Our “Get to Know a SIG / Get to Know a Chapter” series returns today with our first featured student chapter! We talked to the ASIS&T Student Chapter at Simmons College, which runs programs of interest to students of the Simmons School of Library and Information Science. The Simmons chapter is one of our most successful, receiving or sharing ASIS&T’s Student Chapter of the Year award six of the past ten years, including for 2014. To learn more about the Simmons chapter I interviewed Linnea Johnson, the chapter’s Faculty Advisor, Manager of SLIS Technology, and adjunct faculty at Simmons; and Anne Pepitone, outgoing Chair of the chapter and a just-graduated master’s student at Simmons SLIS. We talked about the activities that the Simmons chapter offers to its members, the benefits of getting involved and volunteering, its collaborations with other groups within and outside of ASIS&T, and other topics of interest. We hope this interview allows you to get to know one of our most successful student chapters better, and interests you in becoming involved with your own regional or student chapter! (The interview has been slightly edited for length and clarity.)
About the Simmons Student Chapter
Adam: How long have you been a member of ASIS&T and how long have you been a member of the Student Chapter at Simmons?
Anne: I’ve been with the Simmons chapter for two years now, as well as the national chapter for that long.
Linnea: 2004 was my final year as a library science master’s student and is also when I became a member. At the end of 2009, I was asked to be the advisor of the student chapter, so my role shifted and it has been fantastic and very rewarding.
Adam: And have you been a member of ASIS&T, the whole organization, the whole time?
Linnea: Yes, I’ve been a member since 2004.
Adam: Sure. And I assume the chapter mostly focuses on the master’s students at Simmons, right? That’s the main target audience?
Adam: And do you focus mostly on research activities, or on practice, or on a combination of those?
Anne: We like to do a combination of both; that way students get the optimal ASIS&T experience, the practice also with the research.
Linnea: For us a combination works out well. Because my day job is Manager of Technology at SLIS, I try to encourage some of my student team members to get involved with ASIS&T and the student chapter because I think it is a great leadership opportunity for them. Wearing my staff hat, we are already doing a lot of things, in regards to workshops and different programs, which we offer for our students, faculty, and staff. This segue makes sense. Hands-on sessions work out really well, but we also like to bring in practitioners out in the field who can give students a perspective and they can see what kind of opportunities are out there.
Adam: Right, and that makes sense and that’s great. Would you say the chapter has changed a little bit over the course of those years that you’ve been involved with it?
Linnea: For sure. My involvement as the student chapter advisor has spanned the past five, almost six years now, and we have definitely evolved over that time. Before I first got involved, we were certainly doing some activities, but it was not quite as active as we are now. A prior advisor unfortunately become ill and when I was asked to be the advisor, I took it quite seriously. I viewed it as an opportunity not only to increase our activities and outreach, but also introduce or start thinking about some new things to do.
Adam: So speaking of those activities, what activities does the chapter engage in at SLIS and Simmons?
Anne: We have a wide variety of programs that we do. Currently, we’ve been doing what we call “Lunch Bytes,” which are every Thursday. We use that opportunity to highlight the ASIS&T webinars. So we show a different webinar each week, and we have discussion afterwards, and we talk to them a little bit about what the ASIS&T membership will allow them to access. And things like the webinars are free based off of the student membership. So it’s a way for us to highlight national at the same time as highlighting our own chapter.
So we show a different webinar each week, and we have discussion afterwards, and we talk to them a little bit about what the ASIS&T membership will allow them to access … it’s a way for us to highlight national at the same time as highlighting our own chapter.
We also do things like, recently, we did an offshoot of our chapter called “The League of Extraordinary Coders.” With ASIS&T, our chapter, we made this league where we have people who are experts in coding help students with their coding projects, during the last couple of weeks of the semester. So those people who are strong with coding are helping give back to the community. And we had a pretty good turnout; we had 20 people, just last Sunday, come in and receive help from our league.
We try to do things that will not only help our students in their own studies, but also do things like, highlighting LIS conferences. We did a whole panel including our chapter, the Special Libraries Association (SLA) chapter, and the American Library Association (ALA) chapter that we have. We’ve also co-sponsored with our usability student group to do World Usability Day. We highlighted a couple of community groups, and went over their web sites and did a live interactive usability session. We worked with the Harvard Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Astrophysics Data System and Suffolk University’s Sawyer Library, where we critiqued the web sites and gave them tips, based off of the user experience.
And that’s just a few things in the last couple of weeks. We keep pretty busy, to say the least!
Linnea: World Usability Day is an annual event that takes place in November, and it is something we have been co-sponsoring for the past few years. We have a usability lab at SLIS, and the usability student chapter — UXPA — is one of the newer groups. So to have ASIS&T work with UXPA, it makes a lot of sense. It is a great way to not only leverage the two chapters, but also to show what the synergies are and where the common pieces of interest align. It is a partnership that works well.
Anne: We also annually do an Open Access Week event. We usually try to bring in a speaker from the community; in past years we’ve had Peter Suber from Harvard, and this year we had Kyle Courtney from Harvard, who’s the Copyright Advisor, and he deals with copyright law and MOOCs, in particular, and how to deal with the copyright issues that come along with that. And that’s something we’ve been doing for quite a while, right Linnea?
Linnea: Yes, since 2008 Simmons SLIS has been the home of the Open Access Directory (OAD). This is a project that was started by Peter Suber and a former SLIS faculty member Robin Peek, as well as SLIS PhD students and some master’s students. The OAD is central to some of the SLIS open access activities. Since we have the OAD as part of our infrastructure, we have had a lot of happenings and events surrounding Open Access Week. Because we have a relationship with Peter, we are able to invite him to campus to discuss what he has been up to research-wise and also tie in the OAD. It’s at oad.simmons.edu, and you can check it out; it is a resource that people access from all over the world — if you look at the traffic, it is pretty amazing — to get open access resources and learn about professional networks. It lists different organizations that people can use to connect with other colleagues who are dealing with open access issues at their respective institutions.
Anne: Lastly, one of the things that we’re really proud of in what we do with our chapter, is that we work with NEASIS&T, which is the New England Regional Chapter, and every year we co-sponsor their large event that they have. Last year it was on big data; this year it’s on information visualization. We always co-sponsor that event, we always have students helping run some of the activities that are going on. Then we also personally have a liaison on our board that attends the NEASIS&T monthly meetings and talks about what we’re doing with Simmons, but also brings back what they’re doing with NEASIS&T and how we can keep the bridge between the two of our organizations going. We’ve been having a lot of meet-ups lately where the NEASIS&T folks will meet up with the students of Simmons, and talk about what it’s like in their positions professionally, and what they’re doing, what kind of research, and how the students can fit into a eachot of what they’re doing professionally.
…we have been really fortunate with the people that we can bring to campus and get involved… To be able to exchange and interact with them face-to-face, it provides a unique experience that they will remember and take beyond their time as a student.
Adam: Definitely very cool stuff, and you guys are clearly staying very busy with all of this! It sounds like the kinds of speakers or discussions that happen are both bringing in the people who are doing the webinars virtually, through the webinars themselves, and also bring people in from the research and academic community, and the professional community, around Boston and Cambridge, right?
Anne: Oh definitely.
Linnea: We have had people from outside the New England area as well, but the Simmons SLIS alumni community is robust and very generous, so we are very lucky. Obviously all the Student Chapters do not have robust budgets to cover large expenses related to bringing in some of the more expensive speakers. I would say we really try to get people who are willing to donate their time, who do not require a fee, and will not need to be flown into Boston. But we have had non-local people who were in Boston for another conference, and it worked out that we were able to partner with them. When you think of the library and information science community it’s all about helping and supporting each other, and so I think because of that we really have benefitted. The alumni community of SLIS consistently wants to help out. So we have been really fortunate with the people that we can bring to campus and get involved, including a lot of the names that students have read about in books and articles or discussed in classes. To be able to exchange and interact with them face-to-face provides a unique experience that they will remember and take beyond their time as a student.
Adam: For sure, and any one and any way you can bring them in is great, and it sounds like you’re very active in doing that, which is great to hear!
Adam: What do you feel is the most important benefit a member of the Simmons Student Chapter receives by becoming involved in the chapter activities and engaging with the chapter?
Linnea: Well from my point of view, having gone through the SLIS program a number of years ago (graduated in 2004) and as an MBA student who just finished up in December 2014, I definitely see a huge value with the leadership aspect and the vast amount of opportunities that being involved opens up. If you are active on the board, and you are active in planning events, and working with potential speakers, and partnering with different student groups… these are solid experiences that students can add to their resume, things they can bring up in interviews; once they graduate, they can point to their involvement as a student group leader. I think for me when I am interviewing people, if I see they were active with event planning, or logistics surrounding related leadership or even student government activities, it helps when it comes down to whether they should be hired or not. If someone does not have as much professional work experience, but was active in a student leadership position, it could be supplemented for that. Which for me, not only is it a good experience from that perspective, but it benefits the students that are involved well beyond the time that they graduate. And the people that they meet during their time as a student leader, they will have those connections for the rest of their professional career, which I think is a huge opportunity, and one that I really feel is important.
Anne: I wanted to kind of piggyback on that. I really feel like it’s given me an opportunity to grow as a leader, just in the community alone. I work as a Fellow of the program, but I feel like this gave me a different opportunity, to represent my student population. And also engage with the community a bit more; since I’m pretty ingrained in SLIS itself, it’s nice to be able to meet the folks that we bring in as speakers, from New England, from all over the place. I don’t think I ever would have stepped up to even apply for the ASIS&T New Leaders award, if it hadn’t been for the opportunities that I’ve had in the Simmons Student Chapter.
I also think it’s a great networking opportunity, like Linnea was saying. I feel like the speakers that we’ve had have been great mentors to a lot of the students in the Student Chapter. We’ve had Michael Leach serve as a speaker for an event and also just to give advice to us, he’s been amazing; same with Naresh Agarwal, he’s been a fantastic supporter. And being able to tell us “oh, that was a great program, you should definitely do that again,” and to be there if we need anything; Linnea’s been there as a wonderful advisor, Candy Schwartz has been fantastic, she is often seen at our events on campus showing support. Having the strength in numbers that we have, the professionals we have associated with ASIS&T, has really given students an opportunity to see the field in a different light, what all these different professionals are doing research wise, and the opportunities they have once they get out of the master’s program. I definitely wouldn’t give it for anything in the world; it’s a great chapter!
Adam: Sure! And what benefits from the parent organization, from ASIS&T as a whole, do you feel most appeal to members of the student chapter?
I know safely, wherever I end up landing, there’ll be an ASIS&T member who will be there, willing to help mentor me in my professional years. Which is huge. I’ve never felt so comfortable with an association; they’re very welcoming…
Anne: I would say—I know this sounds a little repetitive, but—it gives an opportunity to further network with professionals outside the New England area. I know that once I’m done with Simmons—which is hopefully in seven days! [at the time of the interview]—I know it’s given me a lot of contacts in different areas, because I’m pretty much going to go where the jobs are, and so I know safely, wherever I end up landing, there’ll be an ASIS&T member who will be there, willing to help mentor me in my professional years. Which is huge. I’ve never felt so comfortable with an association; they’re very welcoming, they’re incredibly helpful when it comes to searching in the job market and getting adjusted in a new position. And as far as research goes, you couldn’t have better people to help guide you in what you need to do to get something published.
OK, so moving on from that, what online or social media venues—things like a web site or a Facebook group or Twitter feed—does the Simmons Student Chapter offer?
Linnea: All of the above! [laughter]
Anne: So we have a web site, we also use Facebook, Twitter, we started getting into Pinterest, we have a Flickr, we use EventBrite, and we use MailChimp for our mailings. Pretty much anything that people are using, we offer it. I think the only things we don’t have at this point are Google Plus and Tumblr. But it’s pretty likely that in the future we’ll end up there as well! [laughter] We like to embrace technology.
Adam: Sure. And what can members of the chapter find you posting in those venues?
Anne: We post anything that’s going on in the information science and technology field. We post jobs, we post events, we post pictures from our events, YouTube videos, any kind of resources they’ll find interesting, they go up. Anything we’ve got going on, anything the New England chapter’s got going on; you name it, we post it! [laughter]
Linnea: I think it gives us a lot of different platforms and places where we can not only publicize our own events, but also events that we are co-sponsoring with other student chapters at SLIS. And so for me that is an important piece, since some of the other student chapters are not as active in the social media landscape. Through us we can help them out, which I think is rewarding in that respect.
For me it is really important, especially with a chapter or professional organization that is so in tune with current technology and emerging technology trends, if you are not active in the different channels where your patrons or constituents are spending their time online, personally and professionally, it is not a good reflection on the chapter. If you are active in these different places it shows relevance and currency, and that is very valuable. If someone is not really into Twitter but they are really into Facebook, then they are not going to miss anything if they just check out our Facebook page since we have linked them; or if someone really is an active tweeter, then they can still get the information they need from our Twitter feed. But I think a lot of it is sort of walking the walk or talking the talk; we talk about these different tools, and here we are actually using them. It is an opportunity for us to say yes, we use them, not just to say that we are there, but that we use them thoughtfully and in ways that make sense and that are actually really genuine.
For me it is really important, especially with a chapter or professional organization that is so in tune with current technology and emerging technology trends, if you are not active in the different arenas where your patrons or constituents are spending their time online, personally and professionally, it is not a good reflection on the chapter.
Adam: Right. And part of my role as an ASIS&T Social Media Contributor is working with the SIGs and the Chapters, and part of that is in figuring out what are the really good Chapters and good SIGs that are doing this well, and to determine what practices are they using that can then perhaps be promoted more to other SIGs and Chapters that aren’t doing so well with social media or their own web sites. So it’s great to get that.
Linnea: For our web site, SLIS has our own WordPress MU installation on one of our servers, and we use that for our Simmons chapter web site. Libraries use WordPress more and more often as their main web site or presence, and so it provides a nice platform and a familiar one, as well.
Adam: What’s it like being an officer—or a member of the board, I think you described it as—with the chapter?
Anne: I would say it feels like being a part of something bigger than what it is. It’s being a part of a great community, and the boards I’ve always been involved with at Simmons have been incredibly welcoming. We’re very passionate about information science as well as technology, and so we always want to be sure we fuse the both of them together. I feel like being part of such a strong chapter to start with, it helps you build confidence as a leader, and makes you feel like, no matter how small a program’s attendance may be, that it’s still something that’s touching someone in the community, and as long as it still means something to someone, we will keep doing it.
It really came forward to me with our League of Extraordinary Coders. To come in on a Sunday and see 20 people sitting in the lab, waiting to go, like, “OK, I need help, let’s do this!” It really touched me to see that many people out, right after Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and saying “I really appreciate this help, thank you!” I mean, I’ve gotten thank you e-mails from some of the people who showed up on Sunday, as well as from our previous session of it, that said, “I can’t believe that we’ve got such a great community that’s helping us with our studies this way.” And I’ve also encouraged them to get into coding recreationally. So, being a part of a mentoring kind of group, it feels good, for sure.
Adam: So it’s hard work but it’s also very very rewarding, it sounds like.
Anne: Incredibly rewarding, yes. The work is hard, but it’s worth it in the end, I would say, every little bit.
Adam: And I’m sure you would certainly encourage others at Simmons to volunteer to help out, right?
Anne: Oh yeah, I already have! Since I’m leaving the board I’ve been encouraging a lot of folks in the community to step up and to look into ASIS&T as a home for them, as far as the student groups go. I feel that we’re in a good place as far as me leaving and seeing the new leadership come to the front.
Adam: And particularly—and obviously not everyone who reads this is going to be at Simmons, but for those who are at Simmons, how would they go about volunteering in the chapter, and are there particular areas you are looking for volunteers in?
Anne: They can definitely contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or also reach out to us on our social media platforms; we check those 24/7.
Collaborations and Continued Strength
Adam: You mentioned that you’ve collaborated with some other organizations around; you mentioned UXPA and a few others. Have you worked collaboratively with other student chapters or SIGs in the past?
Anne: With a lot of other organizations’ student chapters at Simmons, actually. We’ve worked with the American Library Association Student Chapter, the Special Libraries Association Student Chapter, the usability [UXPA] chapter, and we’ve worked with our parent organization, which is LISSA, the Library and Information Science Student Association. We try to interface with as many groups as possible, because we feel everybody can collaborate when it comes to information science and technology. We like seeing other organizations be able to spotlight themselves, as well as to help the community as much as we have.
Linnea: Yes. And I think especially because we have so many student groups at SLIS, with some being more active than others, and groups that people would not necessarily associate with technology or information science as part of their main vision. So we have worked with the SCoSAA, which is the archivists’ student group, we have worked with PLG, which is the Progressive Librarians Guild, we have worked with SCIRRT, which is the International Relations Roundtable group, which is part of ALA. These are groups that do not necessarily jump out as being super tech-focused, but I do not think it matters in that the synergies make sense, and it is a way to support each other.
As new groups are being developed it is a nice partnership to have, with a group that has just been established or groups that have been around for a number of years, to help each other out. I think part of it is that, as a new group is getting started, it does not make sense for them to be thrown out to the wolves and expected to figure out all these things on their own. If there is a strong relationship between some of the other more established groups, it provides a great a way that we can help get newbie groups more established and confident and comfortable, bringing in their own speakers, having their own successful events. And I think co-sponsoring is a great way to do that. It also takes some of the financial pressure off of one group and for it to be a shared expense among two groups, or even three or four, I think that it just gives the event a little more freedom to perhaps spend a little more on food, or have some tchotchkes or something that we give away. [laughter] It is things like that; it is the years of experience that come with doing things as we have been doing them, that allows us to help these new groups out. Or even some of the more established groups that have not really had active student leaders for the past couple of years; getting them reconnected with the community I think is really important.
Adam: And certainly your chapter is one of the more active ASIS&T Student Chapters out there; you’ve won the Student Chapter of the Year award multiple times, so congratulations on that! How would you say you maintain that activity as people like Anne, who are about to or have just graduated, and new students arrive in?
I think part of it, as a new group is getting started, it does not make sense for them to be thrown out to the wolves and expected to figure out all these things on their own.
Linnea: Well that is where I can use my day job a little bit, in that I really try to recruit, or gently encourage, some of my student staff members to consider getting involved by emphasizing it as an opportunity to gain leadership experience and become more involved with their community. Because my day-to-day activities are with a team that is already very interested in technology and information science, I have a group that I can go to with ideas, and see if people are interested in being a part of this. So for me, it is a nice way to also grow the student chapter, to help make sure that the people are involved are a kind of “known” quantity, in that the commitment, effort, and devotion to the group will be there. I feel fortunate that I have a team that I can go to even if, amongst the team, there are always some who are more interested than others.
With the SLIS community at large we have had changes over the past couple of years, and now the undergraduate computer science students are part of our school and we have a new online Information Science and Technology (IS&T) program. So I think we are doing a lot more with new technology spins and now have new students to bring into the mix. The people whom we can reach out and encourage to get involved, that pool is growing. For me, it is a great opportunity. Anne and I have worked together for two-and-a-half years while she was a Dean’s Fellow on my team. The student chapter is another way that we can work together and I think it strengthened our already solid relationship. So it provides another way I can engage with my team, which adds to the richness or dimension of the experience.
Anne: One of the other things that I’ve been making sure to do, and it’s something I talked about when I talked on the leadership panel at the last ASIS&T conference, is that I’ve had an exit strategy. And really a part of that is, we’re actually having a meeting today, my final meeting, and we’ve been discussing spring planning. So one of the things I wanted to be sure was done before I was even out was that spring was completely taken care of. So with our remaining board members I wanted to make sure we laid out a complete plan, with dates and placeholders for every single thing that was going to happen in the next semester. So it will be completely easy for them to take care of it without having me around [laughs]. And that’s something I think is really important for a lot of student groups to do, is to have a transition.
Adam: Yes, definitely.
Anne: One of the things that I pride myself on is, when I came in, I didn’t have many resources from the previous board. So since I started, I’ve been making a huge Google folder for our board that includes everything from budgeting to programming to flyers that we’ve done in the past, icons, anything that we’ve used for marketing purposes and beyond, the whole nine yards, can be found in this set of folders. I wanted to make sure when I left this group it would be left in a good place, and that they wouldn’t have to worry about not knowing what’s happened prior to them. I think that’s important for a lot of student groups to do, to really look at what’s going to be happening with their board and how they can plan a better transition for newer members. That way you can keep the chapter strong throughout transitions, graduations, people leaving, that sort of thing.
Adam: Definitely. So it sounds like both of you have done and are doing a great job in ensuring those transitions go smoothly, and that’s definitely great to hear.
”Choose Your Own Adventure”
Adam: Just one last question now: If your chapter was a book chapter, which book would we find it in?
Linnea: That’s a great question! The first book that comes to mind, and Anne’s going to laugh, is Neil Patrick Harris’s book (Choose Your Own Autobiography) [all laugh]; it is an old school choose your own adventure type book. Being a student leader is all about having ideas and actually bringing them to fruition. I see my role as an advisory partner where we can bounce ideas off each other, but I think it is really driven by the passion and excitement of the student leaders themselves, and so it really is like a choose your own adventure in that, ideas that they have they can actually make happen. I mean, it is sort of a cheesy response, but that is the first thing that comes to mind.
…it really is a choose your own adventure. Every day you are flipping a page and you don’t know what you are going to face, but in the end you hope you don’t end up in the dungeon, or…
Anne: I was going to say the same thing; that’s why I was laughing really hard! Because each board, basically, is choosing their own adventure. From what I’ve seen in the last couple of years, prior to my two years, each board has taken things differently and done different programming. And each have been good avenues for each board, and I think that continuing on, it’s really up to the board to choose their own way to apply ASIS&T to Simmons and to the community at large. And so I know it’s cheesy, but yeah, it really is a choose your own adventure. Every day you are flipping a page and you don’t know what you’re going to face, but [laughs] in the end you hope you don’t end up in the dungeon… [all laugh]
Adam: Right! So thank you both, certainly, for the interview!
Linnea: This was a great conversation, thanks for inviting us to chat with you!
Anne: Yeah, we really appreciate it!
Thanks again to the Simmons ASIS&T Student Chapter and to Linnea and Anne for being willing to take part in this interview! If this post has raised your interest in the Simmons chapter or in ASIS&T’s other student chapters and their activities, we encourage you to engage with us in the comment section below; to check out the Simmons Student Chapter’s web site and social media venues (linked above and on their site); or to e-mail the chapter for more. We also, as always, welcome your feedback and thoughts on our “Get To Know” series via the comments.