by Fallon Bleich, Head Editor, INALJ Arkansas
So You Want to Do A Poster Session?
Going to conferences is probably one of the most fun things that I get to do as an information professional. At no other time do I get to be in a room/city with thousands of people who are just like me! However, the problem with conferences is that they can be costly and you may not have a justification to go. This is why poster sessions are so fantastic; they give you a great reason to go to a conference, they can sometimes cover some costs (really depends on the conference), and they’re a great way to network with other library professionals. Plus, they look fantastic on your resume and you can use them to go to smaller conferences you may not have thought about before.
So, what goes on during a poster session? Typically, it’s like the science fairs from when we were kids. Usually you do some sort of examination on a topic, such as library technology use, and present your findings in poster format. You stand with your poster and answer any questions people might have on your project. Sometimes, you have the option of also giving a presentation alongside your poster.
Doing a poster session can be intimidating. Where do you even begin? How much work goes into them? What the heck are they even supposed to look like? As someone who is now an old pro at these things—seriously, I’ve got six under my belt, including one prize winner—I am here to help you! The following list is a how-to guide on having a successful poster session:
1.) Have an awesome concept. No, really, be interested in what you’re presenting on in your poster. If you’re not interested in your concept, why would anyone else be? I’ve used poster sessions as an excuse to further examine the habits of distance learning LIS students, the benefits and use of crowdsourcing in libraries and other nonprofits, and to get a full understanding of my library’s technology lending program. Having a concept that you’re interested in is key to having a successful poster session. It also helps if it’s something that other people are interested in; almost all poster sessions will have some sort of theme, i.e. technology use in libraries, for you to craft your poster around. (This is also a great way to meet like minded people in the field that you’re interested in)
2.) K.I.S.S. is not just something you do with your significant other. It’s an old acronym, Keep It Simple Stupid, but it definitely applies here. You are presenting all of your information in one poster, and because it can’t be the length of the room, you need to keep your poster as eye catching as possible. Don’t go crazy and put a thesis worth of information on your poster. They can be wordy, but they also need to make a point. Also, colors are important; whatever you do, keep your color scheme as basic as possible. You want your poster to attract people not detract them.
3.) Buddy up. This is the perfect opportunity to partner up with another person or with a whole group of people! If this is your first poster, sometimes it can be less intimidating to do it as a group project versus attempting a solo poster. I’ve done both, and they both have pros and cons. Group posters can be fun, and it can help you attempt a bigger project because there are more people to shoulder the work load. If you want to survey a bunch of people, having more than one person can mean access to many more potential survey takers, as well as more data for you to present on your poster. Group posters also means that you can partner up with someone who has done one before and use their expertise and guidance to help you succeed at your first poster session. Buddy work also allows for you to work on a poster but not necessarily present it at the conference. If you’re like me and not super rich, you can’t go to every conference, but sometimes you can partner up with someone who can and help out on the poster. It allows you to add it to your resume and the person going to the conference gets help. I do recommend that you try to go if you can though, because conferences are fun!
4.) Don’t come empty handed. Poster sessions are the best time to network. If you’re at a conference, you should have business cards with you, but bring a few extras for the poster session alone. You may not need them, but you don’t want to be without them. Networking at poster sessions has led to a lot of great conversations on my part and helped me become more comfortable with networking in general. Also, if you go the extra mile and make a webpage to accompany your poster, some easy business cards with QR codes look impressive to anyone who swings by your poster.
5.) Check out the other posters. Not only is this common courtesy, but it also lets you see what others in your line of work are doing. It can be super cool, as well, to find out new information that can help you in your office or can inspire you to take up a new project in your library. I’ve seen some awesome work done for poster sessions; they typically rev me up to go back home and start working on a new project.
I’ve included an example of one of my posters (done with fellow INALJ Head Editor, Mary Michelle Moore) and a picture of another poster I’ve done at work, to give you an idea of what a library conference poster can look like. Both of these have been used at conferences and both led to some great conversations! Poster sessions are fun and once you get a few under your belt, you’ll be surprised at how easy they can be.