Tag Archives: presentations

Professional Conference Lurker No More!

Hello there. My name is Chloe. Long time conference lurker, first time participant.

In the language of the internet, a ‘lurker’ is someone who observes online forums or communities without actively participating.  This is the way I have approached conferences until recently…hovering at the fringes, without much direction or purpose.

In June, I attended the Canadian Learning Commons Conference in Sherbrooke, Quebec Canada.  CLCC is a relatively small conference, attended by US and Canadian delegates who work in the specific niche of Learning Commons (or, in our case Research Commons) library spaces. Attendees are not only librarians, but also writing center directors, IT help desk coordinators, and space designers.  The smaller scale and specific focus of this conference allowed my boss (Research Commons Librarian, Lauren Ray) and I to dial in on some very specific aspects of our service model for a presentation that we delivered, and to get some very granular advice about best practices from our colleagues.

Large, student-created statue, seen in the Library at Bishop's University (our conference sponsor).
Large, student-created statue, seen in the Library at Bishop’s University (our conference sponsor)

The last time I participated in planning and delivering content for a conference, I was still an MLIS student.  But It’s really nice to feel that I have something to offer in terms of professional practice, rather than student research alone.  Another difference is that, since I am not currently job-seeking, I could allow my interactions with the other delegates to be more relaxed and natural, rather than tinged with desperation.  It was nice to know that I might have something to offer THEM (like a valuable contact, or idea for a best practice) rather than just the other way around.

With that in mind, I feel like my conference impressions bear some special weight this time around, as I was in a much more receptive state of mind to receive them.  Here are a few selections:

Pre-Conference:

I got very lucky here, because the pre-conference was directly relevant to my professional duties. The topic was “Training and Mentoring Peer Learning Assistants, Peer Tutors and Learning Commons Student Assistants,” presented by Nathalie Soini and Caleigh Minshall from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.  The presenters gave a lot of practical advice as to how to foster engagement in our student workers.  The session gave me lots of ideas, and was a good reminder of what an important job student workers have to do, and that we literally cannot function without them.

Our Presentation:

Overall, I think that Lauren and I did a great job with our presentation. Again, it was nice that our audience already understood the Research Commons concept, so that we could get right to the meat of our presentation without too much exposition.  We carried the 45 minutes we were allocated fairly well, and received positive audience feedback. In preparing the presentation, I really came to understand the value of Lauren’s mentorship. She has given lots of conference talks, and has a very structured approach.  While I am certainly capable of organizing 45 minutes worth of thoughts into a coherent presentation, Lauren’s sense of time management around the project was invaluable, as was her commitment to making the final product polished and clear. Before the conference, we were required to submit an abstract for our presentation.  We worked hard to refine this, and it expressed what we wanted to say pretty concisely. One important thing that Lauren reminded me to do, was to look frequently (whenever we added new slides, or ad-libbed new language as we practiced the presentation) back at the abstract we had written, to make sure that we were staying on track. It would be very disappointing for the audience, we reasoned,  if they made a decision to forgo a concurrent talk and attend ours, only to find that our presentation was only loosely related to what we had promised in the abstract (and who hasn’t been to a conference session like that, frankly.)

Other Presentations:

I attended a wide variety of other presentations over the course of the three day conference.  One highlight was a keynote by David Woodbury from the Hunt Library at North Carolina State University. NCSU Libraries are really innovative, and it is was great to get some ideas from their practices.

Another nice thing about this conference…probably due to its size and supportive character, was that a few presenters gave talks that included detailed information about “failures,” challenges, and things that had generally Not Gone Well at their libraries. While it requires bravery to deliver this sort of a presentation, it was so much more valuable for the audience to hear them!

For the curious, all of the presentation abstracts and many slides (including ours) from the conference can be viewed here.

You Can Tell Everyone About This PHITE Club

Editor’s Note: Here at ACRLog we are always open to guest posts from academic librarians who want to share a story about an interesting or innovative project at their library. I was attending the Texas Library Association conference when I came upon just such a project at the poster sessions. I had to know what PHITE Club was all about. Once I did, I thought ACRLog readers might want to know about it too. So I asked Ian Barba, Library Technology and Management Services Librarian, and Shelley Barba, Metadata Librarian, both at Texas Tech University, to tell us more about PHITE Club. In their contributed post below, for which we greatly thank them, Ian and Shelley describe what PHITE Club is, what the rules are (of course), and how it has made a difference at their library. If you are looking for a unique professional development program for your library, this may be something worth trying. Just think about it. Challenging your fellow academic librarians to a PHITE! Here’s how it works…

There is more to this idea than just a cheeky title. PHITE (Present Hypothesis in Team Environment) Club was created out of a necessity to engage in scholarship. It is such a large part of our job, and yet there is little that senior academic librarians do to support neophyte librarians in navigating the at times scary world of presenting research in front of a professional audience. And thus, much more out of necessity than creativity, PHITE Club was formed at Texas Tech University Libraries.

We meet once a month on a strictly volunteer basis. At the meeting, a member or group of members will give a presentation which is then followed by appropriate questions and constructive criticism. Near the end of the meeting, that day’s presenter draws the next presenter’s name out of a box containing name slips of those present. That person then has one month to research and prepare a presentation. All library faculty and staff are invited to participate, as long as they are willing to follow the club’s rules.

These rules are:
1) Talk incessantly about PHITE Club
2) Participants should only offer constructive criticism
3) Participants have to PHITE, eventually

The first rule is a twist on Chuck Palahniuk’s first rule. There are no hidden agendas or conspiracies with this club. We just want to practice public speaking and become better at it. If people wish to discuss the club with their colleagues, we encourage them doing so.

The second rule is to support the club as a safe place of growth, not a way to develop new neuroses about presenting. Comments can cover anything about the presentation from the substance of the material presented, to the presenters’ body language, and are always intended to help.

This third rule is important as the goal of the club is professional improvement. Thus the lottery system for choosing the next presenter ensures some amount of buy-in and risk among club members, not to mention just the right amount of fear to keep things interesting. Indeed, the risk of presenting in front of fellow employees is in many ways scarier than presenting at a professional conference.

And, much like its titular godfather, our club is helping junior librarians and library staff overcome the fears that are holding them back. Since the inaugural meeting in October 2009, at least three members have either taken their PHITE Club presentations on the road or made commitments to do so. The feedback we have received since the club was formed has been overwhelmingly positive—particularly regarding the questions and comments portion of the meetings.

We expect to see more presentations premiered in club meetings before given at professional conferences. In fact, at more recent meetings, the club has forgone drawing a presenter at random because there have been willing volunteers—eager for a chance to present in the PHITE Club environment. And while we are proud that we are sharing research across departments and building stronger presentations, it is the environment we are building of which we are most proud. In our small way, we are helping faculty and staff make their library jobs into their library career.

Countdown to the Conference

I’ve found myself with less time than usual for blogging lately as I’ve been busy working on the poster I’m presenting with colleagues at the upcoming ACRL National Conference. In the handful of years since I’ve been a librarian I’ve been to many smaller conferences and symposia in and around New York City (where I live), but this will be my first time attending the national conference, and as the date draws closer I find that I’m really looking forward to it.

In my past life as an archaeologist I went to lots of scholarly conferences, though I imagine that National will be somewhat different. While I enjoyed hearing about the latest research in my field back then, it always seemed odd to me that the convention was for presenters to stand at a podium and read straight through their scholarly papers. Of course some people are better at public speaking than others, and archaeologists tend to illustrate their talks with lots of site photos, charts, and graphs. But I find the very formal presentation style to be a bit monotonous, and I vastly prefer the more interactive and conversational style that most librarians seem to use at conferences.

Another big difference from my prior experiences is that the ACRL Conference has several keynote speakers, which is not the usual fare at other scholarly conferences I’ve been to. I find this a bit confusing: though I know that keynotes are a standard feature of both ALA conferences, it’s not what I expected to travel to an academic librarianship conference and hear speakers who are not involved in academic librarianship. I have to admit that I’m less interested in the keynote speakers than in other parts of the conference, though I’ll be curious to hear how they relate to academic libraries in their presentations.

I’m lucky to have many events at which I can connect with colleagues from my university and across NYC, but as a still-somewhat-new librarian I haven’t had many opportunities to mingle with librarians from across the country. I’m most looking forward to the two things I remember fondly from the anthropology conferences I used to frequent (and I suspect this is true for many of us attending National):

1) the opportunity to share and discuss my and my colleagues’ work with others in our field, and

2) the opportunity to learn about research and practice in academic libraries from the other conference presenters and attendees

Conferences are a concentrated experience with no distractions — all academic librarianship all the time! — which I always find refreshing and invigorating (if sometimes exhausting). But I’ve got my reusable coffee cup, so I’m ready to go.

If you’re going to National, what are you most looking forward to?

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

Even Lightning Gets More Time

I like lightning talks. I have given four of them now. It’s a challenge to come up with a sensible presentation that still manages a good learning experience while hopefully entertaining the crowd. All have been in the 5 minute range. That’s precious little time to say anything of much substance – but I talk fast. To my way of thinking 5 minutes is the right amount of time for a sensible lightning talk. And it’s still challenging enough that many who try cannot complete in 5 minutes. Well I just saw a program announcement where they are offering the stupendously generous time of 3 minutes for a lightning talk. My reaction to that is “why bother?”. Is there really much of anything you can say or do of value in so short a time – and would you really want to be in the audience at this thing? Are we now having a competition to see who can come up with the shortest lightning talk program? What’s next? A 30-second lightning talk? Perhaps a lightning talk where you only get 140 characters. This is getting ridiculous.

Those Other L-School Grads Aren’t Getting Jobs and They Are Mad As Hell and Not Taking It

Have you been following what’s going on with those disgruntled law school graduates who are incredibly pissed off because no law firms are offering them high-paying jobs as soon as they are handed their diplomas? They made the choice to become lawyers, and they made the choice to go into deep debt ($100K or more is not uncommon). Now they are blaming their law schools and their career offices for misleading them about their job prospects. From a USA Today article:

A small but growing coalition of graduates, on blogs with names like “Scammed Hard” and “Shilling Me Softly,” blame their alma maters for luring them into expensive programs by overstating their employment prospects.

Then of course there is the law school graduate who calls herself Unemployed JD who is making an even bigger fuss by going on a hunger strike until law schools agree to divulge career data. That generated its own little controversy when it turned out the law school graduate behind the whole thing really did have a job. I’m not going to rehash all the details here – you can read the story if you care.

I’m not sure what to make of all this. I can understand the students getting upset if the law school recruiters and admissions advisers really did lead them to believe that 99.9% of law school grads get high-paying jobs within 6 months of graduation. But could the law schools have predicted three years ago when those students enrolled that the economy would tank and that law firms would lose lots of business. So it seems just a bit unrealistic for the students to turn around and blame the law schools.

Reading this, and knowing how the economic crisis has severely impacted libraries and their hiring practices in all sectors (both budget cuts and the slowing of retirements), it is difficult to feel any sympathy at all for law school students or lawyers. According to the USA Today article, among 2009 law school graduates, 88% are employed, and that’s down from 92% in 2007. I have no idea what percent of 2009 LIS students are employed, but I’m going to guess it’s no where near 88% – heck, I bet it’s not even 50%. So should we librarians really feel all that bad for the other L-School graduates? I don’t think so. And even if jobless LIS graduates were to go on hunger strikes, protest in the streets, run naked through the halls of Congress – do you think that even a single newspaper in this country would pay any attention (OK – maybe the running naked through the halls of Congress might attract some – after the arrests). Not a chance in hell. Did USA Today have anything to say about The Unemployed Librarian‘s blog? So sorry LIS grads. It looks like the lawyers will continue to get all the “Why Won’t Anyone Hire Me” attention.

BTW, I’m glad to report that Elizabeth, the unemployed librarian, is now the Employed Librarian. So there is some good news out there on the job front.

The Accidental Academic Library Janitor: Book Review

In this fascinating account of one librarian’s act of courage in taking on responsibilities at his library that no one else would dare accept, we learn the true meaning of professional passion. The Accidental Academic Library Janitor, authored by Jack Van Der Kammp, begins when Van Der Kammp is hired as the new Interlibrary Loan Librarian at Dippinger College. For two years Van Der Kammp labors at filling requests from students and faculty, all of which registers barely a nod of recognition from his co-workers or the administration. But like all librarians who achieve accidental greatness, Van Der Kammp passes through his crucible on a wintry day in February 2008.

Though not suitable for repetition in this highly respected journal, Van Der Kammp artfully recalls the worst poop incident in the history of the Susanna D. Drake Memorial Library. While his colleagues stand by in shock and disgust, Van Der Kammp goes looking for help only to realize the regular library janitor never made it to work that day. With no one else willing to go within 10 feet of the horrific scene, Van Der Kammp explains how he grabbed the pail, mop and Lysol, took matters into his own hands, and forged his destiny as The Accidental Academic Library Janitor.

Over eight insightfully written chapters, Van Der Kammp enlightens other academic librarians on how they too can become an Accidental Academic Library Janitor. Topics cover all the vital skills for would be library janitors such as best cleansers for greasy sink goo, keeping urinal cakes where they belong, how to remove pornographic graffiti from the men’s stalls, advanced techniques for fast cleanups after library raves, and most important of all, how to stay one step ahead of the real library janitor. Van Der Kammp’s book is a timely addition to the library literature because in this period of harsh budget cuts our academic libraries are constantly threatened with the loss of the janitorial staff. And when that happens, readers of The Accidental Academic Library Janitor will be poised to jump into action. Like Van Der Kammp, they too can become a prime candidate for the American Library Association’s Milton R. Grenich Library Housekeeper of the Year Prize, awarded annually by the LLAMA Interest Group on Sanitary Facility Management. Highly recommended for all academic library collections.

Scenes From A Conference

Scenes from a Conference – Part 1

Speaker: I hate PowerPoint. That’s why I’m using Prezi for my presentation today. Who (asks audience) uses Prezi? (a few hands go up).

Speaker: Yeah! (fist pump) Prezi is so cool.

Speaker’s first slide: Two bullet points. Speaker proceeds to talk over first slide for five minutes with no additional Prezi action.

Speaker’s second slide: Four bullet points. Speaker reads them off the slide. Wait. There was a really cool transition between slides one and two. Looks like a circle rotating. Impressive.

Speaker’s third slide: A screenshot that is impossible to read from anywhere in the room. But the transition from slide two to slide three was amazing – looks like slide three came out of nowhere.

Speaker’s fourth slide: Another impossible to see/interpret visual. Oh wait. It’s a graph. Speaker proceeds to explain it in detail while talking to the slide.

Speaker’s remaining slides: You get the idea.

Yes sir Mr. Cool Speaker. Using Prezi instead of PowerPoint certainly did make for a rockin’ presentation.

Point: It really doesn’t matter if you use PowerPoint or Prezi or no visuals at all. If you fail to put preparation, passion and practice into your presentation it’s going to be a bad experience for the audience. Remember that your presentation is about the audience and giving them a great experience, not showing them cool presentation technology. If you do want to try new presentation technology – go for it – but only if it serves the goal of enhancing the experience for the audience and the technology plays only a supporting role. Done well, the audience should hardly even notice it. They should be too engaged with your message and delivery.

Scenes from a Conference – Part 2

Speaker One: Thanks for attending my session. However, I’m sorry that I don’t have a PowerPoint (one person claps). I hope that won’t be a problem for you. I’ll do the best I can without them.

Speaker Two: Thanks for attending my session. The first thing I want to tell you is that I don’t have any PowerPoint slides. Then again, I don’t use it. PowerPoint is bad.

There’s no rule dictating that as a conference presenter you must use visuals, whether it’s PowerPoint, Prezi or anything else. So if you opt to just talk to the audience without visuals, that’s fine. What’s not so great is when presenters without visuals do one of the following:

(a) Apologize for not having visuals
(b) Proudly assert that there are no visuals

In the case of (a) the speaker feels that he or she is somehow disappointing the audience by failing to offer visuals. The speaker may not realize that the audience really isn’t all that concerned about the lack of visuals – unless the speaker’s topic could be better understood with some visual evidence.

In the case of (b) the speaker appears to be reveling in their choice to not use slides. He or she seems intent on letting the audience know he or she is a rebel who is bucking the trend by just talking without visuals. He or she wants everyone to know how different they are.

Point: No matter what the situation is, visuals or none, just don’t mention it at all. It’s not a good way to start a presentation. The audience really doesn’t care if you have visuals or not, nor do they need to hear you apologize or boast – whatever the case may be. The audience came to your session to hear what you have to say about the topic – to hear your message – not to hear you make pronouncements unrelated to the topic. So just get right to your talk. The audience will figure out pretty quickly that you don’t have visuals, and as long as the presentation succeeds at communicating the message, the audience will leave having had a good learning experience.

Bonus Tip: Avoid the impulse to start your presentation by giving an overview of your institution (e.g. student profile, number of books in the library, etc) and accompanying photos. I still encounter far too much of this at library conferences. The urge to do so is understandable because it’s something all speakers are comfortable with, and having something you’ll easily remember, and which is easy to present, is a way to get over the “start of the presentation jitters”. Again, the presentation is not about you and your comfort level – it’s about the audience and what they came to hear.

For your next presentation consider challenging yourself by starting with the most important piece of information the audience should hear (e.g., the results of your study, what you learned from your new student orientation program, etc), and if possible present it as a personal story – which is just as easy for a presenter to remember. If you want to talk about your library or institution you should be able to find multiple points throughout the presentation to slip those things in. For example: “So I was telling you about our new student orientation program. Big State U enrolls 10,000 freshmen each year – and that brings our total enrollment up to 50,000 FTEs.”

If you need to hear this from another source take a look at this blog post over at The Eloquent Woman – which is actually a pretty good blog for presentation tips and ideas.