Strengthening Our Ties: The Louisiana Library Association Reinvigorates its New Members Round Table (and Vice Versa!)
by Rebecca K. Miller
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the profession of librarianship will see a national growth of 8% between 2008 and 2018; the recruitment of quality professionals, and their subsequent success within the profession, is crucial for the future of librarianship (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2008). Recently, the library community has focused on the roles of networking, professional associations, and mentoring relationships in the recruitment, retention, and success of new and emerging information professionals. With research that supports this idea, Donald Frank underscores the benefits of professional associations, describing how membership and participation in professional organizations improve a librarian's knowledge base, opportunities to advance, and general success and satisfaction within the profession (1997). In addition to the benefits that professional organizations bring to new professionals, the relationship is actually mutually beneficial; professional organizations also profit from the involvement of new members. In their article published in C&RL News, Jeffrey Bullington and Susanna Boylston describe ACRL's New Member Mentoring Program, a program that participant Stephen Stillwell says highlights the need for a constant supply of new blood and fresh ideas within any professional organization (2001, para. 5). Regardless of specific organizations or programs, it is undeniable that new members bring an enthusiasm and verve to professional organizations. Moreover, new members likely bring new knowledge and perspectives to librarianship, keeping the profession relevant in an ever-changing information landscape. In more ways than one, new members essentially provide the life-blood of professional librarianship.
Frank writes that "if the associations are going to continue to provide opportunities to learn and to participate actively, they must be responsive to their members" (1997, n.p.). Frank continues, arguing that "to be relevant in the future, associations must focus on Krenewal" (1997, n.p.). For this reason, it is especially significant that the Louisiana Library Association (LLA) responded when it became clear that new and emerging professionals in the state of Louisiana needed nurturing. Resurrecting its state-level New Members Round Table in 2009, LLA is actively pursuing the necessary steps toward cultivating its newest and future librarians, also ensuring the continued health of the organization and profession. The following information outlines the history of new members within the Louisiana Library Association and the future plans and goals of the new Louisiana New Members Round Table.
New Members and LouisianaIn the state of Louisiana, the recruitment and retention of new librarians is especially significant, since employment in the profession of librarianship is projected to grow 12% by 2016 (Louisiana Department of Labor, 2008). Add to this statistic Louisiana's lower-than-national median wage, and Louisiana quickly has a real incentive to ensure the success of its new and emerging librarians within the state (Louisiana Occupational Wage Data, 2008; Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2008). Fortunately, Louisiana has been proactive in recruiting new members of the information profession. Endeavors like Project Recovery, an IMLS-funded program that will recruit and educate 30 new librarians for employment in Southern Louisiana libraries, demonstrate the dedication of Louisiana's library community to ensuring its future (Louisiana State University School of Library and Information Science, 2009, n.p.). Once recruited, though, these new librarians will face the daily professional challenges that come with librarianship. As the state-level professional organization, the Louisiana Library Association exists to keep members of the profession informed to encourage and promote scholarship; and to continue to provide high quality library services" (Louisiana Library Association, 2009, n.p.). With this mission, LLA plays a large role in the retention of librarians specifically recruited to serve the communities of Louisiana.
As early as 1909, Louisiana librarians were gathering to support each other and promote their interests within the state (Owen and Hill, 2003, p. 1). By 1925, a constitution and by-laws were adopted, and the Louisiana Library Association officially existed. It took ten years for the first "new members" group to be established after this point. Iin April of 1935, a Junior Members Round Table was organized for the purpose of serving the professional and social needs of the younger members of the Louisiana Library Association (Spooner, 2003, p. 169). This group went through periods of activity and dormancy until 1980, when the group changed its name to New Members Round Table (NMRT) and began hosting new member orientations at the Louisiana Library Association's annual conference. Unfortunately, the LLA NMRT was disbanded in 2001 because of a perceived lack of interest and participation. In 2009, however, a convergence of events led to the reinvigoration of the LLA New Members Round Table, a group that is now well on its way to providing support, social networking, and continuing education to the life-blood of Louisiana's libraries: its new and future information professionals.
Resurrecting the New Members Round Table
As a new librarian straight from graduate school in North Carolina, I moved to Louisiana to begin my first professional position at Louisiana State University (LSU) in 2008. Immediately, I began searching for a professional community to support me in my new surroundings. Although I had been a member of ALA and ALA-NMRT for several years, I wanted to join a local community of support that would be able to understand the specific questions, problems, and needs that I would face in Louisiana. I became a member of the Louisiana Library Association and was disappointed to discover that LLA did not have a group specifically for new members. After reviewing the information on the LLA website and asking a few of my LSU colleagues about the nonexistence of a state-level New Members Round Table, I decided that it would be my mission to resurrect the group.
First, I emailed the then- President of LLA Melissa Hymel, Director of Pointe Coupee Parish Library, to ask about the process for starting a new interest group within LLA. She responded enthusiastically, describing a process that included filling out paperwork denoting the interest group's purpose, gaining a petition of at least twelve names, and then submitting it all for the Executive Board's approval (Louisiana Library Association, 2006, p. 108-109). In order to attain the twelve names for the petition, I sent an email to the general LLA membership, asking for support for the group; the response was nearly overwhelming. I quickly received the necessary twelve names, and more responses came rolling in after that. One response in particular caught my eye: Stephanie Wilkes, YA Coordinator of Ouachita Parish Library, wrote that she had noticed the need for a new members group, and had even discussed it with others (S. Wilkes, personal communication, April 7, 2009). Stephanie and I became co-coordinators of the effort to revive LLA's New Members Round Table, and in July 2009, the interest group was officially recognized by LLA's Executive Board.
As co-coordinators of the LLA's New Members Round Table, Stephanie and I immediately set up avenues of communication for the group. We quickly set up a wiki to house group updates, announcements about upcoming events, and helpful resources for new or future information professionals. Additionally, we developed a Facebook group, LLA New Members Round Table, to connect interested members. Developing a Google group was also discussed, but ultimately rejected, since we had created a strong online presence already and wanted to focus our attention on those projects.
LLA's activities revolve heavily around its annual meeting; this is when members communicate the most and when LLA-related groups complete many of their annual goals. For this reason, it was extremely important that the New Members Round Table have a strong presence at the 2010 LLA Conference in March 2010. As co-coordinators, Stephanie and I worked to ensure that the New Members Interest Group would have the publicity, programming, and social components that would ensure its continued development within the Association.
New Members Round Table at LLA Conference
Between July 2009 and March 2010, Stephanie and I spent many hours brainstorming over the phone and through email. Ultimately, we decided to focus on three areas of growth for NMRT during the LLA conference: (1) making sure we had a presence in the conference Exhibit Hall, (2) putting together a substantial social and business meeting, and (3) offering at least one program for new members during the concurrent sessions. With funds that provided by the LLA Executive Board, we were able to purchase a booth in the Exhibit Hall, sharing with the LLA Diversity Interest Group. To publicize NMRT, we decorated a tri-fold presentation board with information about the group, its goals and plans, and an opportunity to sign up for our mailing list. Of course, we also offered candy. We decided to schedule the NMRT business meeting/social on the first day of the conference, so that it could serve as a sort of conference orientation in addition to offering interested LLA members their first opportunity to become involved with the group. Detel Wireless, a local business, agreed to sponsor the business meeting/social with $1000, which allowed us to cater a full lunch, free to all participants. Finally, Stephanie and I developed a 45-minute presentation for the conference entitled "Professional Development for the Underfunded Library Staff Member," hoping to reach new members, in addition to other LLA members looking for new ways to continue their education in an environment of financial restraint.
During the 2010 LLA conference, 13 additional new members listed their contact information on the sign-up sheet at the NMRT exhibit booth. Likewise, the NMRT social/business meeting attracted more than 25 attendees who ate a delicious lunch and participated in small-group brainstorming sessions that established considerable future endeavors for the group. Finally, the program endorsed by NMRT, "Professional Development for the Underfunded Library Staff Member," was one of the best-attended sessions during the three-day conference, gathering over 65 attendees, some of whom had to sit in the aisles and on the windowsills. Overall, the 2010 LLA conference was the perfect launching pad for the new New Members Round Table, and established the group as one of vital importance for the future of the Louisiana Library Association.
NMRT Future Endeavors
While still in the development phase, LLA's NMRT is exercising a pretty loose membership plan. As an interest group within LLA, official membership in the group costs $3 in addition to the regular membership fees for LLA. During the 2010 LLA Conference, attendees who were not "official" NMRT members were allowed to attend the NMRT social/business meeting and receive information via the NMRT mailing list. However, to secure funds in the future, LLA's NMRT will encourage interested members to pay the small fee and become official members of the group.
During the conference business meeting/social, attendees were vocal about several specific needs among Louisiana's new and emerging information professionals. Above all, attendees were interested in establishing better and more consistent communication among new members. Ideas discussed included more use of the LLA NMRT listserv, creating a discussion board, and using Skype or another type of videoconferencing system. Attendees also agreed that LLA's NMRT group would benefit from occasional in-person meetings, such as networking dinners or day-long professional development sessions around the state. Other ideas that were discussed during the brainstorming portion of the LLA NMRT business meeting included setting up some sort of mentoring system, encouraging new members to become more involved on LLA committees and within LLA leadership, and working toward LLA NMRT offering an annual "Young Professional" award. As of the writing of this article, the discussion board feature on LLA NMRT's Facebook group page has been used by several members to discuss the needs of the group, and to pass on information about various awards and grants. The LLA NMRT listserv is still in development, and the LLA NMRT co-coordinators are busily planning the ways that new members can connect with each other before LLA's 2011 conference in Lafayette, Louisiana.
The Louisiana Library Association New Members Round Table has a long way to go; however, the energetic coordinators and members are hopeful about its long-term survival and success. Indeed, this group's success is vital to the overall success of the Louisiana Library Association. As we continue to work toward actively involving new and emerging Louisiana librarians within the profession, we strive to enact the mission of the Louisiana Library Association: we will bring new zeal to LLA's support of "instruction, research, self-education, and pleasure reading in order that the citizens of Louisiana may be well-informed and able to achieve self-development" (Louisiana Library Association, 2009, n.p.).