By Alison Cody
The Simmons Student Interest Group of the Massachusetts School Library Association aims to provide support to students with an interest in school libraries and to serve as a liaison between future librarians and the MSLA. This year, the MSLA-SIG fulfilled this mission with a bang. On March 24, 2007, they held their first-ever conference, a day-long affair aimed at connecting students and new professionals. Co-chairs Anna Schneider and Susanna Paterson (both MLS ’07) were behind most of the development and planning of the conference. Here, they explain how the conference developed and share tips on planning this sort of event.
From small beginnings
Originally, the two planned to keep the conference small and aimed squarely at GSLIS students. They brought the idea up at a board meeting, and it was met with more enthusiasm than they expected.
“The board suggested that we open the conference to young professionals, because they often feel isolated and lost during their first few years,” Schneider said. “That’s where the theme—Get Connected—came from: getting connected to make the transition from student to professional more comfortable.”
Paterson and Schneider adopted several other ideas posed by the board and also took advantage of their expertise as school library teachers—more than half of the speakers were members of the MSLA board, and most of the rest were MSLA members. The board also offered administrative support for issues such as collecting payments and offering continuing education credits.
Rounding up speakers
Eleven speakers presented nine different sessions, excluding the lunchtime panel. Sessions ranged from using storytelling and bookmaking in the school library to presentations on collaborating with teachers and principles.
“I have to say that we were thrilled to get all the responses that we received,” Paterson said. “There was such enthusiasm coming from the speakers that it make me feel more confident that it would all work out. I was especially excited to see new professionals presenting their practical advice and knowledge.
I was impressed with the expertise that they were able to convey after only a few years in the field, as well as their ability to remember what it was like to be a student and connect with students at the conference.”
The devil is in the details
Paterson and Schneider both agree that organizing an entire conference is a task not undertaken lightly — and not by just two people! “If next year’s officers decide to host another conference — and we hope they do — I would recommend implementing a conference committee,” Schneider said.
“The money was difficult to deal with, though,” Paterson said. “We were using our group budget funds for some expenses and spending our own money on others. It was important to us to keep the registration fees to a minimum. Conferences are expensive, and officers that want to put one on should make sure they request enough money for their budget.”
Their most important piece of advice? Don’t wait until the last minute. “There were definitely some things that we forgot to do, because we tried to do too much at the last minute,” Paterson said.
“From the evaluation forms that speakers and attendees completed, we’ve already gotten some great ideas and suggestions for the future,” Paterson said. “Everyone who returned an evaluation said that they would be interested in coming to another conference next year, so I consider that a success!”
The conference has boosted the presence of the MSLA Student SIG in the region and presented GSLIS students with an easy, convenient way to learn more about what it’s like out in school libraries. Schneider and Paterson were able to attend sessions and soak up the experience of those currently working in school libraries. But they also benefited from the planning itself.
“It was an exciting, creative and scary process,” Paterson noted. “I think the thrill in creating something from scratch was apparent. I think the whole process has made me a more focused and confident person.”
“To be quite honest, I enjoyed the adrenaline rush of planning this,” Schneider said. “I learned a lot.”
How to get involved
If you want more information about the MSLA Student SIG, check out their wiki at http://gslis.simmons/edu/mw/msla_sig. There you’ll find posts about upcoming meetings and links to the MSLA parent organization, awards, and other useful information for school library teachers. Also, keep an eye on your e-mail! Soon it will be time to elect new officers to follow in the footsteps of this year’s ambitious leaders.
Jennifer Doyle, Simmons College GSLIS
Alison K. Cody, Chair, ASIS&T@Simmons