By Michael Mungin
The Exhibit Hall at ALA Annual Conference is an agoraphobic librarian's nightmare come true. It is an exhilarating, chaotic expanse of professionals, vendors, publishers, performances, author readings and signings, and, of course, loads of free swag if you can hunt it down. However, amidst these goings-on is an exceedingly useful, often overlooked service for librarians: the Poster Sessions. For the past 32 years, ALA Annual has featured posters, which allow library professionals to present research, spread innovative ideas, discuss successful programs, and spotlight important issues in the profession. For conference attendees, these posters are a way to maximize exposure to the myriad professional development opportunities available.
Conference veterans will confirm that programs, meetings, and forums can be unsure bets as their descriptions may be misleading, they may fall victim to technological mishaps, or they may (as happened twice to me in Chicago) be too crowded for everyone interested to gain admission. The poster sessions are a refreshing alternative to this. Though they may not always be as comprehensive as the programs, they do offer a few beneficial features: if one poster is not applicable to your job or area of interest, another one that might be is only a few steps away; the researcher is standing with their poster, at your disposal, allowing you to hear details, ask questions and engage in a way that the programs do not allow; and there are a multitude of them - 120 posters in six sessions at the 2013 Conference. I believe the biggest and most widely beneficial advantage of the poster sessions is that they allow your professional development to become your organization's professional development. Professionals are offered ideas to bring back to their home institutions, and the presenters often make the materials fully available to those who leave their contact information, allowing colleagues to see the same thing and opening up channels of communication with the presenter should further questions arise.
I strongly encourage those who missed the poster sessions at this year's conference to check them out on ALA's conference scheduler website. Many presenters have uploaded materials or posted PDFs or PowerPoint files of their poster and related materials in the comments section of their entry in the conference scheduler. There are far too many posters than can be summarized here, but I will discuss some of the posters I found most intriguing and how I intend to bring ideas from them back to my workplace.
"Schoolin' Life: Mentoring Librarians in the 21st Century," by Jacquelyn Daniel and Tanji Gibson of the Robert W. Woodruff Library in Atlanta, first caught my eye. Following a large number of retirements, my institution has recently hired a number of new, entry-level librarians, including myself. We have undergone a somewhat informal mentoring program, but no clearly defined mentor-mentee roles and concrete goals for that relationship have been established. However, there has been some recent momentum toward formalizing our program and this poster could potentially provide an exceedingly helpful roadmap for doing so. The poster focuses on the benefits of mentorship to mentors, mentees, institutions and the profession. The presenters argue that retention, motivation, clarity of mission and values, networking and collaboration skills and opportunities all stand to benefit greatly from mentorship. Those new to the profession, especially, have a clear interest in the establishment and improvement of mentorship opportunities both within libraries and ALA - the perspective presented in this poster provides essential guidance for this. I intend to pass along the materials provided by the presenters to my colleagues who lead the charge on mentorship and training, which I expect will be well received. The presenters were able to clarify a few details about how they implemented their mentoring program and we exchanged contact information for future follow-up. More information can be found on the presenters' LibGuide: http://research.auctr.edu/rwwlmentoring.
Another poster of keen interest to me, and would likely also be to newer librarians, was entitled "All Work and No Play: New Reference Librarians and Stress." This research was along the same lines as the mentorship poster. The researcher, Anne Larrivee of Binghamton University Libraries, highlighted the main reasons new librarians experience job-related stress, including relocation, new work culture and self-expectation. Larrivee identified coping mechanisms that librarians and their managers can utilize to alleviate and eventually eliminate this stress. This poster resonated with me a great deal, not only because of how my institution can apply the researcher's suggestions to our orientations for new librarians and training programs, but because I experienced many of the exact issues described in the poster when I began my current job. The insight of this poster was truly impressive. A handout from the poster can be found on ALA's conference website: http://ala13.ala.org/node/12058.
These are just two examples of the dozens of intriguing posters at this year's conference. I strongly encourage readers to browse the featured posters at the 2013 conference on the ALA Annual website to see the plethora of topics their colleagues presented. The number of ideas being shared and learning and networking opportunities make the poster sessions a feature of the conference that is absolutely not to be passed up.
Daniel, Jacquelyn and Tanji Gibson. "Schoolin' Life: Mentoring Librarians in the 21st Century." ALA Annual Convention. McCormick Convention Center, Chicago. 29 Jun. 2013. Poster.
Larrivee, Anne. "All Work and No Play: New Reference Librarians and Stress." ALA Annual Convention. McCormick Convention Center, Chicago. 29 Jun. 2013. Poster.