by Rebekah Kati, Head Editor, INALJ North Carolina
How to Ace the Academic Library Database Presentation
Typically, when candidates are invited to the second round of interviews for an academic library position, they are asked to give a presentation. For reference and instruction positions, this presentation is often a demonstration of a database to undergraduate students in an introductory class. Speaking in front of people is an intimidating experience, especially for new graduates who have not taught an instruction session before, but the tips below should help you put together a great presentation!
The best presentations don’t happen at the last minute, so get started early. First, it is a good idea to query the search committee if the prompt is unclear or if you have questions. Also, you may want to ask about the following things:
● The limitations of the presentation room. For example, will there be a computer with a projector? If you are planning to use PowerPoint, will it be installed on the computer that you are to use? If you want to write or draw on a whiteboard, will it be available? Always decide on a contingency plan, just in case something goes wrong. For example, you may want to email a copy of your presentation to yourself in case the search committee misplaces it. Perhaps you might plan to use a whiteboard if the internet goes down.
● Guest credentials to the library’s databases. This is especially important if you no longer have access to databases from your own university. Plus, using the interviewer’s databases during the presentation will help you to become familiar with their library and help the search committee envision you in the role.
● Any details that the search committee might have omitted from the prompt. You may especially want to ask about time constraints, if these were not given upfront.
Second, decide on the format of your presentation. It is a good idea to use some sort of visual aid if possible, but do you want to use a PowerPoint, or demonstrate a search live? I usually opt for the latter, but the former is useful for explaining key library concepts such as Boolean operators.
Content of the presentation
The time constraints specified by the search committee will give you an idea of how in-depth the presentation should be. When putting together my presentations, I typically include:
● A brief overview of the library homepage, in which I point out items that undergraduate students might need to be aware of, especially the library’s Ask a Librarian service.
● A demonstration of the best way to navigate to the databases by name or databases by subject page.
● A brief explanation of the databases available and the reason that I am demonstrating the database that I have chosen. I usually will pick a general database, such as Academic Search or ProQuest Central to show, but if the presentation prompt is specific to a certain subject area you may want to choose a more specialized database.
● An introduction to the keyword searching interface which highlights important features like limiters and boolean operators.
● A live demonstration of a basic keyword search. If there is a lot of time allotted for the presentation, I may do more than one search.
● An explanation of the results, including a demonstration of how to limit the results to certain years, formats and to peer-reviewed publications.
● If there is time, I will also explain Boolean operators and the concept of peer review.
Of course, you should always tailor your search to the prompt. If the prompt mentions a specific subject area, the demonstration should focus on that area. If the prompt is for more advanced students, than a more advanced search might be needed.
Practice the presentation as much as possible, which will help reduce nervousness. Also, plan for the worst. If the internet should go out, what will you do? Pre-planning for these contingencies will make you better prepared to handle them should they happen.
Always stay on time, or as close to time as you can. When you are presenting in front of real students, you will be expected to stick to a timeframe and the search committee will likely be looking to your presentation as an example of your ability to do this. However, if the presentation is scheduled to take a short amount of time, you can state that you would include specific types of content for a longer session.
It is a good idea to bring a few sample searches with you, which will produce the results that you want. This is especially important if you are reviewing the results page during the presentation. If you intend to show your “students” how to access the PDF version of an article, make sure that there is an article with a PDF version within the first few results so that you do not have to waste time hunting for one.
During the presentation, always explain what you are doing while you are navigating the screen, especially if you are supposed to be presenting to undergraduates in an introductory class. Stop and physically point out important items or highlight them on the screen if the presentation software allows, as the mouse can be difficult to see from far away.
The presentation can be one of the hardest parts of the on-campus interview but with a little preparation, you can give a great one that will impress the search committee. Good luck!