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.

4 thoughts on “You Can Tell Everyone About This PHITE Club”

  1. PHITE Club is one of the best groups I’ve been involved with since joining the Texas Tech Libraries. The short turnaround for preparing a presentation is high-pressure, but without that, I might not have taken the time or made the effort to develop a presentation about one of my ongoing projects. Now I feel like my presentation is “ready to go” when I read calls for proposals instead of feeling daunted. Something that set the right tone for the meetings when the club started was an eye-catching flyer to advertise it:

  2. Not all is RIGHT with the PHITE Club. What started as a good idea is really not all that it states to be. Rule # 1 is not true any longer. What was first advertised to the whole library is now changed to ‘by invitation only’. If you didn’t put your name in the hat in the first two meetings, your name didn’t make it on the invitation list. Yes, it is still open to all IF you know when it’s going to be held and where, but otherwise it has become a select group of people who meet each month. The meeting place was changed early on in order to keep out the “looky lous”, a term used by one of the co-founders, and those whose criticism was considered less than constructive. It is not all that it claims to be.

  3. PHITE club has been indispensable to me this year. I’ve had a number of presentations where I tried out the presentation in the club first. The club’s insight into my presentation habits have been a great help. I now know things about how other perceive me when I’m in front of a group. It’s great to figure out your presentation style in a controlled setting instead of learning as you go in a real life situation.

  4. I am excited about PHITE Club as it is a new way that we can improve our public speaking in a safe environment. You know that the criticism you will receive will be constructive instead of demeaning. That if you work on those points your presentation will be clearer and more easily comprehended.

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