by Rino Landa
Mention a “backstage pass” and you might envision yourself walking behind a chaotic stage being primed with smoke machines and pyrotechnics by a bustling crew. Yet, not all backstage passes provide such a predictable experience. While there were no fireworks or craft food tables during a backstage tour of the Selby Library in Sarasota, Florida, there were plenty of heavy-duty machines, walls filled with music, and many rock star librarians.
Our backstage pass was provided by participating in one of the first SOLIS Regional Meetings. Planned as an informal get-together, the Sarasota-Manatee Regional Meeting took place in the heart of downtown Sarasota with the goal of bringing local MLIS students together to share our experiences about the USF program, recount professional stories (some horror), network, and just have fun. The saying “the best of college learning might be outside the classroom” rings true when you have opportunity to learn from peers that share the same joys and pains of being a library science graduate student. You will be hard pressed to find course recommendations, volunteer opportunities, assignment discussions, and links to professional contacts in a virtual classroom, however, these were in abundance at our Regional Meeting – talking in person still trumps a chat screen.
Of course, there is also no way of going backstage in the virtual world. However, after getting to know everyone who attended the meeting, it was time to go backstage. Our guide was Marilyn Nykiforuk, Assistant Manager for Selby Library, who not only gave us the full VIP tour behind the key-code-guarded doors of the staff area, but also offered honest answers about the challenges faced by public libraries, shared some of the positives of public librarianship, and even gave us more than a week’s full notice that Sarasota would be looking for part-time library staff before the announcement was officially posted. During our tour we also wandered through the immense collection of music recordings and sheet music maintained by the Sarasota Music Archive and watched in awe as books and DVDs were fed into the automatic sorting machine that lies behind the innocuous book-drops along the library’s facade.
Like any other academic program, the core of the School of Information is its students. The closer that students feel to each other, the closer we will feel to the department and ultimately to the profession. By providing the opportunity for students to meet in their local area, surrounded by the resources that they are familiar with and more easily able to access, the Regional SOLIS meetings allow for a stronger sense of academic and professional community. We might recognize a classmate from a prior class when they submit their introductory posts at the beginning of each semester, however, Regional Meetings offer a chance to connect a face to the name; suddenly, a name that you see in Blackboard posts or next to the chat window of an Elluminate session is more than just text. There is no reason to let geography limit the personal and professional friendships that can be forged by actively participating through SOLIS in our local communities.
Regional Meetings bring the School of Information out into the communities where many of our alumni will eventually serve. Future meetings, with more local students, will undoubtedly help foster the networking opportunities that will not only improve our local communities but offer greater recognition for students at USF’s School of Information. As future rock star librarians we shouldn’t give up the chance to use the backstage passes that Regional Meetings offer; not when every library can be a different stage, with new opportunities to learn and grow from our current and future colleagues.