Presenting at Conferences while in Library School

There have been some terrific posts about conferences on HackLibSchool in the past: Chris recently wrote about unconferences and Joanna wrote a post earlier this year encouraging students to attend conferences as a library student. Today I want to take these posts a step further and encourage other future librarians and information professionals to not only attend but also present at conferences while in library school. I concluded my spring semester with a panel presentation at a state conference (Society of Indiana Archivists) and a poster presentation at a national conference (LOEX), where I had such great experiences that I want to encourage other library school students to take the plunge and do the same.

To reiterate some of the reasons Joanna mentioned in her post, attending conferences is a valuable part of your library school years because of the networking opportunities, educational takeaways, and considerably lower student registration costs. When you present at a conference you get all of the same benefits of attending while also gaining valuable experience for your resume/CV. After presenting at a conference, you will have documented evidence of contributing to the profession (a great way to prepare for those job postings that say “demonstrated commitment to professional development” preferred/required!). It also shows that you are comfortable with public speaking, which I guarantee will make you stand out on the job hunt.

There are multiple types of presentations at conferences (poster, panel, and paper) and conference sizes (local, regional, state, and national). They each have their own culture and provide different opportunities for student presenters. Poster presentations are usually the format students are encouraged to take up at larger conferences (a pretty low-pressure introduction to conference participation), whereas smaller conferences will likely accept paper sessions from students and working professionals.

So, why don’t all library school students present at conferences? I’ve determined a few main barriers to conference participation and thought I’d offer up my tips on overcoming them.

Presentation topic

Sometimes it feels as though coming up with a compelling topic for a presentation is an insurmountable goal… but you can do it! If you’re able to choose topics that are already part of your workload, presenting isn’t that much more work than what you’re doing anyway. You can double-up by presenting on topics you’ve researched as part of a class, or if relevant and okayed by your boss, at work. Drawing on an internship experience is another classic presentation topic. Take advantage of your fellow library students and propose a poster or panel session with them–it will be less pressure just on you (but like any group work just make sure you pick reliable peers to collaborate with).


Ah, funding. Most library students are not rolling in the dough, so money is a serious consideration when it comes to attending/presenting at a conference. While student registration is considerably cheaper than normal registration, it can still be expensive. Sometimes there’s no way around this and it becomes a difficult choice to make, but I think with a little strategy you can find ways to lower your overall costs.

  • Start small: Regional and state conferences often have very affordable registration fees (in the $25-50 range) and occasionally these will be waived for presenters. These conferences may be within driving distance, so if you have a vehicle you can go there for the day without needing to get a hotel room.
  • Free money: Apply for any and all scholarships you can. This seems obvious but sometimes funding opportunities are not advertised as well as they could be, especially in the case of small conferences–which is ironically where you have the best odds of being granted the money. Don’t be afraid to contact the conference committee asking if there are any scholarships available to help students attend and present at the conference in question.
  • Band together: Actively seek out others in your program who want to carpool and/or split a hotel room. Not only is it incredibly nice to have a support system when you’re experiencing impostor syndrome, this can really break the cost down into a manageable figure.

Lack of Planning

Often, calls for proposals are advertised anywhere between 3-12 months in advance of the conference with deadlines well before the conference itself. This requires prospective presenters to not only know about the conference in question but also come up with an idea for their presentation.

Because the timelines vary from conference to conference, there is no other way to prepare than: go forth and do your research, future librarians! I recommend utilizing an electronic list service and maintaining a list specifically for upcoming conferences that you are interested in presenting at. For instance, I currently have most of the 2013 large and mid-size conferences I’m scoping out on my own list. Because I am often adding new conferences and deleting ones I’ve reconsidered, the list stays fresh in my mind. I’ll know to start looking for calls for proposals for the 2013 group starting this fall. All it really takes to stay on top of conferences is diligence and some Google search skills!


If you can afford the registration, saw the call for proposals, and had a presentation topic accepted, first of all, congrats! There’s still managing your schedule to contend with, though. We’re all juggling classes, jobs, and internships, so sometimes the thought of adding a conference to the mix can be (if you’re at all like me) almost hyperventilation-inducing. However, the nice thing about conferences is that you will find out whether your proposal has been accepted months in advance, so you should be able to make any necessary arrangements by then. It can be tricky, but I firmly believe conferences are worth prioritizing and squeezing into an already tight schedule.

An additional note: merely proposing a presentation topic and having it accepted doesn’t mean you are instantly committed to presenting. If something has come up between the time you submitted your proposal and the time you find out it has been accepted, you are perfectly free to decline. A conference committee member will likely ask you for a confirmation and if you say yes it’s only then that you are committed to presenting–so it’s always worth it to at least propose a topic!


I saved this barrier for last because I think it’s the most serious adversary library school students have in presenting at conferences. Let’s just get it out there: public speaking is uncomfortable. Wondering if your proposed topic–even if it has already been accepted for the conference!–will be relevant and interesting to your audience: also uncomfortable. Putting yourself out there in a community of librarians you very much admire and want to be respected by: you guessed it, SUPER uncomfortable.

Maybe there’s a percentage of library school students that are not uncomfortable to some degree with these aspects, but I’m not one of them. My solution is just to do it anyway, and so can you! You definitely don’t have to feel every second like you’re a superstar. In fact, a lot of the time you will probably by plagued by self-doubt (I am!) and that’s okay. You can do this. Read this article. Prepare well, enjoy yourself, and be proud that you’re challenging yourself. Keep in mind that the librarians I’ve met at conferences seem to truly enjoy hearing what library students have to say, so believe in yourself because you likely have many valuable contributions to make to the field!

Have you presented at conferences while in library school? What are your strategies for making it work?

35 replies

  1. I’ve presented at two conferences (one while in library school, one when I was not). The experience gained from these presentations have been a springboard to other things. Because of the presentations, I have found myself on planning committees for conferences and even acting as a co-chair for a conference. Another perk is that because of a presentation I was a part of, a library system has asked that a colleague and I attend their All Staff Training Day and present to them. This was the direct result of a couple of their staff members attending my conference session.

    A couple notes on nerves: of course it’s nerve wracking to speak to a large group, but from my experience, the people you are presenting to are just like you – or they once were. These are your peers and colleagues in this profession and they are not there to see you fail, they are there to encourage you. Also, the fact that you’re a student doing this presentation shows a lot about your character. The people in your audience remember that, trust me.

    If you are really nervous, being part of a panel is a good way to start. If you want to do an actual session at a conference, consider pairing up with a co-worker or another student. Having multiple views and experiences of a topic only enriches your presentation!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great advice, Brianna! It’s true that you never know what new opportunities will come from presenting at a conference. Also, your comments about nerves are spot on. From what I’ve found, a lot of librarians are very impressed with students who are presenting. I often had this weird feeling that they’d be lying in wait to judge me since I wasn’t yet a “real” librarian yet deigning to speak with authority on a topic at a conference… but then I realized that that was just the anxiety taking effect. After all, I know a lot of wonderful librarians so it wasn’t really a realistic concern.

      Especially at smaller conferences, library students who are presenting get attendees really excited–fresh faces and ideas in a group that usually knows each other well already!


  2. I agree with all of the above points! Presenting is always a little scary. Fortunately, the more often you do it, the less frightening it becomes. You can do it lib school crew!


    • I remember reading a training manual for a task that required public speaking sometime this past year. It said something along the lines of, “Are you nervous? If so, that’s GREAT because it means you care about what you are doing.” It then went on to discuss ways to harness that energy so that it was useful instead of detrimental. It really changed the way I think about anxiety. I agree that the more you present the less nervewracking it is, although there’s often still some anxiety. I think embracing it instead of having the mindset that you’re only a good speaker if you aren’t nervous at all is vital.


      • I would definitely consider myself somebody who is comfortable speaking in front of groups, but anxiety comes into anyway. You’re absolutely right that the fact that nerves are present means you do care about what you’re talking about! That’s a really great piece of advice!


  3. While I haven’t done a “real” presentation, I’ve done 2 posters. If public speaking seems too nerve-wracking, poster presentations are definitely less intimidating! I really enjoyed mine because they felt more like discussions rather than me talking at people.


    • I agree… poster sessions are pretty casual. You can compile your information and graphics well ahead of time, and by the time the poster session comes around all you need to do is show up ready to talk!


  4. MLIS student here (one semester left). I’ve done two papers at regional/state archives conferences. In August I am chairing a panel at a national conference (eek!) I want to put in a plug for Toastmasters – I joined it a few years ago, and it has done WONDERS for getting me over my fears of public speaking. Each TM group has its own flavor, but the TM curriculum is both very structured and very flexible. Each time you do a speech, you receive very valuable feedback. To be totally frank, I think far more academic and library/archives conferences would be WAY more enjoyable to attend if every speaker had some kind of Toastmasters training.


    • It’s interesting that you bring up Toastmasters – the Career Center at IU SLIS is actually looking into partnering with them this upcoming year and encouraging library students to get involved. I’m glad to hear you recommend it so highly! And good luck on your upcoming presentation!


      • I would love to join Toastmasters, but the local groups have always met at lunch and I haven’t the seniority to take a 2 hour lunch. Another student at my SLIS looked into Toastmasters for us–we are mostly remote/online students and learned Toastmasters will _not_ charter online groups–only in person meetings. That is sad, because I think, with Google Hangouts, we could simulate much of what I experienced as a guest at a program half a state away.


  5. I love conferences! (And I’m even a determined introvert.) One thing I’ll add about conference attendance is that people greatly appreciate it when you introduce yourself to them. Even though you may think the panelists are all really fancy, they are still people who enjoy having people talk to them after their presentations or in passing in the hallways of the conference site.


    • I agree, Paul. I’ve come to the realization that people whose papers I read or who I hear speak at conferences are just people like me, so they enjoy chatting, especially with students.


  6. As a former musicologist, to me, conferences are just /what/ /you/ /do/. It’s like a stepping stone. Conference. Journal article. Book. It’s the trajectory of a scholar’s life. I think it has really benefited me to start young with conferences. Being able to participate in graduate student conferences not only gave me experience presenting to a group that is perhaps less intimidating than a room full of professionals, but gave me a head start on cultivating that lovely section of my CV.

    Conference presenting is possibly one of the best tools one can use to network within this community of librarians, especially if you’re in a specialized field (music librarianship, etc.) Even just being able to attend the national Music Library Association conference was able to land me a number of contacts that I would not have had simply from getting my daily dose of a listserv or twitter feed.

    Really, I can see no disadvantages to conference attendance/presenting. It may be nerve-wracking, but chances are the people will be very receptive and supportive.


    • Absolutely. I like that you brought up specialized fields within librarianship because I think those conferences can be trickier to learn about and plan for. Having a mentor who is able to comment on those conferences and say which, in their opinion, are necessary versus just so-so can be a great help when deciding where to direct your energies.


  7. I presented an old undergrad history paper at a regional Phi Alpha Theta (history honorary society) Conference while I was in library school. The paper I’d picked was related to the Civil War.
    There were presentation panels for member and non-member students. It was interesting going and hearing what historical topics others had chosen to present. Plus it’s something to add to your resume!


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