How to get involved in ALA & ACRL as a student

Today marks the end of our ACRL/HLS Collaboration, check out Dylan Burns’s post on ACRLog about “Experience and LIS education.” Thanks to everyone involved, from the readers, to the contributors, to Sarah and Dylan for setting this up. 


Geralt, CC

Nicole Helregel is a Hack Library School alumnus. She is currently a Reference & Web Services Specialist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

If you’re a regular Hack Library School reader then you’re no stranger to the idea of getting involved with a professional organization. HLS bloggers have been extolling the virtues of professional involvement since the beginning of the blog! So in light of this month’s collaboration with ACRLog, I’ll give an overview of some ways to get involved with organizations like ACRL and ALA, and how you can get started.


First off, many professional organizations have low student membership fees (especially low compared to what you’ll have to pay once you’re out of school). You don’t have to become a member to take advantage of many of the resources and events available through professional organizations, but there are many additional benefits to membership, such as easy access to publications (in print and online). Also, many state library organizations have reduced fee package deals with ALA – there are currently (through August 2016) thirty-nine states that offer joint state association and ALA membership for a grand total of $38 a year!  


Conferences are probably the most talked-about element of professional service and involvement as a student. They are a great way to dip your toes into the profession, delve into specialties, and explore current issues in the field. They’re also a great place to network and start making connections. Even if you don’t end up meeting lots of people and handing out all of your business cards, you’ll come away with a broader and deeper knowledge of LIS issues that will serve you well in interviews and networking interactions. The HLS archives are a treasure-trove of conference and ALA-specific tips and advice on everything from what to wear to what to bring, and from how to hack it to making the most of it. Two especially important tips: find and go to any “first time conference attendee” programming (at ALA this is usually sponsored by the New Members Round Table, which you should also consider getting involved in!); try to go to at least one forum/discussion or group/committee meeting – the online scheduler will tell you if it is an open meeting, and these can be a great way to see what the real behind-the-scenes work of a professional organization looks like.


Sub-note one on membership and conferences: if you can’t go to a conference you wanted to attend, it can be much easier to still engage with the conference content when you’re a member. Many conferences have streaming or recorded sessions online, you can read the conference proceedings once they are released, and you can follow the conference conversation on Twitter. In short, there are ways to get involved even if you can’t attend in person!


Sub-note two on membership and conferences: many local and national conferences have internship programs for students. Most involve some amount of service at the actual conference in exchange for free registration. This makes conference attendance more affordable and can lead to great networking opportunities! An ALA-specific opportunity available to LIS students: the Student to Staff program. Check out these posts from HLS bloggers on their Student to Staff experiences to learn more!


Another great way to get involved in professional organizations is to join a committee (which you are often allowed to do as a student member!). Find one that interests you and contact them regarding how to get more involved as a student member. Do not be afraid! Your enthusiasm will likely be met with excitement and encouragement. Also, many brave HLS bloggers have already tested the committee waters and lived to tell the tale!
Have you gotten involved in ALA, ACRL, or other library organizations? What has been your favorite part? What do you wish you had known beforehand? Please share your insights or any persistent questions in the comments!

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