Warning: This post is indulgent. So, please, indulge me. I will not make it a habit—promise.

In my last post, I talked about finding your voice. Now I want to tell you about 20 strong voices I found in the last 2 ½ years. I have been waiting for an opportunity to tell this story, and now that I have my own blog, well, I can!

As I also mentioned in my last post, I am a lucky recipient of a Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian scholarship awarded by Commonwealth Libraries of Pennsylvania through a grant funded by The Institute of Museum and Library Services. This grant provided tuition reimbursement for about 25 students accepted into an ALA-accredited MLS program across Pennsylvania in 2008. Although I could say many wonderful things about this opportunity, and it goes without saying that I am grateful to have an advanced degree without having incurred an advanced debt, that is not what I want to focus on here. All of us have had to report our “positive outcomes” several times over, and we have been involved in presentations and publications relating to our scholarship and our professional and academic achievements. But what’s been missing from most of these testimonials is the personal side of the story.

Twenty-one of us chose Clarion University’s MLS program, and we were put in a Laura Bush cohort and completed all our online classes together over a two-year period. There was some initial upheaval with several students leaving the program for various reasons and others joining to fill the void; however, for most of the program, the 21 students I’m referencing here were in this together, for better or worse.

We started out with a whimper, not a bang. Most of us were new to an online learning environment. Many of us had been out of school for a very long time. We were getting used to using Blackboard, wikis, Wimba, Sonic Foundry, and other Web tools that were unfamiliar. We were overwhelmed with our initial coursework, which unfortunately consisted of the two most labor-intensive classes in the entire program. We felt alone because we were spread across the state, and all we had were the discussion boards as a means of communication. And the professors had access to those, and of course what we mostly needed to talk (vent) about were the professors! We had no hallway in which to talk outside of class and exchange notes, get confirmation that our understanding of assignments, etc., was accurate. We had a virtual classroom; we needed a virtual coffeehouse.

That’s when we started a private Facebook group for Laura Bush Scholars at Clarion. And that is when we became much more than virtual classmates. We became a family of sorts, cliché as that sounds. It’s true—a big, diverse, wacky, and wonderful family. What began as a venue for chatting outside the classroom about assignments soon became a support group for a wide variety of life issues—death, birth, marriage, engagement, surgery, injury, job changes, moving, getting kids off to college, illness—as a group, we experienced it all many times over. And through it all, our common bond of needing to continue to plow through the coursework while working full time and managing families and other responsibilities (including a research study separate from the curriculum but required under the grant), united us and gave us all a safety net—we could lose our balance; we could falter (we could meltdown and “scream”, and we did!); we could even fall, but the group was there to help cushion the landing.

And through it all we got to know each other by the distinctive voices that defined each of our posts—inside the classroom and out. Sure, by the end of the program we had all posted photos of ourselves, and many of us have met in person from time to time (and will continue to do so—it is my goal to meet every one of my fellow Scholars in person), but some of the most powerful and essential interactions happened in cyberspace on Facebook. I know I’m not alone when I say that if someone gave me a summary of individual posts, without names attached, I could tell you in a heartbeat who authored which posts. We have cynics (though loveable!); we have droll; we have wit; we have upbeat; we have cautious; we have go-getters; we have cheerleaders; we have pragmatists; we have entertainers; we have masters-at-turning-a-phrase; we have procrastinators; we have early birds; we have warmth; we have humor; we have quiet; we have vocal; we have young, we have old(er); we have library veterans; we have newbies; we have mothers; we have grandmothers; we have husbands; we have wives; we have each other to turn to for support for as long as we all shall Facebook.

When I decided to accept the scholarship and get my MLS, I never dreamed that I would be getting so much more. The future of libraries is indeed in good hands if the dedication, enthusiasm, and innovative thinking of this group of “new” librarians are any indication. These individuals–separately and as a group–have partially defined me for the past 2 ½ years and will most likely remain integral to my professional and personal development. I’m sure all of us will identify ourselves as Laura Bush Scholars well into the future. Thank you Laura Bush; thank you IMLS; thank you Commonwealth Libraries; thank you Facebook; and thank you my fellow Laura Bush Scholars. It has been an honor.