Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Student Leadership: Actually Getting People on Board

Army recruiting poster from World War I with Uncle Sam pointing at the view and stating "I was YOU for U.S. Army"
Photo public domain, copied from Wikipedia
Two days ago, Steve Ammidown over at Hack Library School wrote a great post about how great student organizations are in library school, the great skills you can pick up from them, but also the difficulty they often have keeping enough people involved. I know the struggle. I'm heavily involved with two of our organizations, our graduate student group LISGSA and our chapter of Progressive Librarians Guild. And it has often been a struggle keeping people involved with these two. I cannot talk about other programs, though they probably have similarities, but I can speak to why I think it's difficult to get people involved where I go to school and what can be done about it. 

So, why don't people get involved? A lot of us are working 1-2 part-time library jobs trying to cultivate experience, and many students who are transitioning to librarianship from other careers are still working full-time in those other careers while they get the degree. When we have free time, we don't all have it at the same time, so scheduling face to face (or even synchronous online) meetings can be a chore. So we have a time issue. 

We also have a place issue. Oh, do we have that. Our program has multiple campuses across the state, and since most of the classes are either hybrid or entirely online, even those who are technically on my campus may live an hour or so away and only visit it a few times a semester. So, in addition to having a distinct lack of free time overlap, when we can all meet a lot of people would need to travel to meet up, and some are just too far away to make that possible. So, out of all the people in the program, the actual recruiting pool for our organizations is just a fraction: people who are in-town, and usually only full-time students who only have, say, one part-time job. There are exceptions, but that's most of those involved, including me (okay, I have two part-time jobs, but one is very, very part-time).

How does an organization survive and get people involved in such a context? People need to take it upon themselves to be recruiters. When getting involved takes a lot of scarce time and doesn't, at first glance, seem to be so high a priority, it takes people who are willing to, again and again, make the hard sell for why it's important. It's how I got involved. I, traditionally, have not been a joiner. At all. But when I moved to a new town knowing zero people to start the program during Spring of 2012, I was kind of hurting for friends, so I started going to the LISGSA Happy Hours. There, among other great friends, I met Kyle, who was then LISGSA President. Without Kyle's recruitment, I would probably have stayed only "guy who goes to Happy Hours." But he encouraged me to do more, talked about the cool stuff they were doing, explained the personal and professional benefits I'd get by being a joiner for once, and got me involved. With his encouragement, I even ran for president for the 2012-2013 year.1 

Because of how important Kyle's recruiting was for me, I took it upon myself to pay the favor forward. Conveniently, as Programming Coordinator last school year, my job for LISGSA was basically "create events, make sure people show up." We held our first-ever conference this past spring, and one of my jobs was encouraging people to be presenters. Of the six executive board members serving this school year, I was heavily involved with recruiting2 four of them to serve. This year, our PLG chapter is a bit on the ropes, so when the treasurer position became empty, I signed up to serve for this semester (my last), setting myself the goal of recruiting3 a replacement by spring, along with convincing others to get involved with PLG long-term. Oh, I've also targeted a couple students I think should be LISGSA Exec Board members next school year. Hopefully, some of those I've got involved previously are also doing the same, taking on the recruiting role. These organizations would die without it.

1) I lost, but thanks to the difficulties of getting people involved, the Programming Coordinator position was empty so I was slotted in there.  
2) They may say that more accurate terms would be "cajoling," "badgering," "brow beating," etc.
3) See 2) above.
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