Dipping Your Toes in the Water: Conference Poster Presentation as an iSchool Student
Published: May 4, 2022 by Laura Darlington
In April, the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA) held their 50th annual conference in Chicago, and I had the pleasure of attending and presenting thanks to the SJSU iSchool. Last year, I logged on to ARLIS/NA’s virtual conference, yet after two years of remote learning and pandemic isolation, I felt eager for an in-person experience.
I was thrilled to have my poster accepted for presentation at the conference, and to receive both the iSchool’s Travel Grant and the ARLIS Southern California Chapter’s Student Travel Award – together the two grants just about perfectly covered my expenses.
My enthusiasm was quickly neutralized by COVID anxiety; I had not been on an airplane since before the pandemic, although fortunately the mask mandate was still in effect when I flew. I found it reassuring that ARLIS/NA required vaccinations and masks to attend, plus Chicago has a pretty high vaccination rate.
The existence of ARLIS/NA and ArLiSNAP (a subgroup for Art Library Students and New ARLIS Professionals) was first brought to my attention in Maggie Murphy’s INFO-220 course, Visual Resources Curation and Arts Librarianship. What an exciting discovery that there is an organization specifically for art information professionals, the field I am hoping to join. I was delighted to finally meet Professor Murphy in person at the conference, and I greatly enjoyed the two presentations she gave.
Most of the sessions I attended were fascinating, and I absorbed so much, from new terminology, to new strategies, to entirely new ways of thinking. It was tremendously useful to hear how institutions in the real world are putting into practice the tools and methodologies we’re learning about as students. The knowledge I gained at the conference will enhance my course work as well as my career – that is, if I can decipher my copious scribbled notes!
As this was the 50th annual conference, a charming exhibit of ARLIS/NA ephemera from past conferences was displayed to celebrate the anniversary. I had fun browsing the artifacts and listening to stories from the elders.
My poster was on digital collections, highlighting a project I spearheaded at my previous job where we published a hidden museum collection online. While not as daunting as giving a presentation over the microphone to a packed ballroom, presenting a poster to people one- or two-at-a-time in the exhibit hall was still nerve-wracking, and I was not fully awake due to the time zone difference. However, the attendees put me at ease by engaging in friendly discussion; it was especially helpful to chat with those who’d undertaken similar projects and compare notes.
Every day was a whirlwind of new (albeit masked) faces and information, so between sessions I frequently ducked into the conference makerspace, which featured several outlets for creative rejuvenation: a collaging table, a collaborative zine station, a weaving loom, a Cricut machine, and a VR headset.
The conference was located downtown, within walking distance of many of the city’s cultural treasures. ARLIS/NA provided free admission to the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art, and I also checked out the wonderful Intuit Center for Outsider Art. A reception for first-time conference attendees was held at the historic Chicago Cultural Center, once the home of the central public library.
I met all kinds of interesting people from all over the world – I’d be making small talk with the person next to me only to find out they were the head of a famous institution, or they had a cool job like a video game art librarian, or they were still in grad school, just like me. Conferences are of course a chance to network, yet the connections I made felt genuine, not opportunistic.
I’m very grateful that I was able to attend the ARLIS/NA conference, it was truly an educational and positive experience. If you are considering attending a conference as a student, I recommend presenting a poster; it’s a low-pressure way to dip your toes in the water of a professional organization and join the conversation.
Editor’s Note: The SJSU iSchool highly encourages students to attend professional conferences but also realizes that it can be cost prohibitive. Travel grants are available to eligible students to help lessen the financial burden and increase conference participation. iSchool student Laura Darlington received one of these travel grants.