Editors of the recent Library Trends double issue devoted to workforce issues in library and information science describe librarianship as “an aging and diversifying workforce.”1 It seems that, regardless of the current economic crisis, the recruitment of quality, diverse professionals and their subsequent success within the profession remains critical for the future of librarianship within the state of Virginia. Nationally, the library community has responded to this need to recruit and retain new information professionals by focusing on the importance of networking, professional associations, and mentoring relationships. Although we have a thriving state-level library association and many passionate library and information professionals in the Commonwealth of Virginia, we have not had a designated space and support system for new library professionals since 2004, when the Virginia Library Association (VLA) New Members Forum dissolved.2 In light of current workforce issues and emerging labor trends, the need for a state-level new members group within the Virginia Library Association becomes clear. This essay will briefly review the many benefits of a state-level New Members Round Table (NMRT) and the efforts leading to the recent, official formation of the VLA NMRT Forum, a group established specifically for Virginia librarians or library school students with ten or fewer years of professional experience.
Library school students and all types of new information professionals within the Commonwealth of Virginia will be able to benefit from a professional organization devoted to their unique needs. Although Virginia does not have any residential, ALA-accredited graduate school programs for library or information science, over twenty ALA-accredited distance programs are available to Virginia residents.3 This means that Virginia is home to many students enrolled and succeeding in distance education MLS, MIS, and MLIS programs; these students need a professional support network that will introduce them to the profession, encourage them to serve within professional organizations, and structure formal opportunities for networking and exploring local library issues.
Once students graduate from library school programs and begin their first professional experiences, research shows that many new library professionals become frustrated with “bureaucratic brick walls and resistance to new ideas.”4 Although many new librarians come to their first jobs “bright-eyed and eager,” they quickly become disillusioned as their idealism for libraries dissolves, “along with their enthusiasm and new ideas.”5 While new professionals in any occupation may become disillusioned because of bureaucracy, embedded organizational cultures, or economic and financial constraints, we in librarianship should proactively address these and other issues and work hard to provide support systems for new librarians so that we have enough quality information professionals to meet the growing need for librarians. Virginia has addressed this need head-on by creating a space for both library school students and new professionals within VLA. This is supported through research, which underscores the benefits of professional associations; this research also emphasizes that membership and participation in professional organizations improve a librarian’s knowledge base, opportunities to advance, and most important, overall success and satisfaction within the profession.6
The relationship between new and emerging professionals and professional organizations remains a reciprocal one. In addition to the benefits that new professionals receive from professional organizations, these groups also profit from the involvement of new members. In an 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.7 Regardless of specific organizations or programs, it is undeniable that new members bring an enthusiasm and verve to professional organizations. Library researcher Donald 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” and that “to be relevant in the future, associations must focus on renewal,” a process easily facilitated through new librarians and the perspectives that they bring with them.8 In a piece for American Libraries, librarian Jen Waller even coins the term jaybrarian, derived from the early twentieth century term “jay” that was used to describe newcomers unfamiliar with urban or sophisticated environments, in order to describe newly graduated LIS students.9 Waller writes that “jaybrarians” are often “full of optimism and enthusiasm, all polished and shiny, eager to take their place in the library world,” and that these newcomers see the library world differently, often offering valuable ideas for improvement and change.10
In addition to bringing new perspectives to librarianship, new members bring current knowledge and competencies to librarianship, keeping the profession relevant in an ever-changing information landscape. Recent research revolving around core competencies for librarians in a Web 2.0 world have identified characteristics such as embracing Web 2.0 and social media tools, trend-spotting, and reimagining library services as a part of this environment.11 Library school students and new librarians stand ready to bring their recently acquired knowledge about cutting-edge library trends and technology to the libraries and professional organizations of which they are a part. While new librarians have much to gain from their wiser and more experienced counterparts, they also have much to share with them. New members groups like the VLA NMRT Forum emphasize the importance of taking advantage of this mutually beneficial relationship between newer and more experienced library professionals, bringing together ideas and knowledge that work to form a balanced, relevant body of professionals.
In more ways than one, new members essentially provide the lifeblood of professional librarianship and remain poised to make many significant contributions to the library workforce in the Commonwealth of Virginia. By providing new and emerging Virginia librarians with a support system and a channel for making these professional contributions, the VLA NMRT Forum essentially facilitates overall enhancements to the Virginia Library Association, growing the membership and increasing the quality of programming and other professional development opportunities.
New librarians in the Commonwealth of Virginia began the petition to create VLA NMRT as a VLA forum early in 2011. VLA NMRT Forum coordinators Rebecca Miller of Virginia Tech and Megan Hodge of Randolph-Macon College identified a general purpose and seven specific goals for the group. Modeled after the American Library Association New Members Round Table’s mission, the forum’s general purpose is “to help new and emerging information professionals become actively involved in the Virginia Library Association and the larger professional committee.” The forum’s seven specific goals include initiatives to:
The petition to officially form the VLA NMRT Forum garnered a total of thirty-six signatures from interested and potential VLA members, nearly double the twenty signatures required for an interest group petition.12 On May 16, 2011, the Virginia Library Association Executive Committee officially approved the formation of the VLA NMRT Forum, effective immediately. Megan Hodge is currently serving as chair until the forum can meet to elect leadership; to start with, Hodge and other group coordinators have many ideas for programming, events, and resources. Some of these ideas include special programming and social gatherings at the Virginia Library Association 2011 Conference in Portsmouth, gatherings during ALA conferences, structured mentoring programs, a group-authored blog for new professionals, awards for new Virginia librarians, and support for new members interested in pursuing various types of leadership positions. Be sure to stay tuned for more details about events and activities taking place during the Virginia Library Association 2011 Conference: group coordinators have established a blog to communicate information about the forum’s news and events to interested VLA members. The blog is accessible at http://vlanmrt.wordpress.com. If you or someone you know is interested in becoming involved with this group, please visit the blog and leave a comment. Alternatively, you can contact either of the group’s two coordinators: Rebecca Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Megan Hodge (email@example.com).
Now an official VLA forum, the Virginia Library Association’s New Members Round Table has a long way to go; however, the energetic coordinators are hopeful about its long-term survival and success. Indeed, this group’s success is vital to the overall success of the Virginia Library Association. As we continue to work toward actively involving new and emerging Virginia librarians within the profession of librarianship, we strive to enact the mission of the Virginia Library Association: we will bring new zeal to VLA’s mission to “improve library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to advance literacy and learning and to ensure access to information in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”13
Special thanks to Megan Hodge, current VLA NMRT Forum chair, for offering creative input and editorial assistance and for securing permission to reprint the Unshelved comic strip image.
1. Joanne Gard Marshall and others, “Introduction: Workforce Issues in Library and Information Science, Part 2,” Library Trends 59(2010): 1.
2. Virginia Library Association, Manual and Bylaws, 2011 Revision (Virginia: Virginia Library Association, 2011), http://www.vla.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Manual-Jan-2011.pdf.
3. Virginia Library Association Continuing Education Committee, “Thinking of Getting Your MLS/MLIS?,” Virginia Library Association, April 8, 2011, http://www.vla.org/?p=3420.
4. Ria Newhouse and April Spisak, “Fixing the First Job,” Library Journal 129 (2004): 44.
5. Ibid., 45.
6. Donald Frank, “Activity in Professional Organizations: The Positive Difference in a Librarian’s Career,” Library Trends 46 (1997): 307–319.
7. Jeffrey S. Bullington and Susanna D. Boylston, “Strengthening the Profession, Assuring Our Future: ACRL’s New Member Mentoring Program Pairs Library Leaders with New Professionals,” C&RL News 62 (2001), http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/acrl/publications/crlnews/2001/apr/strengthening.cfm.
8. Donald Frank, “Activity in Professional Organizations: The Positive Difference in a Librarian’s Career,” Library Trends 46 (1997): 307–319.
9. Jen Waller, “Consider the Jaybrarian,” American Libraries 39 (2008): 55.
11. Helen Partridge, Julie Lee, and Carrie Munro, “Becoming ‘Librarian 2.0’: The Skills, Knowledge, and Attributes Required by Library and Information Science Professionals in a Web 2.0 World (and Beyond),” Library Trends 59(2010): 315–335.
12. Virginia Library Association, Manual and Bylaws, 2011 Revision (Virginia: Virginia Library Association, 2011), http://www.vla.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Manual-Jan-2011.pdf.
13. Virginia Library Association, “About Us,” Virginia Library Association, 2011, http://www.vla.org/?page_id=3780.