Presenting at a Library Conference as a Student

Last month, I had the opportunity to present for the first time at a library conference. I’ve presented at conferences before, slowly working my way into it by starting with graduate student conferences, but all of my presentations to date have been at area studies-related conferences.

This summer, I decided it was time to start presenting at library conferences too, but I wanted to be smart about the process. Thus, for my first conference, I decided to pick something small. I submitted an abstract to the Open Access Conference in San Jose. It looked like a small enough conference that if my presentation did get picked I wouldn’t have to deal with too much anxiety. It was also about open access, a topic that I do not know a lot about, but also a topic that I want to learn more about. I wanted to make sure that I was invested in the conference not just because I was presenting.

I also decided to propose a lightning talk. Again, I was nervous about my first foray into the library world and wanted to keep it small. Giving a ten-minute talk was the perfect way to dip my toes in the water without overwhelming myself.

While attending the conference itself, I kept in mind advice we’ve heard before about attending conferences: while I definitely wanted to network and to get to know other attendees, I also made sure to make time for myself when I needed it. At the beginning of the conference, I sat at a table with people I didn’t know—not hard, but I could also have chosen a table by myself. Taking the first step toward getting to know people made me feel more confident throughout the rest of the day.

My presentation was scheduled for after lunch, so I decided to make use of the lunch break to withdraw a bit and look over my notes. Many of the other conference attendees also took time after eating to catch up on some work or to explore the building and the nearby area. This break helped me to re-center and re-energized me for the second half of the day.

This was also the first conference where I made an effort to engage on Twitter during the conference itself. I like to look through conference hashtags after the fact, but because this conference was smaller and more manageable, I thought I’d check out the hashtag in real time. If you can handle paying attention and Twitter at the same time, I definitely recommend this! At the very least, it helped me connect with more people than I would have otherwise.

Finally, and most importantly, I went into this conference wanting to learn more. I presented about how scholars in Southeast Asia are using open access publishing, but what I wanted to know was how librarians are dealing with open access publishing. I haven’t taken any classes focused on open access, so I planned for this class to be my primer on the subject. And it was! I learned a lot and I’ve started to become much more interested in open access, something I had never thought much about before attending. Even if it was a small conference, I’m taking what I learned and bringing it into the future.


More on Twitter here from Michael and more on attending conferences here and here from Lauren and Brenna.


Zoë McLaughlin is a Master’s student at the University of Michigan’s School of Information. Find her on Twitter, LinkedIn, or at her personal blog.

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