Words from Outside New York contributor
At the Mid-Winter Meeting of the SLA Kentucky Chapter, one of the topics of discussion was the status of the Kentucky Student Chapter. In recent years, membership in the student chapter gradually declined until it became inactive. As the librarians of the Kentucky Chapter try to re-establish an active student chapter, they will face an increasingly common challenge: a growing number of distance-learning students.
Although the only ALA accredited MLS program in Kentucky is offered through the University of Kentucky, the distance-learning opportunities available to students are expanding, resulting in a more geographically diverse student population. The key to recruiting and maintaining membership in the student chapter will be to engage these distance-learning students and find ways to provide them with the same benefits that on-campus students receive. Fortunately, there are many networking tools available for reaching and retaining distance-learning students.
Listservs. Though not a new technology, listservs are an effective way to reach out to students to let them know about upcoming events. Fortunately, the MLS program at the University of Kentucky maintains a listserv for the use of all students enrolled in the program. Thus, the newly appointed president of the student chapter was able to send out an announcement about the chapter’s first meeting with reasonable certainty that all students within the program would receive the email. The email included a link to an RSVP form and a separate link to an Adobe Connect meeting space so that distance-learning students would be able to attend online.
Web Conferencing. Web conferencing software allows distance-learning students to attend on-campus chapter meetings. Designating a volunteer moderator for those attending the meeting via web conferencing software helps ensure that any questions or comments distance-learning students have will get addressed. This is an important step in making sure distance-learning students get the chance to participate and feel included. Please note that web conferencing does require a reliable internet connection and a webcam.
The student chapter chose to use Adobe Connect to provide access to the first meeting of 2016 because it was the web conferencing software that was most easily accessible and familiar. However, there are other web conferencing options available. SLA makes GoToMeeting available to all SLA leaders free of charge. Google Hangouts is a third option for web conferencing. Google Hangouts is also free, but requires that all participating members have a Google account.
Blogs. A chapter blog provides a place for student chapter members to actively participate in the chapter by submitting written work that they would like to see published. One of the benefits of having a chapter blog is that it provides a way for all students to interact and network regardless of geographical location.
Setting up a blog for the student chapter is still a work in progress, but there are many blog platforms available that can make setting up a blog space quick and easy. WordPress works well for traditional written blog posts. Tumblr is a suitable option for blogs that contain a fair number of multimedia posts (e.g., pictures, videos, podcasts, etc.). Blogger is another practical option, but like Hangouts, Blogger requires a Google account for access.
Social Media. A Pew Research Center Report published in October 2015 stated that 90% of adults ages 18–29 and 77% of adults ages 30–49 use social networking sites. While not all MLS students fall into these age categories, it seems fair to assume that many students are active social media users. Creating a presence on social media allows leadership to make announcements about new or upcoming events in a way that chapter members are likely to see. Social media also provides a way for chapter members to interact with leadership as well as with each other in a convenient and relaxed setting.
The student chapter’s primary focus is on creating a Facebook group where chapter leadership and members can share announcements, news, and interesting posts with each other. The microblogging site Twitter is another option that would provide the student chapter with a way to send out more public announcements and keep up with what is going on with other SLA chapters and members that tweet regularly.
File Hosting. File-hosting services generally offer cloud storage and file synchronization for uploaded Microsoft Office documents, image files, and video files. Setting up a shared chapter space on a file-hosting service makes sharing files and collaborating on projects much easier than trying to send files as email attachments. Utilizing file hosting also helps ensure that everyone is working with the same up-to-date file instead of different versions of a file.
Dropbox was the best option for the student chapter because all of the chapter leaders had previous experience with it. Google Drive provides a similar service through a Google account, but settings can be changed so that those without Google accounts can open documents that have been shared with them.
Distance-learning programs. Distance-learning programs allow individuals, who might otherwise be unable to obtain a degree in librarianship, to further their education without relocating or leaving their current places of employment. Unfortunately, distance learning can make it difficult for students who are not on campus to network and interact with other students enrolled in MLS programs. For this reason, distance-learning students may benefit as much as, if not more than, on-campus students by participating in student organizations like the student chapters of SLA. As it is likely that the number of distance-learning students will continue to grow, it is in the best interest of all student chapters to ensure that distance-learning students are provided with as many opportunities as possible to be active members of SLA.