Don’t keep this news quiet — URI student library chapter wins national award

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KINGSTON, R.I. – July 16, 2013 – One night last March, Stefanie Metko got an extraordinary email.

“All I saw was ‘Congratulations’ in the subject line, and I knew. I started jumping up and down,” she said. “I was so excited. My husband thought we had won the lottery!”

In fact, Metko had not won the lottery, but had won something more prestigious. The University of Rhode Island student chapter of the American Library Association, for which Metko served as president, had been selected as the 2013 Chapter of the Year by the New Members Round Table, a division of the American Library Association.

Metko knew that she needed to tell Sarah Naomi Campbell and Katherine Boden, vice president and treasurer/secretary of the chapter, immediately. “The leadership team worked so hard this past year. It was a moment that we all needed to share together,” she said.

The URI student chapter of the American Library Association was one of 60 library schools in the United States to be considered for the award. Metko, Campbell and Boden created an interactive website that served as their application for the award and encompassed the five criteria that each school is judged on: membership engagement and programs, communications, leadership, financials, and awards and honors. In addition, they attached multiple letters of recommendation, including those from Brown University, Cranston Public Library and the Rhode Island Library Association, as well as from Lauren Mandel, assistant professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies and the chapter’s faculty advisor.

“The national accolades given to our chapter and the program as a whole are important,” Mandel said. “I provided a support letter, but really, the students did most of the work themselves.”

The members of the winning chapter were awarded a $1,000 grant to attend the annual conference reception, held on June 30 in Chicago, where they accepted their award.

The effects of the chapter’s win are far-reaching. Renee Hobbs, professor and founding director of URI’s Harrington School of Communication and Media, says that the award will have a positive impact on the school. “The reputation of the Harrington School will ultimately rest on the quality of graduates from our academic programs,” she said. “We are preparing students who use the power of information and communication to make a difference in the world. That’s why we are so proud of the student leadership and initiative that was demonstrated by the graduate students in winning this award.”

The URI chapter was founded in 2005. Metko, Campbell and Boden became involved with the chapter in 2012, after it had remained relatively unstable for many years. “It had good years and bad years but was not sustaining itself from year to year,” Metko said. “We had a vision, and the team committed to making something that would last. We came along at the right time, with the right team, and the right level of commitment.” The Harrington School agreed with Metko, Campbell and Boden. “The support we received from the Harrington School was absolutely what we needed to take the chapter to the next level,” Metko said.

“There were many 8-hour days,” Campbell said. “We worked tirelessly to get the chapter to where it is now.”

The trio was interested in building a community within the graduate program where students could meet and discuss the program and the chapter. They were also dedicated to making sure that networking opportunities were available to chapter members.

“The graduate program is almost exclusively online,” Campbell said. “Because of that, it’s hard to bring people together.”

“You lose a lot of the ability to network when everything is online,” Metko added. “We wanted to bring that sense of community back to the program.”

Metko, Campbell and Boden were chosen for their respective offices in September 2012 after the chapter’s outgoing officers had graduated. “We needed a team of people who were strong, amazing, and hard working,” Metko said.

“The way in which our team came together was really holistic and organic,” Campbell added. “We work well together.”

Each officer acknowledges that without a great leadership team, the chapter wouldn’t be what it is today. “Katherine is the glue that held us together administratively,” Campbell said. “And I saw my role as the vice president as being the person who supports Stefanie, the president.”

“Each person is different, and therefore our strengths are different, which helped fill in the gaps,” Boden said.

Their partnership in reviving the chapter has had many positive impacts on members, both current and future. Metko, Campbell and Boden have instituted a democratic election process through which members vote officers in anonymously using Sakai. “The elections take place in March, so that the outgoing executive board can mentor the new incoming leadership before they take office,” Metko said. In addition, the chapter has a new budget with funds available for incoming leadership and members. “Having funds available, along with the election process, allows the chapter to remain sustainable,” Metko said.

The group cites its biggest accomplishment thus far as the 2013 GSLIS Conference, which they titled “Catapult Your Career!” The conference was held last March in Swan Hall on the Kingston campus. Along with the opportunity to hear national keynote speakers and enjoy lunch at the University Club, students were offered a discount on conference registration for joining the chapter. “It boosted membership,” Metko said. “In total, we raised $4,000 through conference registration, sponsorships, and a generous donation from the Harrington School.”

Metko, Campbell, and Boden graduated in May, and new officers took office that same month. But the three new graduates are not slowing down.

Metko, a mom of two children, was recently hired at Johnson and Wales University as a part-time reference librarian, as well as in the graduate library school at URI in a part-time student support role. “I’m interested in online learning and, more specifically, how we can service distance-learning students,” Metko said. “It’s about getting people to the finish line of completing their online program, and figuring out how that can be done while also fostering a sense of community that will last in the professional world after graduation.” As for a career, Metko says that she is interested in the library field, particularly working with students. “Whether I’m a librarian educator or a librarian, I just want to know that I am doing something that will make a difference every day,” she said.

Campbell is a history tutor this summer for the Talent Development program at URI. In addition, she is working with a production company on a documentary about vampires in Exeter, R.I. “I love history, especially when it’s intertwined with filmmaking,” she said. “As a filmmaker, unearthing stories and shining light on them is a real passion of mine.”

But her passion for film extends beyond storytelling. “My love for film has informed my interest in using emerging technology and digital media to strengthen literacy, specifically in underserved communities,” she said. Campbell’s research interests also include lessening the “digital divide.” “I’m interested in breaking down barriers to digital citizenship,” she said. “I’d like to look at how we can improve that digital divide by supporting diversity in content production.” However, it is her passion for inclusivity can be seen clearly in her work with the chapter at URI. “I’m looking to create a sense of community wherever I am,” Campbell said. “That is why digital literacy in underserved populations is a passion of mine. It helps to create inclusivity where there might otherwise be a divide.”

Boden says that her career path will probably take her to a public library. This summer, she will work part-time at the Cranston Public Library, where she completed her internship last semester. She is also interested in digital literacy and underserved populations, and says that working to improve both issues is her passion. “I see myself as a director or an assistant director of a public library someday,” she said. “But I’m open to many possibilities.”

Metko, Campbell and Boden have made great strides in revamping and revitalizing the chapter, including increasing membership by four hundred percent, and they hope that future leaders will continue to grow the chapter. “We really took a hard look at what worked before we took office, what didn’t work, and what was working currently,” Metko said. “Of course there were hurdles and obstacles that we needed to overcome, but this chapter was important to both existing and future students. It created that sense of community that was missing. It offered networking opportunities. And it changed the way that people viewed the program.”

Metko and Boden received their undergraduate degrees from the University of Rhode Island. Campbell received her undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

This news release was written by Rachel Donilon, a writing intern in URI’s Marketing and Communications department.


AWARD-WINNERS AND ALUMNAE: Sarah Naomi Campbell, left, Katherine Boden and Stefanie Metko, recent graduates of the URI Graduate School of Library and Information Studies and outgoing leadership of nationally recognized student chapter of the American Library Association.

Communications & Marketing photo by Michael Salerno Photography.