Presenting a Poster Session at ALA Annual

By David Kupas

Poster sessions at ALA Annual, a state conference, or similar venue are a great opportunity for new librarians to gain presentation experience by presenting on a research topic that interests them or an innovative library program/project in which they had been involved. At this year's Annual Conference I had the honor of co-presenting one of the 120 poster sessions chosen from among nearly 300 proposals. Although I had participated in a group poster session while in graduate school, this was my first time presenting a poster at the professional level.

Because poster sessions largely speak for themselves, they are less stressful than the more formal 45-minute solo presentations and panel sessions. This is not to say that poster sessions particularly their creation are stress free, so you may still appreciate the support of having a co-presenter. My co-presenter, unfortunately, ended up being a ghost presenter as she could not make the trip to Washington. ALA requires that at least one presenter be present.

Perhaps it was our topic (library preservation), the session's time (there were concurrent programs during our scheduled time that I was sorry to have missed), or the location of the poster displays in the back of the Exhibit Hall, but there was less traffic than I had anticipated given that 26,201 individuals attended this year's conference. And the poster session was not unlike having a garage sale, where people stop to quickly look at what you have without buying anything. However, there were also interested attendees and I enjoyed talking with librarians from a variety of libraries, among them: the library director from an arts school; a reference librarian from a small, private liberal arts college; a public middle school librarian; the associate university librarian at a state land-grant institution; and the government librarian from Trinidad and Tobago.

The highlight of the 1-hour session for me was when a librarian from Orlando, Florida, excitedly sought out our table. She had seen the poster's abstract online and had promised her co-worker that she would check it out. Apparently, they are experiencing preservation issues at her library, including a mold infestation. She seemed to be quite pleased with the information that our poster conveyed. If our poster helps at least one library to better preserve its materials then the session was well worth the time and effort.

When creating a poster session, consider the following:

  • The poster dimensions given by ALA are the maximum recommended. Having a smaller poster ensures that it will fit the board provided, the size of which varies by conference site by as much as 6 inches. A smaller poster is also easier to hang.
  • Less is more. Attendees generally do not want to read a lot of text, so try to keep the text on your poster to a minimum. Use bullet points and images or graphics to make the poster more reader friendly. Be prepared for the attendee who does not want to read your poster at all, preferring that you verbally summarize it. Tell me what you did; or what is your poster about?; are not unusual requests.
  • If you provide printed handouts, consider limiting them to just one. Remember: attendees will be loaded down with exhibitor goodies and other conference materials. Rather than print handouts with additional information, my co-presenter and I chose to go the green route and created a blog ( to supplement our poster. I especially appreciated this decision as I had less to transport to the conference. Having a sign-up sheet for those who would like further information e-mailed to them is another environmentally-friendly option. If you do have printed handouts, do not overestimate the demand for them; running out of them is better than having to throw out extras.
  • Proofread, proofread, proofread! If possible, have someone else read your poster before you print it.
  • Set a deadline for printing your poster that is early enough to allow time to (re)print it if you encounter IT issues or discover a mistake.
  • For those unfamiliar with poster sessions, visit one at the next conference that you attend. Many of the attendees during my session were graduate students who had to create a poster for an upcoming school assignment, but did not know where to begin.

Further information about ALA Poster Sessions is available online. Proposals for the 2011 Annual Conference will be accepted between October 1, 2010, and January 1, 2011.