Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media

Selection from Cites & Insights 4, Number 9: July 2004


Good Advice: Making Some Lists

Walt Crawford

This being the ALA Annual issue, I thought I’d excerpt lists of good advice I’ve seen on the web. The first subtopic relates directly to ALA and other conferences. The second may be relevant as well, since conferences rely on people giving presentations.

Hints for Making the Most of ALA Conferences

Eli Edwards offered the initial list on April 30 at her weblog, Confessions of a Mad Librarian. Here are short versions of her suggestions and others provided in comments on the posting. (I could quote all of this in full since the weblog has a CC BY-NC license, and the full versions are better—but Eli’s doing her own compilation for her library school student publication and I don’t want to steal her thunder.)

Ø    The ALA event planner is, to some extent, your friend. It is useful if you know exactly what you want to do at conference.

Ø    ALA unit webpages listing programming (for a division or roundtable) are your friends: Unit programming may help you decide which units work for you.

Ø    “Your friends, physical and virtual, within ALA are your friends.” Go to programs involving people you know, respect, and admire. If you don’t like the program, leave.

Ø    “The conference program book…may not be your friend.” It’s huge, complicated and a tough way to find and select programming. “However, the maps inside are really useful.”

Ø    There’s no shame in “following the food” to public receptions.

Ø    Prioritize. “There’s a lot to do and there probably won’t be enough time to do everything you ideally would like to do.”

Ø    Try to get all your planned events on one big schedule.

I added my own tip, “based on my failure to do so in early years”:

Ø    Don’t overschedule. If that event planner is full, you’re doing too much. Leave time for exhibits (of course) but also for sightseeing, goofing off, sleep.

Jessamyn (presumably West, the rarin’ librarian at offered 11 more suggestions “that sort of interfile with yours.” In part and sometimes paraphrased:

Ø    Prioritize—but have backups for every event

Ø    Meals can be for networking or for resting. Know which kind you’re signing up for.

Ø    If you’re on an expense account, don’t assume that others are; choose restaurants accordingly.

Ø    “The free shuttle bus is your friend”—but don’t count on it always being timely.

Ø    Mail stuff home or check bags of freebies at the coat check.

Ø    Don’t hog the email terminals—and don’t count on them being available.

Ø    “You will walk miles every day, you may go hours without eating”—wear comfy shoes, carry water and snacks.

Ø    Figure out what you’re interested in early at the conference, highlight items in the conference book’s daily schedules, then rip out those pages and leave the heavy book in your room.

Ø    Mix it up: Keynote speakers and small panels, lectures and demos.

Ø    It’s easy to move into a leadership role in some of the groups you’re sitting in on; think beforehand how much involvement you want.

Ø    If you know you’ll have to leave a small talk or panel early, let the presenter or chair know in advance, so they don’t assume they’re boring you silly.

Regarding leadership roles: It may not true for every group and every division, but I can attest that it’s very easy to become an officer or program planner in a LITA Interest Group if you show the slightest interest in doing so. Being a newbie or lacking credentials won’t matter: Good divisions welcome newbies and ALA units operate on the basis of mutual trust.

Mary K. added five more suggestions and seconded the “mail stuff home” suggestion (she notes that Canada Post had an outlet right in the conference center at the ALA/CLA conference; so does USPS at almost every ALA conference):

Ø    Bring a notebook to jot down interesting topics and discussion points.

Ø    Don’t be afraid to ask questions in a program. “If you didn’t understand something and need it clarified, chances are that someone else feels the same way too.” (I’ll second that and note that it’s a real kindness to speakers. I gave a talk recently in which one key term wasn’t clear to many of the attendees; fortunately, someone asked and I had the chance to clarify.)

Ø    Strike up conversations with people in line or waiting for a session.

Ø    “Business cards, business cards, business cards.” If you don’t have them, you can print your own…

Ø    “Try and travel in packs,” particularly in a strange city. Chances are, someone will know something about the city.

All good advice. Do remember to glance at the ads in the conference book as you page through it, before ripping out the maps (and maybe the daily schedules): Those ads help pay for ALA.

Suggestions for Presenters at Library Conferences

Credit Michael Stephens for this; he speaks frequently and posted this on April 23, 2004 at his Tame the Web: Technology and Libraries weblog. Again, I’m excerpting or paraphrasing—and I don’t see a Creative Commons license on his blog. My own snarky comments are in square brackets.

Ø    Always be prepared. Have multiple digital versions of your presentations and a plan if nothing works. “Could you do the material cold from your notes and handout?”

Ø    If it’s a track, try to hear the other speakers. Not only is it respectful but it can improve your talk if you’re able to change it on the fly—and it makes the whole track more cohesive.

Ø    Share! When there’s more than one speaker in a program, keep to your time limits, both so there’s time for questions and so later speakers don’t get shafted. [I’ve “done” a 20-minute presentation in a five-minute slot because I was preceded by academics who should know better…and it gets real tiresome. In my experience, those who can’t keep to time limits are usually inferior speakers as well.]

Ø    Have fun! Librarians aren’t that formidable and you shouldn’t hide behind your notes.

Ø    Know your stuff, but there’s nothing wrong with “I don’t know.” If you’re really provoking thought, someone’s going to ask a question you can’t answer. That’s good.

Ø    Be mindful of acronyms. See my comment on Mary K’s second point in the previous section. “Define, even if you think everyone in the place knows what you are talking about.” [Stephens used “At ILF, I off-handedly mentioned RFID…” as an example of this point. One perceptive comment said: “What’s ILF?”]

Ø    There are no stupid questions. [Well, that’s not entirely true, but close enough.]

Ø    Deliver a clear message. Try to put technological explanations in everyone’s terms.

Ø    Humor works, but not at anyone’s expense except your own.

Ø    Don’t rule out certain conferences. Why can’t you speak at ALA? “If you have something good to say, look for ways to say it.”

Ø    It’s not ME ME ME…it’s “what can we talk about and learn that will help our library users get to information better, faster and in a way they will recognize the great value of libraries.”

Later that day, Karen Schneider added a dozen more items on her non-work weblog, Free Range Librarian. Many relate directly to use of technology within the speech: Try to talk directly to the “technology people” beforehand, mention them during the talk, and thank them afterwards. Label your own equipment (cords, etc.). Ask for a lavalier mike. Use their computer rather than your own, given a choice—but bring yours anyway. And “never, ever assume the technology is ‘taken care of.’” Check the setup and nudge if necessary. Then there are the following:

Ø    Ask someone to be your timeclock and to give several warnings.

Ø    If you’re on a panel with someone going way overtime, “hand them a very large note.” [Good advice. Unfortunately, the worst offenders will ignore every note, even someone standing directly in front of them with a TIME’S UP card. Yes, I’ve seen it happen.]

Ø    There’s nothing wrong with appropriate self-promotion, within reason.

Ø    “Wear something nice. However, wear something you’ve worn before, so you’re comfortable in it.”

Ø    “Praise your audience.” They did have the good taste to choose your session.

Ø    “Consider going post-PowerPoint”—that is, using PowerPoint for visual information and moving beyond it instead of having bullet points for every sentence in your speech. “By all means, do not show up and read from your slides.” [Would that every speaker would read and pay attention!] She goes on to note that one good use of PowerPoint is for screen shots as backup if you’re using web examples—and the only time I’ve used PowerPoint since 1989, except for work occasions, was primarily for screenshots.

Thanks, Michael and Karen.

Notes on the Writing Life

Here I’m presented with an ethical quandary. NMRTWRITER is the New Members’ Round Table New Writers List ( and it’s open to writing librarians in general—I haven’t qualified as a “new member” since 1979, but I was welcomed immediately. At times, the list has been deathly quiet. In May 2004, it picked up considerably with threads about writing and weblogs, writing and not writing, how people deal with deadlines, how people deal with possible theft of ideas, and the like.

I printed off ten of the postings to use as background for an essay, then decided it would make more sense to excerpt them here. Most comments are from experienced writers; if nothing else, they make the point that we’re all different, with different motivations and different needs. Some of us rely on deadlines; some survive by staying way ahead of deadlines. Some think about writing all the time; some have to force themselves to write at all. Some think blogging is good practice for writing, some don’t. Some believe you need to write every day (and think a 1,000-words-a-day target makes sense); some believe big breaks in the process help. Some just love reviewing; some can’t hack it.

And that’s as much of a set of excerpts as you’re going to get—without credit to the first-rate minds that made the comments, I’m afraid. Why? Because NMRTWRITER is a relatively small list and is a community of writers and would-be writers. I think it’s OK for me to mention some of the things the community is thinking about, but I don’t think it’s OK for me to produce a detailed set of notes.

If you think you should be part of the NMRTWRITER community, you can probably find out how to join by going to the NMRT portion of ALA’s website, or maybe the “lists portion.” Then you can read the archives for yourself.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 4, Number 9, Whole Issue 52, ISSN 1534-0937, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG. Opinions herein do not reflect those of RLG. Comments should be sent to Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large is copyright © 2004 by Walt Crawford: Some rights reserved.

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