Designing and Presenting Research Posters

By Shannon Lucky, Information Technology Librarian, University of Saskatchewan
Bernice Leyeza, Research Assistant, Department of Geography & Planning, University of Saskatchewan

This summer I have been fortunate to have Bernice working as a research assistant, partially funded by an undergraduate student research grant at our institution. Part of the grant program has the RAs participate in a research poster competition at the end of the summer. This sounded like the perfect opportunity to co-write a post about designing and presenting a research poster from our two different perspectives.

I love presenting research posters. I like having real, sometimes lengthy, conversations with people who are interested in my research. I have gotten new perspectives on my work and great suggestions for things to look at, particularly scholarship outside of my academic bubble, from conversations with one or two people in a hall full of posters. This has never happened to me during a standard paper Q&A. Conferences where the posters presentations happen in tandem with refreshments are also a bonus. I have long suspected that the insightful introverts in our communities are a little bolder during cocktail hour than during lecture hall panel discussions.

While presenting a poster might be my favourite part of the process, designing one has been a surprisingly useful scholarly activity. I can easily fill up a word count limit for a paper, but trying to essentialize down what I am really trying to say (conveyed in the right 30 pt. font verbiage) has challenged me to get real about what I am doing – not what I like to think I am doing, or what I want other academics to think I am doing. It is hard to hide behind academic-ese when you have 16 square inches to describe the significance of your project. You also need to actually use that elevator pitch I know I have been coerced into writing at more than one research workshop. This is all to say that it is hard to phone-in a decent poster. You need to know your question, data, and results inside and out; well enough to distill it down to the essential text, speak extemporaneously about it, and probably answer a few questions.

I was lucky to have Bernice as my RA for this project. Not only was she eager to take on the challenge of translating our early results into a poster, she also has design skills that far surpass my own. In planning for the poster we came up with four essential questions that we have done our best to answer from each of our perspectives. We hope that the following advice will be useful for veteran and rookie research poster presenters alike.

  1. What is the poster for and who is my audience?

“My first undergraduate degree required us to master our skills in producing different communication materials. I took a lab class where our weekly assignments were to translate a research article into a poster – good practice for designing your own.” (Bernice)

Whether your poster is for a class or a conference, focus on the most interesting and important information for that audience and what language will speak to them. This is a good time to note any restrictions on dimensions, digital file standards, and any design or content requirements provided by the event organizer. Is this the place to show your creativity, or is it expected that you use a standard template/layout? Look at other examples from researchers in your discipline online or ask colleagues/professors if they can share examples with you. Get an idea of the common practices within your discipline or at the event you will be presenting at.

 

  1. What comes first, the writing or the design?

The quality of your research and ability to communicate its value is first and foremost. You can’t have a successful poster without solid research to communicate. Having said that, there are different approaches to turning your literature review, hypothesis, data, and analysis into a cohesive poster design. Bernice prefers to write up a research article first which helps solidify the important details for the poster. As she transfers the writing into the poster layout she works to make it more concise – good practice for academic writing in general. If the poster is about new (unpublished) research, Shannon prefers to write some quick notes and start laying out the broad ideas on post-its or in the design software. Finessing the writing comes later. Both approaches work well, just make sure to avoid self-plagiarism if you are re-purposing text from your publications and grants to fill out the purpose/methods/relevance sections.

 

  1. What design program should I use?

Unless there is a standard required template, you can use whatever software you like. We recommend using what you are comfortable with so you don’t spend extra hours struggling with the software; there is enough work to do getting your content organised. You can use something as simple as PowerPoint, or as complicated as InDesign, both can give you a professional looking result.

Sometimes universities will have a standard template students and faculty can use. For Bernice’s poster, we wanted it to look like a poster from our institution, but not like all of the other posters in the competition. Instead of using the standard ppt file, Bernice chose to design her own layout in InDesign using the official university colours.

 

  1. How will you make your poster engaging and able to stand out in a hall full of other presenters?

This answer has two approaches: design and presentation.

Design – Use sound design rules for your poster. You can print out 4-6 paragraphs of text in 16 pt. font and call it a day, but taking some extra time to make your poster look approachable (as in, you can read it in less than 30 minutes) and visually appealing will make your research look more approachable and interesting. Using appropriate white space, limiting your colour pallet (and think about accessibility for colour blind readers), and using a legible font in an appropriate size will go a long way to making your poster stand out. A good font size guideline is 85 pt. for the title, 36 pt. for sub headings, 24 pt. for the body, and 18 pt. for captions and references. Using relevant images and diagrams is also a good idea.

Presentation – First and foremost, you want to be presentable. Wear comfortable shoes and clothes that are appropriate for the event. If you feel comfortable you will be more comfortable presenting. Have your elevator pitch memorised, but be ready to have a conversation about your project. Don’t stick to a formal script but if you get nervous you can prepare some talking points and write them down in bullet form. Try to engage with the audience around their interest in your research, not just your favourite ideas. This is a great way to find collaborators or get asked questions that may not come up in a formal conference Q&A. While you are standing by your poster waiting for someone to approach put your phone away, smile, and say hello. Don’t just talk to the people you know or people from your institution, you never know what kind of connections you will make.

This is a great networking opportunity, so make it easy for people to follow-up with you after the event. Include your email address, Twitter handle, or website URL directly on your poster and bring your business cards with you. If you won’t be standing next to your poster for the entire event, pin up a few cards next to your poster for people to take.

A few final tips:

  • If you are travelling to present at a conference, plan ahead to have your poster printed at your destination. Shannon has had good luck using hosting universities’ campus print shops, and Staples is always a quick and nearly universal option. This will save you having to carry on a poster tube or risking damaging or losing your poster en route.
  • Get the most mileage out of your poster. If your institution has an institutional repository, add your poster and some speaking notes to your profile. If you have a personal academic website, link to a pdf version of your poster there. Like any scholarly communication product, this may be useful to another researcher (if not for the subject matter, then certainly for your elegant design).

Research poster can be a little tricky, it may be easier to write about your research first or some people might find it easier to start with the layout. Practising how to write concise material is a useful exercise. If your information is well written, designing and presenting will come naturally. You don’t have to use complicated software to design your poster and can use the resources you have. Again, you are presenting your research and that’s the bulk of your poster. Make sure to follow the design rules of the conference and have your elevator pitch ready.


This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

The right tool for the job: NVivo software for thematic analysis

by Carolyn Doi
Education and Music Library, University of Saskatchewan

This post builds off of an earlier one by research assistant Veronica Kmiech, which outlines the process for searching and identifying literature on the topic of how practitioners in cultural heritage organizations manage local music collections.1 I have worked with Veronica since summer 2016 on this project, which led to a thematic analysis of the literature seeking to better understand the professional practices implemented and challenges faced in managing, preserving and providing access to local music collections in libraries and archives.2

Using NVivo to facilitate the thematic analysis in this project was ultimately extremely helpful in organizing and managing the data. With over fifty sources to analyze in this review, the thought of doing this work manually seemed daunting.

Thematic analysis typically encompasses steps which take the researcher from familiarization of the data, through development of codes and themes, and finally to being able to tie these themes to the broader picture within the literature.3 NVivo becomes particularly useful at the stages of coding and theme development.

During the coding phase, NVivo will help save descriptions, inclusion, and exclusion criteria for each code. These are fairly easy to change as needed, being able to see an overview of the codes you are working with is definitely helpful, and it is easy to create hierarchies within the node sets. Once code labels are identified, coding the dataset involves (a lot!) of highlighting and decisions about which node(s) to assign to that piece of text. Adding new nodes is fairly simple, as there will likely be themes that come up throughout the coding process. Word to the wise: coding is made easier with NVivo, but the software doesn’t do all the work for you. Schedule extra time for this portion of the research.

During the phase of theme development and organization, NVivo made it quite easy to sort nodes into broader themes. In practice, this process took a few revisions in order to fully think through how and why nodes should be sorted and organized. The software has some features that assist with finding significance within the themes including ability to make mind maps, charts, and word frequency queries. After this process, I identified five broad themes were identified within the literature, some with as few as three associated nodes, and some with as many as thirteen (fig. 1).

Figure 1: Themes and node hierarchy

Following the development of this hierarchy, I went back into the literature, to find examples of how each theme was applied and referred to in the literature. When presenting the analysis portion, these examples were helpful in illustrating the underlying narrative.

This example (fig. 2) shows nodes found within the theme which brings together data on the theme of why practitioners choose to collect local music.


Figure 2: Goal and Objective theme

To better illustrate the significance or application of these concepts, I used quotes from the literature as examples. This excerpt works particularly well as an illustration of why heritage organizations might choose to collect local music, why it may present challenges, and why it can be considered unique:

The Louisville Underground Music Archives (LUMA) project was born of the need to document this particular, and important, slice of Louisville’s musical culture. …from a diverse community of bands and musicians, venue and store owners, recording studios and label managers, and fans to maintain the entire story from a broad range of perspectives.4

Pulling quotes such as this one helped me to build a narrative around the themes I’d identified, and serve to provide a gateway into the literature being analyzed.

The process of analyzing the data this way provided me with a rich resource on which to build the literature review, and a unique map of what the literature represents. While NVivo has some flaws and drawbacks (price, switching between operating systems, and working collaboratively were notable obstacles), the benefits outweighed them in the end (quick learning curve, saves the time of the researcher, assists considerably with organization of data and thematic synthesis). I highly recommend NVivo as a tool to keep in your back pocket for future qualitative analysis projects.

1 “Locating the local: A literature review and analysis of local music collections.” https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2017/01/17/lit-review-local-music-collections/
2 Results from this analysis were recently presented during the 2017 annual meeting of the Canadian Association of Music Libraries (CAML) in Toronto, ON in a paper titled Regional music collection practices in libraries: A qualitative systematic review and thematic analysis of the literature.
3 “About Thematic Analysis.” University of Auckland. https://www.psych.auckland.ac.nz/en/about/our-research/research-groups/thematic-analysis/about-thematic-analysis.html
4 Caroline Daniels, Heather Fox, Sarah-Jane Poindexter, and Elizabeth Reilly. Saving All the Freaks on the Life Raft: Blending Documentation Strategy with Community Engagement to Build a Local Music Archives. The American Archivist, Vol. 78, No. 1 (2015): 238–261.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Balancing Needs and Resources in Developmental Offerings in an Academic Library

By Jill Crawley-Low
Science Librarian, University of Saskatchewan

The University Library at the University of Saskatchewan is fortunate among academic libraries in having had more than a decade of continual investment in training and development with active support from library leaders. About a decade ago, the Dean of the library recognized that sending people away to workshops did not result in expertise and skills returning to the organization in a sustainable and shareable way. Nor was leaving for external training possible for all employees. It became apparent that a new approach was needed. A variety of offerings delivered in-house and customized for library employees evolved into three different streams. Over time, the organizational culture shifted to one in which engaged employees expected to have access to continuing learning opportunities. Guided by the strategic plan, the library is preparing to review its existing training and development program with the goal of balancing the needs of employees with the resources that are available.

The University Library’s training and development offerings have evolved into three predominantly in-house streams. The first stream includes single-session offerings on a variety of topics. For example, the Learning and Development Committee annually develops a program of single sessions delivered over the course of a year.  Another example is Sustaining Leadership Learning designed to continue leadership learning with one-off sessions that complement the multi-part programs.

The second stream includes multi-part programs with a specific focus delivered over a period of weeks or months. An example is the Library Leadership Development Program, which consists of six components delivered over several months with a focus on leadership for self, team, and organization. The single-session and multi-part programs described above were developed in-house. An example of an externally developed multi-part program is Indigenous Voices, which seeks to share knowledge and experience in Aboriginal education with employees. Indigenous Voices is customized for employees of the University Library. These are just a few examples of the more established training and development opportunities available in the University Library.

The third stream of informal training and development opportunities has recently developed as an unexpected result of a change management initiative with a 3-5 year timeline. Teaching and learning; research support; and collections were identified as priority areas set to position the University Library to respond quickly to changes in the information landscape locally or in the profession. The third stream is evolving because each of the thematic plans includes action items to gather feedback from users and employees and, further, to share those learnings.

For example, the Research Support Plan, which includes activities to position the library as the definitive source of expertise and advocacy for open access on campus. The working group asked library employees for feedback on the usefulness of resources the group is creating on the concept of open access. Currently, the group is sharing knowledge about open access by presenting educational sessions, which all employees are encouraged to attend.

Library employees have become accustomed to easy access to sessions/programs on a variety of topics delivered in-house. The concept of improving oneself and contributing to the goals of the organization is firmly entrenched in the library’s culture. Attendance at training sessions is balanced with maintaining services objectives. Happily, quantitative evidence of the value of this sustained period of access to training and development opportunities appears in employee engagement scores rising from year to year. Anecdotal evidence includes reports from employees who enjoy building relationships at training sessions with colleagues from different work units. Employees who learn together are a tightly knit group, able to show resilience in the face of continual change in the academic sector. Newcomers to the organization take the development opportunities as a given, and expect to be included in the shared leadership/training experience.

With the plethora of training and development opportunities presented in a climate of reduced budgets, it is timely that the University Library is preparing to review its offerings in order to balance programming costs with the obvious developmental benefits. The shift in organizational culture has created ongoing demand for training and developmental opportunities for employees who are engaged in learning about themselves and their colleagues. By placing the review and coordination of programs in the strategic plan, library leaders are acknowledging the importance of training and development for employees and the organization.


This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

New Vistas for Vicki Williamson

By Virginia Wilson
Director, Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice

In 2006, Dr. Vicki Williamson left her Australian home in the middle of summer to become the Dean of the University Library, University of Saskatchewan (U of S). Please note that the middle of an Australian summer is the middle of a Saskatchewan winter. This alone illustrates Vicki’s tenacity, drive, and dedication. It also necessitated the purchase of a long down-filled winter coat and other protective paraphernalia. Vicki developed a working relationship with Saskatchewan weather and from 2006 to 2016, she served two five-year terms as the first ever Dean of the University Library. After an administrative leave, Vicki has retired. One wonders if Vicki kept that coat for the memories when she returned to Australia.

This post is to say a fond farewell, to express gratitude, and to invite you to join me in wishing Vicki all the best. Her career has spanned many years and multiple locations. After Vicki served in several high-level positions in Australia, the University Library was lucky enough to get the benefit of all that experience. With a focus on library transformation, library leadership, and librarians as researchers (to name just a few areas), Vicki’s hard work and dedication has put our University Library on the world map.

Vicki was proactive in her involvement with librarianship at the national and international level. Vicki played active roles in the following organizations:
• The Association of Commonweath Universities (ACU)
• Association of Research Libraries (ARL)
• Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL)
• Centre for Research Libraries
• Council of Prairie and Pacific University Libraries (COPPUL)
• Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC)

Within the University of Saskatchewan, the Library emerged as an entity recognized not only for providing excellent service for faculty, students, and staff, but also as a place where its faculty members conduct research and contribute to the research agenda of the University. One notable achievement (from my personal perspective) was the creation of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (C-EBLIP), a type-A centre in the U of S’s centre structure. C-EBLIP is the first of its kind in Canada and its mandate is to support librarians as researchers and to promote evidence based library and information practice (EBLIP). Vicki unflaggingly shepherded the Centre application through University channels culminating in the University Council voting in the affirmative for the creation of C-EBLIP in December 2012. From its grand opening in July 2013 until the present, C-EBLIP has been a concrete feature in the University Library and has supported librarians through grant proposals, tenure and promotion, academic writing, conducting research, the dissemination of research, and many more activities. Were it not for Vicki’s support and dedication, C-EBLIP would not exist.

There are so many more things to highlight about Vicki’s superlative career but it would take more than a blog post to do so. I will end by saying that I miss Vicki’s active presence in the Library and in librarianship. She has been a role model, an inspiration, and a strong leader for many of the librarians she has met. Canadian librarianship is better for Vicki’s time in our country (and now her country, as she obtained Canadian citizenship during her residence here). I wish her all the best in the future and hope that you might do the same in the comments below. Happy Retirement, Vicki!


l-r Dr. Vicki Williamson and author

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

In The End, It All Starts With Really Good Questions!

by Angie Gerrard, Student Learning Services, University of Saskatchewan

While attending an experiential learning showcase on my campus a few weeks ago, I was struck by a common theme mentioned by several faculty presenters. Faculty who work with students undertaking original research projects noted that a common challenge for students was identifying a research question. A particular faculty member surveyed her students on their experiences with the course research project and students reported that articulating a research question was the most difficult part of the entire research project. An interesting side note is that students reported that analyzing their data was the most valuable part of the process.

The challenge of formulating research questions piqued my interest as a librarian as we are often on the front lines assisting students with the evolution of their topic as the research process unfolds. We often help students navigate the iterative processes of exploring a topic, brainstorming potential avenues of research, asking different questions, undertaking initial searches in the literature, narrowing the scope of a question or alternatively broadening the scope, all the while tweaking the research question and trying to avoid the dreaded ‘maybe I should just switch my topic’.  I often wonder if there is an understanding of the time commitment and perseverance required for these initial, complex processes in the research cycle.  Clearly, students are struggling with this, as shown above; this challenge was echoed in Project Information Literacy’s findings where they asked students what was most difficult about research; 84% reported that getting started was the most challenging (Project Information Literacy, n.d.).

We know that students struggle with these initial stages of the research process, so what can librarians and faculty do to help students get past the hurdle of formulating good research questions? Here are a few suggestions.

Be explicit about the process. Research is iterative, messy, and time-consuming and often students who are new to academic research may arrive with a more linear mental model of the research process. To illustrate that research is a process, it is powerful to show students how to take broad course-related research topics, break them down into potential research questions, discuss how the questions evolve once one gets a taste of the literature and how further refinement of the question takes place as the process continues. By being explicit about the process, students have a better understanding that the broad topic they start with often evolves into something much more meaningful, unexpected, or interesting.

Encourage curiosity in the research process. At the campus event I alluded to, when I asked faculty how they dealt with students’ struggles with identifying research questions, they all reported the importance of students picking something that interests them, something they are curious about.  Anne-Marie Deitering and Hannah Gascho Rempel (2017), librarians at Oregon State University, recognized the overwhelming lack of curiosity expressed by students in their study, when these students were asked to reflect on their own research process. In response, the authors recommend “that as instruction librarians we needed to enter the process earlier, at the topic selection stage, and that we needed to think more intentionally about how to create an environment that encourages curiosity” (pg 3). In their awesome paper, the authors discuss different strategies they used with first-year students to encourage curiosity-driven research.

Start with a juicy source or artifact! Chat with faculty and ask them to recommend a subject-specific editorial, news article, blog posting, etc. that is controversial and/or thought provoking.  These sources can be old or new; the point is that students start with intriguing sources, not a pre-determined list of research topics. Students examine the sources then begin to develop various lines of inquiry, which evolve into research questions.

Use the Question Formulation Technique (QFT). Although this technique was developed for the K-12 environment, the approach can be adapted to higher education and beyond.  The QFT has six steps, as summarized in the Harvard Education Letter:

  • Step 1: Teachers Design a Question Focus. This question focus is a prompt in any form (visual, print, oral) that is meant to pique students’ interests and stimulate various questions.
  • Step 2: Students Produce Questions. Students note questions following a set of four rules: ask as many questions as you can; do not stop to discuss, judge, or answer any of the questions; write down every question exactly as it was stated; and change any statements into questions.
  • Step 3: Students Improve Their Questions. Students identify their questions are either open- or closed-ended and flip the questions into the alternative form.
  • Step 4: Students Prioritize Their Questions. With the assistance of the teacher, students sort and identify their top questions. Students move from divergent thinking (brainstorming) to convergent thinking (categorizing and prioritizing).
  • Step 5: Students and Teachers Decide on Next Steps. This stage is context specific where students and teachers discuss how they are going to use the identified questions.
  • Step 6: Students Reflect on What They Have Learned. This final step allows for students to develop their metacognitive / reflective thinking (Rothstein & Santana, 2011).

Rothstein and Santana (2011) note that “(w)hen students know how to ask their own questions, they take greater ownership of their learning, deepen comprehension, and make new connections and discoveries on their own. However, this skill is rarely, if ever, deliberately taught to students from kindergarten through high school. Typically, questions are seen as the province of teachers, who spend years figuring out how to craft questions and fine-tune them to stimulate students’ curiosity or engage them more effectively. We have found that teaching students to ask their own questions can accomplish these same goals while teaching a critical lifelong skill” (para. 3).

We know that formulating research questions can be a challenge for students. Being honest, explicit and transparent about this process may help students in tackling this challenge. I think we could all agree that encouraging curiosity in research and asking meaningful questions is not something that is confined to academia but rather are characteristics seen in lifelong learners.

In the end, it all starts with really good questions!

References

Deitering, A.-M., & Rempel, H. G. (2017, February 22). Sparking curiosity – librarians’ role in encouraging exploration. In the Library with the Lead Pipe. Retrieved from http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2017/sparking-curiosity/

Project Information Literacy. (n.d.). Project Information Literacy: A national study about college students’ research habits [Infographic].  Retrieved from http://www.projectinfolit.org/uploads/2/7/5/4/27541717/pilresearchiglarge.png

Rothstein, D., & Santana, L. (2011). Teaching students to ask their own questions. Harvard Education Letter, 27(5). Retrieved from http://hepg.org/hel-home/issues/27_5/helarticle/teaching-students-to-ask-their-own-questions_507#home


This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

5 Reasons You Should Attend EBLIP9

by Stacy Stanislaw, Drexel University

EBLIP9 is only a month away, and we’re working hard to finalize the last-minute details to ensure this year’s conference is the best ever. If you’re still not sure if this conference is right for you, then check out these 5 reasons why we’re excited for the meeting:

  1. Innovative and instructive workshops, programs and sessions. Is evidence-based practice important to you? Do you want to learn more about applying evidence-based concepts to clinical care, your research, or your own library or other organization? This year’s conference features more than 40 concurrent sessions, pre-conference workshops and other programming events that are all things evidence-based! Check out the full program and descriptions online to see for yourself.
  1. Networking opportunities. One of my favorite parts of attending conferences is the opportunity to meet new people and see old friends, and we know many of you feel the same way. So we’ve built lots of time for informal conversations throughout the conference. Grab a coffee and chat between sessions or tour the Free Library of Philadelphia with other conference goers during the opening night reception. Registration also includes access to the conference dinner at the Crystal Tea Room, one of Philly’s famous event spaces.
  1. Inspiring key note speakers. The 2017 keynote speakers hail from all different backgrounds. Opening keynote speaker Dr. Alison Brettle, a professor in Health Information and Evidence Based Practice at the University of Salford in the UK will kick off the conference, and Drexel’s own Yi Deng, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Informatics & Computing will speak on Tuesday morning. The conference ends with a talk from Pam Ryan, the Director for Service Development & Innovation at Toronto Public Library, on Wednesday.
  1. Poster Madness! What’s a conference without poster sessions? EBLIP9 will have a collection of amazing poster presentations on everything from using assessment to develop a plan for renovating library spaces to discussions on the value of consortia for an ARL library. And of course, we’ll continue the Poster Madness tradition, where presenters have one minute to find unique and interesting ways to promote their posters before the sessions begin.
  1. With Love, Philadelphia xoxo. Philly is an amazing city rich with history, museums, restaurants, shops and more. In between sessions and during your free time, visit the Liberty Bell or check out the renowned Philadelphia Museum of Art (don’t forget to have your photo taken with the Rocky statue, and then take a quick job up the museum steps!). You can also tour Drexel’s campus or visit our neighbor, the University of Pennsylvania, and then head down to the Rosenbach Museum & Library. We’ve got even more suggestions and tourism information on the conference page, and we’re happy to answer questions or help you book arrangements and tours if interested!

Those are just a few reasons to attend the 2017 Evidence-Based Library & Information Practice conference this June. Check out the conference website – www.EBLIP9.org – for more details on this year’s program, events and networking opportunities. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for immediate updates on the conference.

And finally, registration is open through May 31! You can register online for the full conference, a one-day pass, or for a pre-conference workshop. Sign up now to ensure your spot at the meeting.

We hope to see you here in Philadelphia!


This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Surviving Conference Season

This week we are going back into the Brain-work archives to revisit tips on surviving and thriving during conference season. Happy spring everyone – let us know in the comments which conferences you are planning to attend this year and what your plans are to maximize your time and resources.


by Carolyn Doi
Education and Music Library, University of Saskatchewan
*originally posted May 3, 2016

It’s that time of year again: conference season. It seems like myself and all of my library colleagues are out there right now, presenting, networking, and gathering ideas to bring back to the workplace. That being said, not every conference experience is a positive one. Here are some of my tips and tricks for making it through your next conference like a pro!

1) Plan for success. Preview the conference schedule beforehand and prioritize the things you absolutely need to attend (committee meetings, chapter sessions, your own presentation (!), etc.) and then the ones you’d really like to see. Pick your scheduling method of choice. A colleague of mine prefers to highlight the heck out of the print schedule, while I’ve found that taking advantage of the conference apps such as Guidebook can be really handy.

Don’t forget to give yourself time to see some of the local sights as well! If there’s an afternoon you can get away from the conference or – even better – if you can book an extra day or two on either end of the conference, you’ll be happy you did. It can be really frustrating to travel across the country to only see the inside of a convention centre. Plus, exploring the city with your fellow conference attendees is a great networking activity.

2) Surf the backchannel. Find the conference hashtag and tap into real-time Twitter/Facebook/Instagram conversations to find out what folks are saying about everything from the conference sessions, venue, and the best place to grab a quick bite to eat. It can be a great way to feel engaged and connected. Just remember, if you’ve got something negative to say on Twitter, be sure you’re ready to have the same conversation in person at the coffee break.

When I’m presenting, I find Twitter provides a quick and easy way to see how my presentation went over with the audience and gives me an opportunity to answer questions or send out links following the allotted presentation time. It’s always good to include the presenter in the conversation as well with an @ mention and use the conference hashtag, so those following from afar can also tap into what’s going on. There’s a lot to consider about the merits, drawbacks, and etiquette of conference tweeting. Check out Ryan Cordell’s article and suggested tweeting principles for more ideas.

3) Making networking meaningful. Small talk can be intimidating, but it’s certainly not impossible. Fallon Bleich’s article Small Talk at Conferences: How to Survive It offers some good tips.

As much as it can be tempting to talk to the people you already know, try to also work in some conversations with people you’ve never met, or someone you’ve always wanted to chat with. When in doubt, ask them what they’re working on at the moment. You might learn something new or even find someone new to collaborate with! I’ve had some great collaborative research projects come out of a simple conversation at a conference reception.

4) Presenting like a Pro. So much has already been written about how to give a good presentation. But as a rule of thumb, whether you’re using PowerPoint, Prezi, Google Slides, or Reveal, make sure your presentation slides aren’t more interesting than you are as a speaker. Selinda Berg discussed this in a previous C-EBLIP blog post where she argued for “PowerPoint as a companion…not as a standalone document to be read.” I couldn’t agree more. At the end of the day, you don’t want to be outdone by your own conference slides!

5) Mindful reflection. Take time before the conference to set an intention for your experience there. Is there a particular problem you want to solve, certain people you need to have a face-to-face conversation with or vendors that you need to approach? Conferences can go by quickly. Make sure you’ve identified your goals in advance so they become a priority while you’re there. I like to use a free note taking system such as Evernote to write everything down. Once I get home, I reread my notes and reflect on my experience. How can I apply what I learned in my own practice or research? Who do I need to follow up with?

Everyone has their own approach to traveling, presenting, and networking at professional events. These are some of the things that have worked for me and helped to make the whole experience more beneficial and enjoyable overall. Whatever your approach, I encourage you to sit back and enjoy the ride. Happy conference season, everyone!


This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Information Privilege and the Undergraduate Student

by DeDe Dawson Science Library, University of Saskatchewan

Privilege seems to be one of those things that you don’t realize you have until you no longer have it. This is not the case for some types of privilege of course. Someone’s race or gender will, in most cases, not change during their lifetime so privileges associated with these traits may be difficult for many to recognize. But someone’s ability to access information is likely to change.

One of the most frequently asked reference questions at an academic library is actually from recent graduates: “Why can’t I access e-resources anymore?” Libraries work hard to make access to electronic journals and literature databases as seamless as possible… so much so that undergraduates often don’t realize that they are using articles paid for by the library. Not until they graduate and lose access that is.

A bright and enthusiastic undergraduate student was my guide recently for a tour of the Canadian Light Source on the University of Saskatchewan campus. She explained to our group that scientists don’t pay to use the beamlines since they are conducting academic research, whereas companies pay by the hour. The distinction, according to our guide, is that the company is conducting research for their own profit whereas the academic is going to share his research in scholarly journals that everyone can read! I might have thrown up a little at that moment. But I did not want to hijack the tour by climbing on my open access soapbox right then. Reality will come crashing in once she graduates. Or… she could continue on to grad school, and then maybe on to become a faculty member, at large, rich institutions in the Global North and remain oblivious to the information privilege she currently enjoys.

Luckily, there is a growing awareness of this privilege among academic library users:

My intention in sharing the anecdote of the tour guide is not to shame the student. I was no different as an undergraduate (actually she’s a lot brighter than I was!), and her misunderstanding is understandable. My intention is to highlight the importance of teaching undergraduates about the scholarly communication ecosystem… and all of its warts: including its financial unsustainability and inequity of access. The Information has Value frame of ACRL’s Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education can serve as a guide in this.

For years now I have incorporated such messages in my instruction sessions. I clearly tell students that we are lucky to be at a relatively wealthy university, so we have access to X number of journals, and X number of databases that the library pays for. Students and researchers at smaller institutions or in developing countries are not as lucky. Even members of our own community who are not affiliated with the university are not as lucky (including others on the tour with me that day).

When teaching database-searching I am hyper aware of the irony of it all. Sure, these database-specific skills of controlled vocabulary searching and refining of results lists will help students in completing that upcoming assignment – but what good are these non-translatable skills when they graduate and no longer have access to that expensive resource? Only a small portion of our students will go on to grad school and use that database again.

This is why I now include a brief discussion of Google Scholar in these classes as well: emphasizing that it is also a useful resource – and will likely be the only one they have access to once they graduate.

I am far from the first to recognize this problem: see Char Booth’s excellent blog post On Information Privilege in which she describes an information literacy session she taught:

…I opened by challenging the fallacy that information is free by diagramming the library’s multi-million dollar materials budget against the “open web,” then facilitated a discussion about the implications of a system in which significant areas of knowledge are available to a privileged few (e.g., them). This may seem like a counterintuitive approach, but among my students it was a literally jaw-dropping illustration of a paywall that none of them knew existed. Choice responses (mirrored in other classrooms where I’ve used this approach) included:

“Why in the world does it cost so much?”
“It doesn’t make sense!”
“You mean all libraries have to pay like this?”
“Why can’t we use this stuff after we graduate?”

 

I feel strongly that we librarians have contributed to this current dysfunctional scholarly publishing system by (well-meaningly) sheltering faculty and students from the costs. This has emboldened publishers to aggressively inflate their subscription fees beyond inflation (and beyond reason) because they know that the end users are blissfully unaware… and because they know that librarians have a strong service ethic and will bend over backward to provide our patrons with the resources they need.

Let’s pull back that curtain now. Undergraduates are our future researchers and our allies in advocating for a more sustainable and equitable system. Even if undergraduates don’t go on to become researchers they will be tax-paying members of society funding that research. They should understand the system that their money funds and demand change.


This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

The conundrum of leadership

by Jaclyn McLean, Electronic Resources Librarian, University of Saskatchewan

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a leader. What leadership is. What a strong leader would look like. How I could be a leader from right here where I am today. So naturally, I have been doing some reading about leadership. And watching some videos about it, too. I’ve found a few philosophies about leadership that resonate with me, and many others that didn’t, which only serves to demonstrate the individual nature of leadership. There seems to be a need for hope, for optimism, in the world today. For me, thinking about the leader I could be and focusing on the positive, rather than letting my energy be drained by the state of the world around me, has made me feel like I’m doing something positive. These are some of the people whose ideas about leadership are inspiring me:

Susan Cain [link: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/16/opinion/sunday/introverts-make-great-leaders-too.html] wrote Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, a book that showed me that introversion is powerful. It is not something that needs to be cured. It is not the same thing as shyness. Some of the most powerful leaders in recent history would describe themselves with the characteristics of introversion.

Drew Dudley [link: https://www.ted.com/talks/drew_dudley_everyday_leadership] reminds us that leadership can be as small as a moment when you have an impact on someone else’s life. That as long as we make leadership about changing the world, we’re giving ourselves the excuse not to expect it from ourselves or each other.

Roxane Gay [link: https://www.ted.com/talks/roxane_gay_confessions_of_a_bad_feminist ] has the bravery to say and write the kinds of things I think but am not always brave enough to say. She says, in Bad Feminist: Essays “When you can’t find someone to follow, you have to find a way to lead by example.” If you haven’t read any of her writing, consider it [link: http://fortune.com/2015/02/12/women-shouldnt-have-to-lead-like-men-to-be-successful/]. Or follow her on Twitter and observe how she engages with critics. She leads by example.

Simon Sinek [link: https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_why_good_leaders_make_you_feel_safe] tells us that leadership is a choice in his Ted talk. He talks about trust and cooperation, about choosing to look after those to your right and your left, to sacrifice so others may gain. When you do, others will sacrifice for you. And that is leadership.

Tina Fey [link: https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/university_of_venus/lessons_from_bossypants_women_and_leadership] reminds us to be part of the solution. To say yes rather than no, to stay open to possibility rather than shutting it down for yourself and others.

Looking to these sources (and so many others who stretch my thinking (watch Leroy Little Bear [link: https://vimeo.com/172822409])), I’ve been building my personal definition of leadership for several years now. Right now, it looks something like this. Leadership is the accumulation of small victories. It is situational, vulnerable, authentic, generous, flexible, and driven by the heart. Leaders admit when they falter or fall down, and they get back up again. Being a leader is about the small actions, about treating others how you’d like to be treated, by setting expectations for others and meeting them yourself. The idea of leading with the heart reminds me of Selinda’s recent post [link: http://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2017/01/03/affective-research-supports/] on this blog. Providing affective research support is one of those small actions that can have a large impact.

So that’s what leadership looks like to me right now. What does it look like to you? What kind of leader do you want to be? What can you do to make someone else’s life a bit better today?

 

Author’s Note: In writing this post, I came face to face with the unavoidable truth that many of those we hold up as leaders, or as exemplifying leadership qualities, are white men or women. If you’d like to read more about that bias, I would point you to this article, “Think Leader, Think White? Capturing and Weakening an Implicit Pro-White Leadership Bias” from PLos ONE [link: http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0083915], and ask you to look for role models and leaders from outside your own cultural community. Or think about how to encourage leaders from all communities. Michelle Obama has some advice [link: https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2015/05/09/remarks-first-lady-tuskegee-university-commencement-address]. Thanks for reading.


This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Should I stay or should I go? Thoughts on conference travel and protest in academia

by Shannon Lucky, Information Technology Librarian, University of Saskatchewan

Over the past week I had many conversations with colleagues about this upcoming conference season and what we, as Canadians, are going to do about travelling to the U.S. The response from universities and academics around the world has been swift and damning of the American administration’s decision to ban citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from travel to the U.S., but there isn’t much consensus about what else we can do. Back in the Fall, I was delighted to be accepted to speak at a large American conference at the end of March, but now I’m not so sure I want to go. I’m thinking twice about the politics and practicalities of my choice; whether or not I feel both safe and right to participate in academic conferences in the U.S.

The impact of this ban was immediately felt in academia where travel for conferences, teaching, workshops, and research is the norm. Post-secondary campuses are full of people from all over the world and limiting the ability to travel for work and personal reasons – either for fear they won’t be allowed into the U.S., or fear they won’t be able to get back to their American home if they leave, is chilling. The ban doesn’t affect my ability travel. I am a Canadian citizen, I am white, English is my first language – I am in a place of privilege. But I worry about my colleagues who are not.

Writing for a blog about evidence-based practice, it isn’t hard to see how engaging in any way with a U.S. administration that uses ‘alternative facts’, led by someone making decisions “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had” (Fisher, 2016, July) is troubling. The fallout from this executive order is unpredictable and shifting day to day with little clarity about what it really means. As I am writing this, the ban has been temporarily halted (who knows what will have happened by the time you are reading) and it is this instability that is causing so much of my anxiety.

I have been weighing my options, reading everything I can find online, and asking colleagues what their plans are for traveling to the U.S. for work. For some people, there is no option – the risk of being blocked at the border (or not allowed back in if they leave) is too high. It’s fair to questions the intellectual integrity of events where Muslim colleagues are explicitly excluded. Over the past week, more than 6000 academics have signed a pledge to boycott travel to international conferences in the U.S. until the travel ban is lifted. I have also read online comments proposing that academics petition international conference organizers to move their events outside of the U.S. in protest. Many of the people interviewed for a CBC story about the travel boycott found supporting it was a complicated decision, a feeling I am also struggling with.

My knee jerk reaction is to stay away, take a moral stance and protest with my dollars. But I also think about my colleagues who have no choice but to live and work in that climate – what message am I sending them by staying away? What about scholars from those six countries studying and working in the U.S. who cannot leave the country with confidence they can return home?

The impetus to DO SOMETHING is strong (and I will confess that I am a little afraid of what could happen while I am there), so I want to sign that pledge and boycott with all of the people on that list that I respect. However, I haven’t signed because I also believe that smothering academic discourse by refusing to participate isn’t the answer, and withholding my registration money from liberal institutions and cheating myself out of the experience of being at the conference (and the CV line for having presented) does no good either. I have thought about asking if I can teleconference in for my talk or pre-record it, but that isn’t entirely in the spirit of an academic conference and it might be more technology than the organizers are prepared to deal with. I don’t know what to do.

I sit solidly on the fence today as I write this, and so do many of the people I have asked about this question. I imagine there are Brainwork readers struggling with the same decisions and weighing their own options. Have you made a decision about what you are planning do in the next few months? Do you have any advice to offer? I would love to hear it.

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Fisher, M. (2016, July 17). Donald Trump doesn’t read much. Being president probably wouldn’t change that. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://wpo.st/STj_2


This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.