Discussion: Obstacles to Participation in ARLIS

ArLiSNAP meeting at ARLIS/NA Annual Conference 2007Dear ArLiSNAPers,

In the course of recent conversations with colleagues, I have been thinking about the variety of reasons that students and new professionals don’t volunteer more. With conference season upon us, there are ample opportunities to become involved – from volunteering in the exhibition hall, to recording individual sessions, to accepting elected & appointed chapter positions.

So, I’m curious – what is holding you back from volunteering within ARLIS?
  • Unclear understanding of position responsibilities.
  • Lack of sufficient funding.
  • Lack of time.
  • Lack of supervisor approval.
  • Geographic location.
  • Other –

If you are already involved in volunteering, think back to the time when you weren’t – what held you back?

While I know that many within our group are already involved different capacities,

how could we encourage more active participation at the ARLIS/NA level as well as at the chapter level?

Please respond below with comments. We want to hear your thoughts!

Photo used under the Creative Commons license. Attribution of the original photo is to Bryan Loar.


  1. I’m definitely involved now, but looking back I can remember why I was slow to join up. It came down to the following, I think:

    1) No employer buy-in/approval. I was still working on getting into the art library field, so I didn’t have financial support or any kind of mentoring support from the higher-ups at my institution. (Or so I thought. Turned out that they were happy to give me administrative leave, but I had to work up the nerve to ASK).

    2) I felt like an outsider. I didn’t work in an art library at the moment, so I didn’t think that people would want my input. Also, I felt like because I wasn’t engaged with the daily tasks of an art librarian that I might inadvertently say something “stupid”…

    3) Lack of time. I wasn’t really familiar with what/how much I’d be asked to take on, and I was afraid of getting in over my head an failing at my commitments.

    How did I get over this? I raised my hand, just once, at the DC-MD-VA chapter meeting. Next thing I knew, I was co-editing the newsletter. Doing that helped me to feel like part of the organization, and broke down a lot of the (imaginary?) walls that had kept me from stepping forward in other ways. It also helped me find friends in ARLIS that introduced me to other people and made going to my first ARLIS/NA conference (in Banff) much less intimidating. Eventually, I got involved in tons of other things… so much that I find myself turning down opportunities now because I just can’t fit it all in!

    My advice to those of you out there who feel like you’re looking in from the outside… Raise your hand. Email someone on this list (or respond to a post) and ask how you can help. Everyone loves free labor! If you’re still uncertain, start with something that seems within your comfort level, like editing a newsletter, or writing a column for the newsletter from a student’s perspective, or signing up to record a conference session. Once you meet a few folks, you’ll find its not so intimidating after all!

    And as to how we encourage others to get involved, I think we need to bring a lot of things out into the open and be more transparent as an organization. Most people aren’t aware of all the sub-committees that get formed within the ARLIS Divisions, or even within their local chapters. These committees tend to be formed at conference (where only a small percentage of the chapter attends). Even conference sessions rarely put out a call for papers, instead relying on pre-determined speakers. I think the entire organization would benefit by creating more opportunities for people to volunteer and share their time/knowledge/skills. (Which is part of the reason that I love the transparency that ArLiSNAP give to the activities of this group.)

    Whew. Longest. Response. Ever.

  2. Carter, thanks for opening up a dialogue & great response Cooper.

    I think it is difficult, especially for students, to afford the volunteer opportunities available at national conferences. However, much of what ArLiSNAP does is not tied to physical geography.

    I think sometimes people just need a starting point–something they can build off of.

    It would be great to develop some media that demonstrates how easy, convenient, and empowering volunteering for activities and roles within ArLiSNAP and ARLIS/NA can be. I think ArLiSNAP has a real opportunity to partner with other committees within ARLIS/NA (like Membership), and I believe there is an opportunity to demonstrate how ArLiSNAP and ARLIS/NA add value to the lives of librarians.

    Besides media, I think ArLiSNAP has a real opportunity to have liaisons within their perspective regions. Having someone speak about ArLiSNAP at chapter meetings as well as being able to speak to any GLIS programs within their locality could definitely foster the type of atmosphere for greater participation.

    Again, I’d just reiterate that we really need to show to the prospective volunteer that volunteering can be easy to do as well as personally & professionally rewarding.

  3. Honestly guys, I’ve been thinking about this for a while and plan to bring it up with the PDC at our meeting, but I think ArLiSNAP needs to be an official part of ARLIS. Right now, it has no official standing, hence no tie to the “mother ship.” It’s that crazy thing the kids are doing, and this site/blog is watched but not engaged with by the membership at large. There’s mutual benefits here–ArLiSNAP could get money, better connections to the board/committees and serve to INFORM a range of committees/sections/divisions that are already there and badly need a kick. And I have worries about any systematic outreach approaches to the library programs and satellite groups out there.

    Over the past few years, ArLiSNAP has 1. done conference planning 2. brought web 2.0 and other technologies to the forefront in ARLIS 3. brought students together in a virtual community. These are huge things, but how can a few folks do more? Also, staying autonomous means will always only be re-inventing the wheel (having to do all things that ARLIS does, but just for the student and not connecting the student to the larger organization.

    You don’t have to accept the designation of Roundtable or Discussion group. Make the board recognize this for what it is, an empowering/ed group that can work across committees/divisions/sections for the student and young professional. For instance, be the voice and charge Professional Development or Education to work on the whole “speaker’s bureau” idea–having ready speakers to go to library schools w/o art librarians. Charge the board to have better connections with the chapters. And charge ARLIS members themselves, to find new ways to engage with new members and new ways to communicate through technology. If you have tried to do anything technology related in an official capacity with ARLIS, you will find yourself head-banging quickly. And this is a common complaint among it’s members. maybe this can change? Pull funding from the ARLIS group for websites and other necessities instead of paying out of pocket, as we have seen ArLiSNAP members do to keep this site up.

    In forming the Student Affairs Discussion Group (2004) which became Arlisnap, it was my intention to petition to be a bigger entity within a year. I had let that go to see what ArLiSNAP would do. I think it’s really time to come back to that, because while there is great flexibility in autonomy, outreach to and for students in an official group is happening at an unofficial level.

    Sarah F.

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