By Tracy Scharn, Distance MLIS
As a distance student, connecting with professional development opportunities can be challenging. Helpful iSchool event emails become subtle taunts about enticing events you simply can't get to.
Recognizing this early in my first term, I asked my advisor what I could do to replace those opportunities I couldn't take advantage of from another state. He suggested attending library-related conferences like ALA and networking within my local library community. Since "networking" conjures all sorts of yuppie imagery that is antithetical to my personality, I decided to try the conference thing first, hoping the networking would eventually follow.
I thought I'd start small. Through my work in the University of Oregon (UO) library system, I'd heard that Online NW was a good local conference focusing on libraries and technology. As a budding reference librarian, this seemed perfect. So, along with two UO librarians, I ventured from Eugene to Corvallis to attend my first library conference.
Shortly after arriving, I lost track of my coworkers, so I went to the nearest table to settle in for the keynote-our very own David Levy, speaking on information overload. As I sat down, I overheard the woman to my left describing what sounded very much like an assignment in LIS 520. Turns out it was a fellow first-year student. Already I was feeling quite at home.
I had no problem finding interesting sessions to attend. In keeping with the UW-themed morning, I caught "Redesigning Web Subject Guides to Suit Our Users' Needs" by UW librarians Jessica Albano and Jennifer Ward. I gained a thorough appreciation for what went into creating the user-friendly UW library site I use all the time. I attended other great sessions on creating accessible web pages and using wikis as collaborative tools for students.
Conferences are also about mingling (i.e. networking)-something I'm horrible at. But as luck would have it, I ran into a librarian who'd given a presentation years ago at the nonprofit special library where I used to work. Talking to one person led to talking to others, and so on. Before I knew it I was beginning to network, and it didn't feel as phony as I'd imagined.
Nearly every librarian I met at the conference was thrilled to talk with a library student. In fact, I've found that librarians are just about the best mentors and sources of encouragement you could hope for.
In a day full of wonderful happenstances, the highlight was lunch. Having spotted the folks I'd traveled to Corvallis with, I rejoined them. As the conference organizers announced the first door-prize winner, everyone at the table began staring at me expectantly. It took me a second to realize that I'd won a 4-port USB hub, perfect for my laptop.
I don't think the Oregon Library Association conference in Portland next month could top Online NW, but that's a chance I'm willing to take.
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT TIPS FOR DISTANCE STUDENTS:
Attend library-related conferences and events. This is the top way to replace some of those tantalizing iSchool events we can never have. You don't have to jet across the country. Start small and go from there.
Join professional associations. Student rates are cheap and you get library magazines delivered right to your door! ALA membership usually includes the option to join your state's library association at no additional cost.
Sign-up for listservs. This is a great way to find out about events and get a sense of what like-minded librarians are talking about.
Volunteer at a library. You get experience, potential references and maybe a foot in the door for jobs.
Do a job shadow. Find out about spending a few hours shadowing a school media specialist, a reference librarian or whatever suits your fancy.
Share your goals with others. Librarians are the best mentors, and you never know who might be able to point you toward an internship or job opportunity.