Guest Post – LIS & Us: Keeping Students Excited about LIS thru Student Associations

Today’s post is from a classmate of mine, Ahniwa Ferrari, President of the McGill Library and Information Studies Students’ Association (MLISSA) (and be sure to check out his personal blog, ahniwa de montrĂ©al). He’s kindly given us his thoughts on how to stay motivated throughout library school, and in particular, the role student groups can play:

Everyone who attends library school is excited, initially. At least, I like to think that’s the case. Whether they come because they love books, or public service, or because they feel passionately about the free transfer of information, or for any other reason. The point is that people who attend library school often feel strongly, about something, at least initially.

And there’s the rub. Maintaining that initial enthusiasm is difficult. By all accounts, being a librarian or other information professional is unequivocally awesome. Being a student, though. Well that’s being a student, and it has its ups and downs but can often be less than exciting. So how does one try to maintain that initial enthusiasm, or how does one foster renewed energies throughout the term? In short, how do we keep the idea of LIS shiny when we’re writing our umpteenth paper reviewing online information resources?

I could offer multiple suggestions, but for now I’m just going to talk about what student associations can do, in particular, to try and help student maintain interest in the LIS field as they pursue their studies. As President of the McGill Library and Information Studies Students’ Association, some of these are things that I’ve actively had a hand in. Some of them are things that I wish we, as an association, had done. Certainly there are plenty other things that I’ll forget to mention, that hopefully other people may bring up in future posts on the subject.

In my opinion, one of the best things about being an LIS student is that you’re surrounded by other LIS students. Seriously, these people are awesome, and they’re dorks too, in their own ways, just like you. As such, I think that the first mandate of any student association should be to foster communication within the LIS student body. Knowing that we’re all in this together, and helping people build connections with their peers, can take a lot of the drudgery out of being a student. Associations can be involved in this process by giving students the tools to communicate. MLISSA runs an MLIS listserv, which allows students to email each other en masse. We’ve also created a blog, but unfortunately it’s buried in the official SIS webpage hierarchy and gets used infrequently. Still, blogs, listservs, wikis, and other technological tools can be a great way to keep students communicating and involved with each other. And if you can, host them yourself. Being on the school’s servers is free and all, but not without constraints, and everything should be done to ensure that students feel free to express themselves openly.

Throw parties. LIS students need to let off steam, need to have some fun, and need to dance. MLISSA throws one large rumpus per term, and they’re by far our most well-attended events.

Hold a career fair. Our second-best attended event, after our parties, is our career fair. Career fairs provide multiple benefits. They help potential employers remain aware of us, students, and potential employees. More important, they help us, as students, become aware and get excited about the very real job opportunities that are available, even just outside our doors. Remember, no one goes to library school because they want to go to library school. People go to library school because they want to become information professionals. Career fairs help remind them that they’re on their way, and demonstrate to them some of the exciting possibilities they can pursue once they graduate.

Get COOL guest speakers. LIS students have numerous opportunities to hear numerous presentations on numerous subjects. Unfortunately, a lot of these presentations are lackluster, PowerPoint-heavy, class lecture clones. Student associations can help counter this by bringing in interesting speakers, who perform dynamic presentations and who have unique things to say. Find a local library celebrity, if you have one, and invite them up. If there isn’t anyone local to draw a crowd, offer to fly someone in. Seriously, they have grants for this sort of thing. MLISSA had the pleasure of hosting Jessamyn West for an informal chat on a Thursday evening, and the event was a hit. Speakers like Jessamyn have such vitality, and such a fun perspective on our careers as information professionals, that one can’t help but be influenced by her enthusiasm. If at all possible, take your speaker out for nachos and beer afterwards. They appreciate it, and you get a chance to chat with them “off the record.”

Hold silly contests. Go dancing. Engage students artistically. Draw people out of themselves. Have a karaoke night / talent show / poetry reading / all of the above. Create a student newsletter. MLISSA manages The Marginal, which appears two to three times per year, and which allows students to express themselves, sometimes prosaically, often artistically, in ways that they might not otherwise indulge. Give students as many opportunities as possible to come out of their shells, and eventually they may find that they’re even having fun being students, again.

Helping students maintain their interest over the course of two grueling years can be a tough job. In the end, students have to do for themselves, but student associations like MLISSA can do their part, creating events and activities that pull students out of their heads and remind them that we live in an engaging world, and that we’re involved in a fun, fascinating, and incredibly cool profession.

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