Thing 15: Attending, presenting, organizing conferences

August 29, 2011

For this Thing, we are to blog about our experiences with conferences, whether we have just attended, or actually have been a more prominent participant, and to provide any additional advice we may have.  The links provided gave some great pointers.  Below are a few thoughts:

Attending: I have had 2 main conference experiences: Law Library Conference in 1996 (or 1997) in Toronto, and ALA in Chicago in 2005.  It was a wonderful experience, and, as was stated in the Thing 15 blog post, conferences are usually inspiring and invigorating to your work life.  Even if some of the sessions are not as great as you hoped, there is hardly ever anything that is a complete waste of time.  I would say a couple of good rules of thumb when attending a conference are 1.) Be flexible–if one session isn’t working for you, leave and go to another if possible.  Or, if one runs over, or you meet someone interesting, be willing to forego a session in order to make those important networking connections. 2.) Give yourself enough time between sessions to think about what you just learned, even if that means you take a little longer lunch, or skip a session.  I have found that, although I take over-copious notes, it was nice to go over things in my head immediately after the session or experience and write additional thoughts, or ideas on how I would use that particular topic in my own library setting.

Presenting: I have never presented at a conference, but I have done presentations numerous times within my library community.  I used to be terrified of this, but I found the following helpful for me: 1.) Know your subject matter, inside and out, and even anticipate any questions your patrons may have. 2.) Don’t sweat it when something doesn’t work quite right.  This is why it is important to have screenshots and alternatives. 3.) Put yourself in your patron’s shoes in order to really get an idea of what they want to know.  Your patron is taking time out of his/her busy day to come learn something new, so make sure that what you tell them will really help them immediately when they go back to their desks.  I always tried to include a “Quick Reference Guide”-one sheet of paper, that would cover the jist of what I showed them, so they could replicate it upon returning to work. 4.) Notes and practicing really does help, and try not to worry about “pregnant pauses”–this is the hardest for me, as I want to fill the time with “um…”  Say what you want succinctly and then pause and breathe.  You are the only one who feels that the pause is great.

Organizing: I have not organized a conference, but I have organized information literacy sessions with a variety of faculty members and have developed the whole program myself.  Again, I would say, it is important to put yourself into the shoes of your audience and get to the core of what they need to know.  In my case, our students would need to know how to search our various databases effectively to find articles for papers.  So, one important consideration was to show them how to restrict their search to peer-reviewed articles, or full text.  Sometimes, it was important to define what “peer-reviewed” meant, as well as the idea of primary and secondary resources.  We also spent some time on web site/article evaluation, which was often eye-opening for them.  As part of the organizing, I made sure to have handouts, business cards, and to be available by appointment for make-up sessions, or for those who wanted extra reinforcement.  I also had the students do an evaluation of the session at the end of the classes, in order to improve as time went on.

Although I am currently job hunting, I am still a member of SLA and plan on attending the 2012 SLA conference next year.  I am also attending the ILA Conference in October here in the Chicago area, where I hope to work on my networking.

My advice?  If you get the opportunity to attend or present at a conference, DO IT!  The money and time are so well spent, and I have found that the serendipity, networking, and information you take in outweighs any online experience.

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