One of the most important things you can do for yourself while attending library school is become involved in at least one student organization, even if you really don’t want to. You don’t even have to take my word for it, just a few days ago several other HLS writers suggested it as well. If you do want to take my word for it, here are four short reasons why:
- Student Organizations are a CAPTCHA test for employment
CAPTCHA, in case you have never encountered it in the wild, is the mini form you fill out on websites to prove you’re definitely not a robot. Student organization involvement is similar, but instead of copying text that has apparently been portaled in from Salvador Dalí’s reality, you prove that you can successfully work with other humans. This is a plus because in the real world you don’t work in solitary confinement, and no one wants to work with someone who is a pain to be around. Student organization work shows that you have worked with others, and are alive to tell the tale. Look at this as a chance to take your hobbies, social activism proclivities, and other things that prove you are capable human, and display them proudly to the world.
- Involvement demonstrates to employers that you can multitask
Despite already having classwork, homework, and whatever full-time or part-time work experience you are occupying your time with, people seem to like proof that you have some other unpaid activity taking up the remainder of your spare time. It is helpful to be able to show that your multitasking extends beyond the bare minimum requirements of library school in a productive, non-Netflix sort of way. There really is nothing like successfully organizing a library unconference while juggling school, work, and the rest of your life to really drive home to future employers that you are someone who gets stuff done. In the workplace, you will often have several things going on at one time, student organizations are just another way for you to get more practice in ahead of time.
- Organizations are an opportunity to get leadership experience under your belt, and who knows, you may find out it comes naturally to you
I don’t know about you, but during my undergraduate career I mostly avoided involvement in student organizations. I was shy, and I thought I could get away without “official” leadership in the world of employment. Granted, it is possible to succeed without leadership experience on your resume, but it is just incredibly more difficult to do so. Leadership is great because you can sit down with a potential employer and point to something and say “this happened because of me.”
What if you don’t consider yourself a “natural” leader? What if you aren’t one of the boisterous individuals who reply all to school-wide email threads? Don’t worry, quiet leadership is a thing too! The best advice I have ever received about whether you are ready to lead was from the Dean of Grand Valley State University libraries, Lee Van Orsdel. She told me that if you have your own ideas, you are ready for leadership. It is when you find yourself saying “I know enough to have done that better, faster, easier, or simply in a different way than them” that you should start to consider leadership.
Best part? Leadership doesn’t even require an official title or a term of office. You don’t need to commit to running for an executive board position, or creating a whole new organization (but you totally can if you want to!). Leadership to you could be organizing a single, one-off event for your favorite organization, or leading a smaller group within a big event. At the end of the day, you will put your feet up and say, “this happened because of me.”
- You can get some wonderful friendships out of it
One unexpected lesson from my summer internship is the importance of friendships in the field. I saw my mentor work with other library professionals across the country on a nearly daily basis via phone, Twitter, email, Skype, and text. It is important to have friends in different positions, different types of libraries, and different time zones because you never really know where you may need help from in the future. Do you know where a great place is to make some of those future helpful friends in libraries? Library school student organizations. You will develop a wonderful cadre of people who you can trust to have your back even when they aren’t getting class credit or payment for it. Library people tend to be super helpful individuals, so it is like having your own Super Friends at all times.
I’ve convinced you? I have some next steps for you as well.
If you are a first year student:
Whether you are a distance learner or will be on campus for library school, the orientation period should include some form of outlet for student groups to talk about what they do. All you really have to do is listen to them. If it sounds like something that you could spend an hour or two on each week, talk to them and learn more. Who knows, you may end up being that person talking about their organization at the next orientation.
If you are a returning student:
If you have time left in your schooling to run for an executive board position, I highly recommend it. It is an easy way to get your hands dirty, and really make the changes you want to see in an organization as a whole. If you are more limited on time, become friends with current officers, see if there are any events they need help with, or better yet, events that you think should exist. People are always grateful for extra help.