Connecting and Networking as a “Distant” Student: Advice for New Students

By Elaine Hall, ALASC Program Coordinator & SLIS Graduate Student

Upon being accepted to SJSU’s SLIS program in Fall 2011, I was ecstatic about the opportunities that would wait for me as a new student. I knew I wanted to maximize the scholastic opportunity by building a network, getting involved, and taking advantage of professional development opportunities through the school and the LIS community. In the months that followed my acceptance into the program, I spent hours signing up for the student list groups, checking out class schedules and descriptions, reading about faculty, and viewing information about the various student chapters. Despite all those efforts, I suddenly felt very “distant.”

I didn’t know a single student. The thought of attending a class virtually and not connecting with students before and after class was baffling me. I was reading about all of this new technology and wondering how I was ever going to get the hang of it all. I soon become extremely thankful for the support of my husband and kids because I believed they would be my only support system when the going gets tough. I really felt, almost with regret, the loss of unity and comfort a physical campus provides with their meeting commons, coffee shops, cafeterias, and even moreso… their library!

Then, various announcements requesting nominations for ALASC began showing up in my inbox. I initially ignored them with the assumption that I should just focus on my first couple of classes and get involved later. I had plenty of time, right? Then, on a casual spring day another announcement came along and I took a deeper look into the nomination categories. A couple of the positions intrigued me, particularly the one for Program Coordinator. The position was very relative to the work I currently do for a local nonprofit here in Seattle so I knew I had the skills. I hesitated as a bunch of questions flooded my mind: what did I, as a new student who hasn’t ever worked in a library, have to offer an ALA student chapter? Could I organize student events from two states away? How much time did I really have to dedicate to this position if nominated? What value would I gain in organizing events when I could not attend them myself? Still, I took the bait and nominated myself and was elected to the position for the 2011-2012 school term.

the experience has been instrumental to my feeling of community, connection, and involvement with SJSU and SLIS.

I cannot state enough how much of an impact my experience as Program Coordinator for ALASC has had to me as a new student. While ALASC is indeed awesome, it is not this specific group that enhanced my new student experience but rather the opportunity to connect with such an awesome menagerie of students. In fact, the experience has been instrumental to my feeling of community, connection, and involvement with SJSU and SLIS. What a great opportunity for getting to know students who have already made it through the uncertain “new student” period and can offer support and advice. The current chapter is comprised of a few officers who are graduating this spring and a couple who are mid-way through the program; some who are currently working in libraries while others are in the job-seeking process. The opportunity to get to know, network, and work with these students created a tremendous opportunity to tap into a wealth of support and encouragement that has only enhanced, and even propelled, my experience during my first semester as a SLIS student.

In addition to the support from and friendship to these individuals who I may never see face-to-face, I have been exposed to a wealth of experiences utilizing various technologies that SLIS students will access throughout their education. I was using Elluminate and D2L before I even started my LIBR203 class and have now already used Blackboard Collaborate before starting my second semester. I had the opportunity to not only participate in a Second Life event, but even coordinate and present in SL during Banned Books Week. The power of networking really paid off when we got the opportunity to interview an author for Teen Reads Week. While this created a tremendous opportunity to work with an up-and-coming young adult author, what was even more educational for me was the tutoring and support I received in preparing the interview and even moreso, the support and dedication of the ALASC team to create a successful event when my technology failed me (a situation I am so thankful happened then and not later in a graded classroom presentation!). I have learned so much! And all this just in my first semester!

Now as I end the first “winter break” session, I find myself in familiar shoes: curiosity and uncertainty to the next round of courses, anticipation to meet new professors and students, and anxiety. I can only reflect upon my first semester and what made it such a positive and successful experience. It is the empowerment of involvement and connectivity to the school and the students that enriched my overall experience during my first semester and I know that those established networks will continue moving forward. It is not only my involvement with ALASC that I will draw upon, but also the social networking I actively perform to connect with students from all over the world, the libraries and programs I follow, and the RSS feeds of students and LIS professionals who regularly update their blogs.

My advice for new students: get involved and use your social networks!

Get involved in one or more student chapters here at SLIS. You do not need to take on an officer position – simply logging on to an online event can help you build these relationships and provide you tremendous networking opportunities.

Get involved locally in whatever capacity you can. Join your local ALA state chapter and go to the meetings! Introduce yourself to staff, vendors, and any librarian you come across (and you’ll come across many of them) and volunteer whenever possible at these events. Speaking of volunteering – seek out opportunities to volunteer at a local library. Connecting with other librarians can be tremendously supportive; they have gone through the same training and most are eager to help you.

Build community through social networking! Whether you are a social media novice or expert, tap into it and utilize it. Not all your classmates will join you online, but open up your world and invite connections by having a presence online via Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and find the time to blog. Really – blog about anything. I have two – one I use to write on my LIS studies and career path and a personal one on health and fitness. These blogs, along with my LinkedIn profile and Twitter account, have connected me with various students at SJSU, local LIS students from other schools, and LIS professionals worldwide.

Participate in those discussion boards! I am mostly referring to those included in your classes (and often required as part of your grading) but they serve dual purposes: first, to facilitate classroom discussion and understanding and second, they provide you great opportunity to find classmates with common interests and life dynamics you face every day. I am still in awe at the varied backgrounds students in the SLIS program bring to the classrooms – there is so much experience to draw upon and so much relativeness to gather the support we all need. There are also numerous professional discussion groups through LinkedIn that are worth participating in as well!

I don’t walk the campus hallways nor meet students in a nearby coffee shop, but I do interact with students on a regular basis virtually via Elluminate, Blackboard, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Through regular contact with my “student network,” I have had been connected to other students and alumni here in the Seattle area enhancing my network opportunities locally as well. While I have indeed connected with some students in class, it has been my involvement in a student association that has provided me with significant opportunities to engage in out-of-class conversations, obtain tremendous LIS experience, and even build some friendships.

I wish you the very best in your adventure through the SLIS program here at SJSU and I look forward to sharing the experience with many of you as we meet in classes, attend online student group sessions and seminars together, and meet up on our favorite social networks.