Recruiting the Next Generation of News Librarians

I wrote that I’d blog Amy Disch’s article Recruiting the Next Generation of News Librarians (.pdf) on pages 9 and 17 of the Spring 2004 issue of News Library News, so here it is.

I feel like I’m repeating things I’ve written before in this post, so bear with me if you remembering reading what I write.

First of all, I think anyone who’s a news librarian who wants to spread the word about our profession should read Amy’s article. Yes, it’s that important and it’s that good. Amy presents some really good ideas about attracting others to what we do. And I’m not just praising her because she reads my blog, either. She writes about a serious problem.

Back in the days when I was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison–the same school Amy’s at, I had the problem she identifies in her article. I knew nothing about special librarianship until I got to library school. I got a job as a news librarian at the university to pay my way through school. Until then, I hadn’t heard about news libraries or librarianship even though I had been working in libraries for seven years. That was my introduction to news librarianship. Since I had that job, many of my classmates learned about news librarianship because they heard me talking about my work.

After pussy-footing around for about a year, I slowly started realizing I really liked the work and it suited me very well, so I stayed with it. I’m not exactly sure how I would have learned about news librarianship had I not had that job, but I have a feeling I would have learned about it through Ron Larson.

The Special Libraries Association student chapter was pretty active when I was there, too. In fact, I hadn’t really thought about getting involved with them, but two students kept nagging me about it (M? and WK), so I went to some of their meetings and events and got involved. I was pretty stuck on either being an academic librarian or doing something with computers (how vague is that?). I wasn’t really that open to special librarianship when I started school.

Through that student chapter, I toured the library Amy and Ron work at in theWisconsin State Journal and Capital Times–competing newspapers with a shared library. About a year or so later, the SLA student chapter hooked me up with Ron as a mentor. He is a great person to have as a mentor. Having a mentor was really important to me; it let me learn what “real” news librarianship was all about. (What I was doing in the university news office was such a niche thing, I was preparing myself to take another news librarian position. I didn’t think I’d find a similar job.) To me, learning from real professionals is very important. It added greatly to my education. I’m a practical learner, so I appreciate learning from practitioners.

The interaction with real professionals was very key to me. I was lucky to have the opportunity to meet many different kinds of librarians while I was in library school. I appreciate the time these people took from their schedules to spend with us students. Even talking to disgruntled librarians or those people with jobs I decided I didn’t like was valuable. That’s one reason why I do some of the things I do today. I’m not saying this to brag; I’m just saying this to illustrate what Amy writes about. Each year that I’ve been a “real” working professional, I’ve participated in my SLA chapter’s day on the job program. I’ve hosted more than ten students, many of whom hadn’t heard of news librarianship until seeing my job on a list of potential sites for their day on the job activity.

I’ve let several library/information science professors know I’m available to speak to their classes. No one’s given me the opportunity to speak, though. I’ve spoken to a coworkers’ journalism class several times and introduced his students to news librarianship while teaching them how to do research. I think it’s important to reach beyond library/information science students. Many news librarians got their starts as journalists. If journalists don’t know it’s a career that’s open to them as well, we’re missing another great marketing opportunity for our profession.

Many of my local news librarian colleagues are just as or more involved with students. But Amy’s right: many news librarians aren’t. How can we establish better ties with library/information science and journalism schools? How can we use those connections to promote our profession?

Thinking of these issues makes me remember that post a student interested in news librarianship sent to Newslib a few months ago. She wrote about a professor who was discouraging her from going into news librarianship because of a turbulent job market and a lack of jobs. Yes, things are grim, but I can’t help wondering how much the professor knew about news librarianship and what her/his response would have been had s/he been better connected to news librarians.

We’re everywhere. It shouldn’t be too difficult for us to establish relationships with schools all over the country and world. Yes, it takes a little bit of time, but how involved we get is up to us. We can host one student once a year for a day on the job and it could make a big difference to someone’s career or we can become a mentor to a student and establish a stronger relationship that takes more time.

Incidentally, Debra Bade, whom Amy met at a tour of the Chicago Tribune (of which, I’m insanely jealous) is also a UW-Madison alumna.

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