Best Practices for Student Organizations

Many past Hack Library School posts have highlighted the importance of getting involved in student chapters of professional organizations. And I couldn’t agree more! My time spent in my school’s chapter of the American Library Association has brought me numerous rewards: networking, event planning experience, budgeting experience, leadership, and even a chance to go to an ALA conference!

But one thing I’ve noticed from said Hack Library School posts and from conversations with other library school students is that LIS student groups often have a rough go of it. The difficulties are numerous: student turnover is fast, free time is low, and online students feel like they can’t get involved.

So today I’m going to share a few of the successful strategies I’ve seen over the past few years, particularly through my involvement with my local student chapter of ALA. Hopefully they’ll be of use if you’re reviving a student chapter, if you’ve taken a leadership position, or even if you just want to get more involved:

  • Make your monthly meetings interesting/appealing to everyone. In the past, our monthly membership meetings were usually focused on chapter and committee business, with brief updates about upcoming events. This led to pretty low attendance numbers, especially during the chilly winter months. This year we decided to revive the tradition of having a guest speaker at every meeting. We work with the speaker (often a professor) to come up with a topic that has broad appeal and applicability to a range of specialties. So far, attendance is staying pretty high!
  • Build and maintain an active web presence. This means social media, definitely, but also a dedicated website where you can post resources, events, and information.
  • Find real ways to engage distance students. If your program has distance/online-only students, find real ways to include them in your organization. This takes extra effort, but is totally worth it. Here are a few strategies:
    • An “online student” committee with a dedicated chair. This is crucial – you need someone on the virtual side who is invested in making things happen!
    • Make things accessible: try to livestream your meetings (if you have the capabilities – use something like Google Hangouts), post recordings and minutes from meetings and events.
    • Plan in-person events/socials in areas with a high concentration of distance students. Here at the University of Illinois we have a lot of online students based in the Chicago area. So we’ve planned social events up there with varied success and have also invited online students to behind-the-scenes fieldtrips in the Chicago area.
  • Find a way to get institutional funding. Here at the University of Illinois our chapter of ALA goes through a renewal process every year to maintain our status as a Registered Student Organization (RSO). Doing so allows us a piece of RSO funding, which has helped fund guest speakers, social events, and even trips to conferences! It can mean a lot of paperwork and red tape to secure regular institutional funding, but it’s usually worth it.
  • Do fundraising! SELL SWAG – it is the best fundraiser. Fundraising is what takes your club from just-scraping-by to “We have a surplus, so plan any program you want!” The best fundraiser is swag – t-shirts, sweatshirts, mugs, tote bags, etc. – because people *clamber* to get their hands on something that is specific to their library school. Make sure it’s OK with administration before you use any official names or logos, as this can sometimes be an issue.
  • Do all kinds of programming! Most student library organization chapters are subject-based (e.g. ALA for libraries, SAA for archives, etc.) but that doesn’t mean you have to limit the *type* of programming you do. While panels about information privacy and workshops on resume-writing are awesome, don’t be afraid to throw a largely social event. My favorite from this year: a movie night where we watched Desk Set, a Katherine Hepburn movie about a group of reference librarians who fear being replaced by a large computer in 1957.


    Another favorite event: sidewalk chalking banned book quotes outside our building during Banned Books Week! (Source: ALA@UIUC Facebook page)

  • Ask people what they want! Not sure what swag to sell or what programming will be popular? Put up a poll on social media! Send out and email survey! Ask the people what they want and them give it to them (yay marketing!).
  • Have a dedicated space for supplies in your building. This one is key. Most of the basic things you need for an event are non-perishable (e.g. tablecloth, paper plates and cups, plastic silverware, cute little handouts about your groups, etc.). So see if you can get a space (a locker, a filing cabinet, a corner in some office) where you can store that stuff so that it stays there forever and is always there when you need it.
  • Foster collaboration between groups. We have at least half a dozen very active student groups at my library school. We all do slightly different things and have slightly different focuses. But some of the best events we have each year (holiday party, trip to a local orchard, etc.) are events that we co-host! Co-hosting events is a great way to share resources and spread the workload. That way your group isn’t so overwhelmed! Each year, make a point to find out the names and email addresses of the officers of other groups. Get on that collaboration early and you’ll be thanking yourself soon.
  • Leave breadcrumbs for future officers. Let’s face it: you’re not going to be in library school forever. In fact, library school has a pretty fast turnover rate. So in order to insure that your group continues productively after you leave, make some plans near the end of your term. Type up a set of notes with account passwords (for social media, website, etc.), best practices, good ideas, and general advice. This will be a godsend for your successors and they will speak of you with love. Also, consider having elections for new officers *before* you leave (or at least designate a returning person who will run elections in a timely manner once the next semester starts).

That’s all of the advice I can think of at this point. I’m graduating this coming summer, so perhaps by then I’ll have more. In the meantime, what are some of your tips and tricks for making the most of student organizations? Have any great programming or fundraising ideas? Share them with us in the comments!

14 replies

  1. What a great list! Something else student chapter leaders should consider: get involved with roundtables, sections, and committees in your parent organization. SAA, for example, has a roundtable group called SNAP (Students and New Archives Professionals) that aims to support interests within the profession and help students transition into professional life. Additionally, individual groups throughout your organization might have committee positions or internships geared towards current students (SNAP is one of these). Contacting groups in your parent org might open doors to future projects, conference collaborations, and publication opportunities; it’s also a great place to find guest speakers for virtual or in-person events hosted by your chapter.

    It’s never too early to get involved with your parent organization; if you’re interested in pursuing professional service after graduation, this is a great way to jump in the fray. Good luck to all of you!


  2. Reblogged this on SNAP roundtable and commented:
    SAA Student Chapters might discover a lot in common with this great post from Hack Library School. What else can student groups do to be successful? Share your stories here or head over to the HLS post.


  3. Our Louisiana State University SAA student chapter published an article in the Journal of Education for Library and Information Science titled “Student Chapters: Meeting Expectations and Providing High Quality Experiences” which reports on a survey we conducted that asked students in LIS programs about their experiences in student chapters. You can read the full text here:


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