Sep 01 2002
Presenting in front of a group of peers can be nerve-racking — especially when your involvement is “volunteered” by your director, as was my first professional presentation. Two coworkers and I had just wrapped up an exhilarating/exhausting collection development project where we opened five new or expanded locations in less than one year. While managing our normal budget concerns, we added the delight and pressure of wisely spending $1 million for this ODC project. Our director thought presenting would be a wonderful way to showcase our experiences and share our tribulations and shortfalls with others who might be moving towards similar projects.
Even though I am an outgoing person, I admit feeling discomfort with this scenario. I had been Youth Services Librarian for a little over one year, and had never written anything scholarly in the library/ information science field. At that point, I had not even begun my Masters degree; I was in my professional-level position because I had a strong library/youth services background. Doing a presentation before peers with more experience and with degrees that I did not possess seemed daunting.
We worked up the presentation and delivered it in October 1999. I didn’t pass out or hyperventilate. In fact, I was invigorated by the experience! The following year, I co-presented on a panel about the importance of “Jumpstarting Your Library Career,” informing the audience about the new online Distance Education component to the University of Tennessee MSIS program that I had begun in Fall 2000. (I had moved in May 2002 to a library system straddling the Virginia/Tennessee state lines, where I served as a Reference Assistant.)
For VLA 2001, I organized a panel discussion focusing on three graduate programs available to Virginians. I signed on as the representative from UT, along with a representative from Florida State’s online program, and a representative from Catholic University’s program that was beginning to offer more online classes. Before the conference, however, I moved to my current position in a community college as a Reference Librarian — while still working on my graduate degree. Due to budget restrictions in Tennessee, I recruited a very capable online peer (Thena Jones) from the UT program to stand in for me.
In 2002, I co-presented at the Tennessee Library Association about being a Distance Education student, along with Keri-Lynn Paulson, an on-campus student whom I had met, first through online classes together, then through sharing living spaces in a condo for a few days for ALA Midwinter in New Orleans (January 2002). We compared what it is like on both sides of the coin for UT students involved in classes with an online presence. Doing so taught us a great deal and gave audience members a taste of student life from either angle of the online education scene.
I plan to complete my MSIS in December 2002. I mention this only because so many people in our field limit themselves professionally in the same way I did before being coerced to participate in my first state-level presentation. If I did not hold that degree and did not have more “professional” experience, how could I possibly be worthy of presenting at a conference or workshop, or taken seriously by my peers?
Some of the very best conferences/workshops I have attended were not the ones presented by masters in a particular area, but by people who are out there doing that work on a regular basis. Knowing how to do something — and sharing that knowledge, as well as any shortcomings you may have experienced — is one of the greatest professional gifts. To keep your knowledge to yourself is selfish indeed. It is through sharing (good and bad), that I believe we grow professionally. If we cannot learn from each other, where will we find our mentors and professional confidantes?
Most of us are daily engaged in activities of interest to our colleagues. Think about things that have been successes. Identify whether or not other librarians outside of your immediate facility do the same things; think of ways to share your successes. So many times, so many of us struggle, unsure where to seek advice about starting new programs or offering existing programs more effectively. Sometimes, just hearing about what others have done gives us ideas of how we might alter their projects to create innovative programming in our own libraries.
Maybe this piece has helped you to realize that you have a program to share. How do you get involved? Contact your state association or browse their web site to see their conference presentation details and guidelines. If you are too nervous to present alone, ask a coworker or colleague to help you. Most of us have operated on “the buddy system” since we were children, and this approach is soothing in many ways.
What if you work in a library that cannot offer financial assistance to get to the conference? First of all, if you are willing to work up a program that will have your name and the name of your institution on it for the entire state to see, it is unlikely that your library will not try to help in some way. Secondly, most state associations will offer some sort of price break or incentive to 1-2 presenters. As this varies, it is wise to know the details up-front and to approach your supervisor/director as you begin your presentation proposal.
If conference presentation is still impossible, join e-mail discussion lists, where you can exchange ideas less formally. Or, find places where you can publish your ideas (either through online sources such as this one or sources published through your state association, other national publications, or ALA). Regardless of how formal or informal you want to be, there is a place for communicative sharing in our profession. Showing what you’ve got — and what you know — is beneficial beyond your own experiences.
Chrissie Anderson Peters is a Reference Librarian at Northeast State Technical Community College in Blountville, TN, and a December 2002 MSIS candidate of the University of Tennessee’s online Masters program. She has worked in the library profession since 1993, in public and academic libraries in Tazewell, Roanoke, Bedford, and Bristol, VA; as well as Bristol and Blountville, TN. She is a wife of six months to Russell Peters, and mother to two lovable cats, Mel and Reid.