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The direction of state school library organizations

The graphic above is the front page of a reboot of the ITEM (Information and Technology Educators of Minnesota) newsletter. It's a members-only publication, I'm afraid, so I can't link to the whole thing - but trust me, both in layout and content it is a class act.

For quite awhile now, our little state organization has been struggling. Membership is low, conference attendance had dropped, involvement in lobbying efforts is not great. We had good leadership, many dedicated workers, a reliable executive secretary, and good communications efforts (including a focused use of social media), and yet we don't seem to be growing. 

This is heartbreaking to me. I joined the organization (then MEMO) in 1989, my first year teaching in Minnesota. Over the years, I served as president, newsletter editor, intellectual freedom chair, legislative chair, standards writing committee member, and conference chair. The relationships I developed, the skills I had the opportunity to practice, and the learnings I acquired were outstanding. Both my professional and personal lives were made richer because of MEMO/ITEM.

This Saturday the new president of the organization is holding a day-long "visioning" meeting with a small group of ITEM members. My sense is that I was allowed to attend to perhaps provide a historical perspective. The profession is in a different place than it was in 1989 when I joined. It is in a different place that it was, of course, when MEMO was established in the late 60s (if I remember correctly) by merging the state's school library organization with its "AV Coordinators" group. Given the continuing impact of technology on the field and on education in general, a new vision is needed - if not overdue.

The trick, I believe, will be in differentiating ourselves from other professional organizations, yet meeting the needs of a broad number of educators and librarians. Can we grow our numbers even as the number of library media specialists seems to be decreasing? Do we combine with other groups - public librarians or technologists? Can we reengage our university library education programs? How do we get our message out, how do we influence policy makers, how do increase our value to those who pay our dues? 

Any lessons learned from your professional organizations, Blue Skunk readers? On Saturday, I'd like to be more than just the cranky old guy in the back of the room who says 'We tried that back in my day and it didn't work."

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Reader Comments (5)

For several years the Connecticut Association of School Librarians (CASL) & the Connecticut Educators Computer Association (CECA) have held a joint annual conference which has been beneficial to both organizations. The format of the conference has also evolved to better meet the needs of Connecticut educators. Here is the link to the 2018 conference to give you an idea of what it looks like: In the spring, CASL also hosts an Unconference. Here is a link to the 2018 program:

Hope this helps.

January 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJeri Van Leer

I have read in a variety of forums that millennials are not joiners - they expect resources for free (just google it, they think). I wonder if member organizations can do enough to bring in that next generation and convert them to members.

January 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJean Tower

I've been a school librarian in Montana for 25+ years. At the beginning of my career, I was a member or my state and local organizations, but the gatherings and events were heavily weighted toward the public library. The organizations seemed to have little or nothing to do with my work in the elementary schools ( in fact, there was a certain disdain for my career choice). As a result, I have had very little to do with my locals. Yes, I feel bad about it. Yes, I realize I could have joined and worked my ass off to encourage change.

January 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMichele Nokleby

Hi Jeri,

Thanks so much for your suggestion. I believe this is an avenue we need to explore - a combine tech or public library conference. It gets tricky when discussing finances since conferences tend to be primary revenue generators for organizations.

All the best,


Hi Jean,

I think you are on to something. I also think virtual learning opportunities, especially via social media are more appealing. It might also be that this group had financial burdens that make dues and conference fees problematic.

Appreciate the comment,


Hi Michele,

I have often felt this way with ALA as well. I've called school librarians the red-headed stepchild of the profession. It does indeed take strong internal member willing to fight for an equal place for school librarians in larger organizations. The ISTE library group has done a good job of this.

Thanks for the comment,


January 9, 2019 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Doug, I just want to say thanks for the newsletter shout out. We work hard on it and your opinion means a lot. -Marie

January 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMarie

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