This post was written by Brianna Marshall, a Master of Library Science and Master of Information Science candidate at Indiana University’s School of Library and Information Science. She is Managing Editor for the blog Hack Library School and soon-to-be Social Science Division Archivist.
Why would a grad student join SLA? To answer this question I could quote the membership page of the SLA website, listing off the benefits given there, but that seems too much like a stock answer. And truthfully, I haven’t been an SLA member long enough to gauge its impact on my professional life. However, I think I can give one clue to the key to grad students’ loyalties: being welcomed. I certainly think this matters much more than the membership benefits touted by SLA, since we have similar resources being dangled in front of us by a variety of other professional organizations. When SLA is just another acronym in the sea of associations, it’s easy to put off joining for later in our careers, if at all. A commitment to inclusiveness and an attitude that graduate student contributions are valued makes all the difference.
When I joined SLA this past spring, my reason was purely pragmatic: my poster proposal had been accepted for the 2012 Annual Conference, which was taking place in nearby Chicago. I didn’t know if I would get anything out of my membership after that; paying up was a means to build my CV and I was satisfied with leaving it at that. But at the Joint Poster Session, I met Brandy King, Chair of the Social Science Division. We kept in touch after the conference, and because of her openness to my involvement I will be taking over as Division Archivist in November. All in all, I’ve had a great experience that makes me feel connected to SLA in a way I had not anticipated.
Feeling welcomed matters—to anyone, but especially to nervous grad students new to librarianship and new to professional associations. The question then becomes, how can SLA show this welcoming attitude to the graduate students who aren’t meeting them face-to-face at conferences or other events? A few ways come to mind:
- Bolstering support given to student chapters. This is the primary way to increase grad student exposure to SLA. If student chapters are active and innovative, that naturally reflects well on the organization. At the School of Library and Information Science at Indiana University, SLA has not had a noticeably active student chapter since I began my program. How can SLA inspire student members and provide incentives to boost student chapter activity?
- Creating a space focused on grad student resources, issues, and voices on the SLA website. There is a lot going on on the SLA website—I find it intimidating to sort through and I would guess my peers feel similarly. Carving out a space specifically meant for graduate students that breaks down what SLA is, does, and offers in the context of what graduate students care about would be a great next step.
- Offering additional grants and scholarships for students. Grad students are an enthusiastic yet broke group. Trust me, we want to write essays and work for it, so give us more chances to earn travel grants, scholarships, and fellowships and advertise them broadly.
- Reducing (or even eliminating!) the cost of Click University resources. The Click U resources are posited as a major selling point of an SLA membership but the average grad student probably will not find them to be useful at their current pricing. Students do not have the need for continuing education resources in the way that professionals do and the $49 webinar pricetag is prohibitive when many of us are sinking into debt to pay for our educations. Reducing significantly or eliminating the cost of these resources for full-time student SLA members would be an act of goodwill that could act as a major draw to students.
Again, this isn’t to say that there aren’t grad students who will find their way to SLA on their own—SLA provides resources and networking opportunities that are truly valuable—but these students will likely be the future business librarians and law librarians. The rest of us, who aren’t quite sure where we’ll end up, could be served by ALA, SAA, or SLA. To make SLA stand out from the crowd, being welcoming is key, whether it’s an in-person interaction or the impression made by SLA’s virtual presence, resources, and opportunities.
This post is the second in a series detailing why different kinds of people have joined SLA. See our first post from Barbara Pilvin: “Why would a public librarian join SLA?“ If you would like to contribute a post to this series, contact email@example.com