How to participate (when you can’t participate)

The following post is a joint endeavor by Chezlani Casar (online) and Kendra Werst (on-campus)…


When I started library school in the fall of 2015, I virtually attended the new student orientation for my program (University of Hawaii, Mānoa). It was largely a presentation by leaders of each of the student groups, explaining what they did and why we should get involved. I wondered then how I could be involved, given that I live about 200 miles (across ocean) from my campus.

Fast forward a year… and I’m still wondering. I am enjoying my distance program immensely, despite occasional technological glitches and the inherent loneliness of going to school without fellow students around. But I still have not managed to figure out how to truly “be involved” with these student organizations.

It has worried me at times, especially since everyone says that networking is the key to all the wonderful job opportunities you’ll have down the road. When one of my synchronous classes takes a break, I always feel like they’re all in the diner together, chatting it up, networking away… and here I am eating dinner alone in my pajamas (which I’ve heard they are envious of). So how do online students network? How do we participate when we can’t participate?

My tactic during the first year of library school was to get involved in anything I COULD do, to make up for what I couldn’t. This has meant saying yes to opportunities that I really knew nothing about, which so far has turned out to be a great strategy!

One of the things I did was to join Hack Library School, figuring that at least there was an online community of LIS students out there to work with, even though they weren’t from my program. Now I feel like my fellow bloggers are another set of classmates I can share ideas and communicate with.

The other was the Hawai’i Library Association conference. I ended up attending the 2015 conference on the recommendation of a professor, who suggested I present a poster. I dove into that without having any idea what I was doing, and it turned out to be the greatest thing. I got to meet a lot of my classmates and professors, and came home full of new ideas. When I heard the conference was going to be held on my island in 2016 (which only happens once in a blue moon!), I jumped at the chance to be on the planning committee. Again, I knew nothing about how to plan a conference. But I have learned a lot about it, and I hope I have been able to make valuable recommendations to the committee on local details. I have had the chance to network and work with fellow students and seasoned professional librarians.

So, all that said, I still don’t know how to get involved with the student organizations. But I think it starts with having at least one person on the board of an organization who knows and cares about the fact that there are (slightly disenfranchised) distance students who would like to be involved. Luckily for students at IU, my fellow blogger Kendra is such a person…


This past April, I wrote an article giving advice for participating in student organizations. I wrote this article unconsciously assuming that readers of Hack Library School are on-campus students, which I was unaware of until someone commented and asked if I had any tips for online students who wanted to participate in student organizations.

As President of a student organization in the ILS Department at IU-Bloomington, I felt guilty for not seeking out online students who might be interested in joining. After doing some research, I found that IU’s online ILS program is at the School of Informatics and Computing at the Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis. I was unable to find a link pointing the online program to on-campus student organization groups and vice versa.

After hearing Chezlani’s experience as a distance student, I have developed a list of possible solutions for online students and student organizations to create and maintain a relationship.

Student Organizations:

  • Online Student Representative – Create an officer position that will help link online students with on-campus students. This person may also have to research or talk with the administration on how to contact online students in their program.
  • Broadcast your meetings – Use video chat applications like Adobe Connect, Skype, Facebook or FaceTime to allow online students to stay involved. If you are not able to connect through voice or video, use programs like Google Docs or Box to share meeting minutes. Your student organization could also use Slack – a messaging application for teamwork and communication.
  • Maintain your online presence – Online students schedule might be opposite of on-campus students. Maintaining your online presence, even if you just have a Facebook page, may be the only way that online students stay up-to-date with the organization. Online students should be able to easily find contact information of officers.
  • Host Virtual Events – Connect with other students organizations or student chapters of your organization. Virtual events could be resume workshops, webinars, student panels, connecting with professionals, or having a virtual roundtable.

Online Students

  • Nominate yourself – Reach out the student organization of your choosing, and volunteer to help write blog posts, maintain social media or assist with virtual programming such as webinars, online meetings or virtual roundtables.
  • Reach Out – to other virtual students in your program and create an Online Student Organization or Community! Creating a community can help with your development personally, academically and professionally. Establish connections through your discussion boards, your institution’s educational platform, or you can set up a team on Slack.
  • Join ListServs – Professional organizations such as the American Library Association, International Federation of Library Associations, Society of American Archivists and so on, all have ListServs. For more on ListServs check out Liz’s article.
  • Meet-up – Planning on going to a conference? Try and connect with other students who are also attending.
  • Follow & Connect – Check to see if the organizations you are interested in have a social media account such as Twitter, Facebook or blog that you can follow.


Finally, sometimes all it takes is a little bit of awareness (that distance students actually exist). This awareness can be raised by simply connecting with students (and faculty) who are on your campus. For example, it has really helped me stay connected (at times when technology has been less than perfect) to have a Facebook or other chat line open with a student who is physically present in the class, in case you (or the school) are having tech challenges. Likewise, professors would generally prefer to hear from us more often rather than not, to make sure online students are keeping up. Don’t be shy to email whenever necessary!

7 replies

  1. I would also encourage students to get involved in a national or state library association. Most professional organizations might offer student rate and it helps to get involved in an area that you want to become involved with after graduation. Those committee members might become a potential co-worker or at least be able to speak to your abilities to work in a professional environment.


  2. Since going completely online this seamster, St. John’s ALA student chapter, the Division of Library and Information Science Student Association (DLISSA), has made all of our meetings and speaker events WebEx-enabled so that distant students can join. The trouble is, online students often feel like they can’t participate and engage from behind a screen, even though we are working really hard to make DLISSA accessible to all DLIS students. We are adding a Distance Chair to our executive board next semester, but I would like to ask the hive mind if anyone has suggestions for reaching online students who may feel they don’t need to network because they are working full-time in LIS already?


    • Well, here’s a thought. One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about library school is how different everyone’s background is coming in. Some are straight out of undergrad, others are teachers, others still are marine biologists, waitresses, or stay at home parents. It’s been amazing to realize that all these different types of people are studying to become librarians. So if most of your online students are already working in LIS, they may be missing out on connecting with some of these different types of students (and mindsets that come with different professions). If there were a way to highlight that, perhaps they would be interested?

      Liked by 1 person

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