Student groups. Their importance has been noted in previous posts for networking and building community and connection in your program. Last summer I decided that becoming involved in a student group would be one of my goals for my second – and last – year of library school. In years past, UW-Madison’s iSchool had an LGBTQ+ student organization, but the leaders all graduated the semester before I started my program. As no new leaders had stepped up to take over running the group, it was not operational my first year in the program. I knew that I was not the only queer library student in my cohort, and that issues regarding library services to the LGBTQ+ community were of interest to more than a few iSchool students, so I made the decision last summer to revive the group.
Over break I have been doing a bit of planning regarding what I hope the group can accomplish over the next semester. As this is also my last semester of library school, I have also been thinking about what I hope will happen to the organization after I leave. Starting and running a student organization is not a minor commitment, and there have been plenty of bumps along the way, but it has also been a really rewarding experience. If you’re thinking of starting (or re-starting) your own organization, here’s a few thoughts and lessons learned from my experience:
Officially registering the group – It is important to know what the requirements are for a group to be an “official” organization. UW-Madison has specific guidelines that registered student organizations must follow in order to be recognized as such, including attending online leadership training, and submitting bylaws for approval. As I was re-registering the group, the old organization’s bylaws were still in file. I was able to modify the old bylaws slightly rather than having to write entirely new ones, which was fortunate and a huge time-saver. If you’re thinking about starting your own organization, this is something you’ll want to take into account.
Recruitment – You can’t have a group without members! While I used some traditional recruitment methods, including posting on the iSchool’s news blog and attending a student organization fair, I also did a lot of recruitment just by talking to classmates and faculty members. I also did not limit myself to just the iSchool’s communication channels. I joined a Discord server for queer UW-Madison students, which connected me to the leaders of other queer student groups interested in collaborating. I also met several brand new LIS students who missed the official iSchool communications, but were excited about joining the group.
Finding opportunities – COVID-19 has made doing anything in-person pretty difficult, but because I chose to hold group meetings virtually, LIS students in the iSchool’s distance learning program were able to attend, and participate in some of our activities, including a virtual tabletop game night.
Starting small, and delegating – The hardest lesson I had to learn this last semester was how to delegate – I’m still not great at it. If a task is simple and not too time-consuming, I will often decide to just do it myself. Unfortunately, those small tasks can add up pretty quickly, and soon I found myself buried under a mountain of small but essential things that I could have easily asked other members to do. Learn from my mistakes, and ask people in your group to do things!
On the flip side, as we enter the third year of this global pandemic, most people are working at capacity and that makes it difficult for them to engage in extracurriculars. Also, not to state the obvious, but grad school is a huge time commitment, and between that and working and family commitments and all the other things that go into being a functioning human being, there is not a lot of time left over for a student organization. What I realized was that the group did not have to do everything. I spent the semester focusing on recruiting members, establishing meeting times, and making plans for the future. Human connection is really important, especially right now when COVID-19 is still cutting off many of our normal ties to each other. If your group is just starting out and all you do is make some connections and build community within your grad program, that is still a big accomplishment.
If you read all this and decided that yes, you still want to go and start a student organization, then I am rooting for you! If you’re a current or former student leader, what other thoughts or advice do you have for fledgling groups?
Robin Gee is the Community Manager of Hack Library School, and a student at University of Wisconsin Madison, focusing on instruction and reference in academic libraries. You can find them on Twitter at @robinmgee
Photo by The Gender Spectrum Collection