and consultation; consistent communication; and support services as needed. The program ensures that remote and online students have access to professional organizations and extramural activities.”
    More information on the revised Standards and how you can get involved are in the joint post I did with Topher Lawton “Hack ALA: Accreditation Standards!”:


    • Thanks for pointing us to your and Topher’s post, Liz! Accreditation standards and core competency standards typically have a period of public comment (e.g. the recent update to ACRL’s Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education). Students often don’t know that they can weigh in with their own comments, but it’s an excellent way to participate in shaping priorities and expectations on a national level without having to invest an enormous amount of time.


  5. Yes, many of us are change agents. I’m out in the field and find that The Movers and Shakers awards, although I have never been nominated, are a source for celebration. It highlights what so many library advocates and librarians bring to the table in schools and in communities. The Hack school library blog itself is a change agent — making visible the journey. I love visiting and learning from this site.


    • Thanks for reading, Tess! And, by the way, I definitely don’t mean to be down on the M&S awards – the more celebration the better, I say 🙂


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