Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
This paper describes the creation of a poster for the poster session that was part of the ACRL Science and Technology Section program "Federal Friends: Creating Greater Access to and Support for Science and Technology Information," at the American Library Association Annual Conference in June 2010. Details about the making of the poster up to and including the final presentation serve to capture the experience and share information about the lessons learned during the process.
The Science and Technology Section (STS) of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) scheduled a conference program entitled, "Federal Friends: Creating Greater Access to and Support for Science and Technology Information" and disseminated a call for proposals in late 2009. According to the call for proposals, this theme was selected because "federal agencies are essential sources of science and technology information" (ACRL Science and Technology Section 2010).
My colleague, Stephanie Braunstein from the Louisiana State University Libraries, and I worked together to prepare a poster for presentation at the 2010 ALA Annual Conference that would be held in June 2010 in Washington, DC. We knew that there was great federal government support of programs involving science and technology research in institutions and special centers around the world. There are hundreds of examples of established partnerships between various federal agencies and research universities and those partnerships range from simple relationships based on special short-term projects funded by limited grant awards to complex R&D laboratories that have existed under special funding and commission for decades.
The focus of this poster session was not to try to catalog all of the partnerships, but to focus on a representative few that were related to science and technology research at universities within the United States. Four programs were selected as examples to highlight the associated partnership and the research. This number was arbitrary, but driven by the design plan of the poster and the space limitation. The title of the poster was "Information for All: The Federal Agency-University Partnership for Research."
Selections included the partnership between the University of North Carolina and the National Science Foundation represented by the NSF-UNC Science and Technology Center for Environmentally Responsible Solvents and Processes; the partnership between the University of Maryland and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration represented by the Center for Research and Exploration in Space Science and Technology; the partnership between Florida International University and the U.S. Department of Energy represented by the DOE-FIU Science and Technology Workforce Development Initiative; and the partnership between the University of Utah and the National Institutes of Health represented as the NIH/NCRR Center for Integrative Biomedical Computing. These partnerships reflect the ways the U.S. federal government provides significant long-term investment in both funding and support.
The first step in creating the poster was gathering as much of the letter drawing stencils, poster drawing material and markers, tape, rulers, pencils, erasers, and clips that could be found. Several sets of stencils were found including some of the plastic stick-on type. The guidelines for the poster stipulated a minimum size requirement for the letters and indicated that the poster had to be big enough to fit on the display panel that would be 4-feet high by 8-feet wide. My colleague and I found table space that would accommodate this 4-by-8 size and planned to lay out the poster in order to determine a suitable design, arrangement of material, and scalability needs. This effort proved extremely useful because it allowed us to organize our ideas and depict how they could be presented in the poster. The text had to be large enough to be readable from a distance and this was challenging because of the need to distinguish between titles, subtitles, and paragraph text. Soon, we began to have doubts about whether we could find enough and the right type of lettering, scalable pictures and images, and descriptive material. Moreover, it was clear that this process could and would quickly become quite labor intensive. We began to consider whether there was enough time and mental and physical energy available for drawing, pasting, and constructing the poster this way. This project would be a one-time effort that would produce one specific poster that was intended to be used only for this conference. We wanted the poster to be good, informative, and reflective of our very best professional efforts, but there needed to be balance and perspective.
After only a few days of moving lettering around, we decided that there must be a better way. We thought about contacting one or two of the local office supply businesses off campus as well as the video graphics department and studio that existed on campus. We made these contacts and received quotes based on the size, color and paper quality of the poster we intended to create. The prices, format requirements, and availability of materials did not resonate with our needs and budget. However, in the process of querying people on campus about the paper size and availability, we learned that there was a department that printed maps and might have both paper and equipment that could accommodate a large poster. Additionally, we learned that it would be possible to use software to produce the poster in the dimensions we required. At the same time, we also knew that we did not already have expertise with the software and neither did we have the printing skills to produce a large-sized poster. Subsequently, we found a willing and skilled technician in the User Support and Student IT Enablement Services department who was adept at using Adobe InDesign from the Adobe Creative Suite. After several hours of consultation and manipulation, we were able to produce a PDF file at just under 5 Megabytes in size.
The next task was to get the poster printed. The process of exploring possibilities for producing a large-sized poster on campus led us to the Louisiana Geological Survey (LGS), a state-wide agency that specializes in geological research that existed on campus. The LGS publishes and prints research reports, geological surveys, maps, well logs, and field guides and, we discovered, could print our poster. We only had to deliver the PDF file, select the desired paper (glossy photo-quality paper), and negotiate a reasonable price (to cover the cost of the paper and the work involved). The first printing attempt was made on flat non-specialized quality paper and this allowed us to review, edit, and check the format and presentation. Only a few insignificant errors were noticed and this "sample" print also was good enough to serve as a backup if something later happened to the final copy. One or two days later, the poster was very nicely created on glossy paper and it looked fabulous.
With two weeks to spare, we were ready. The poster was completed, we had the necessary handouts, and we had practiced speaking about the details of research partnerships between federal agencies and universities. We felt that our poster conveyed very important information that would be of interest to other librarians and the general audience. The design and layout was clear, readable, and carefully formatted. A lot of hard work, cooperative and collaborative effort, and extensive planning had gone into our final product and we were pleased with the results.
We found an empty mail tube (sturdy cardboard, about five feet long, and about three inches in diameter) and tightly rolled the poster to fit it inside the tube. The poster was now ready for transport. Getting the poster to Washington, DC was no problem as I had already planned to drive my own vehicle from Louisiana (a trip of about 990 miles). After locating the hotel in Washington, DC designated for the poster session, the actual set-up involved simply unrolling the poster from the tube, using thumbtacks or pushpins to secure the corners to the 4-feet by 8-feet display board, and setting up the display table with handouts. The session went very well; there were questions and comments aplenty and we were able to collect attendance signatures from 44 people from the large crowd of attendees.
This was the first time I had attempted to create and present a poster. This project, while not difficult, required dedicated effort and careful planning. Working with a colleague is much better than attempting to do it alone and I highly recommend it. The support and encouragement from many of my colleagues were invaluable and contributed to a successful outcome. We were fortunate to have the cooperation and assistance of skilled technical experts among our on-campus associates. Although there was no opportunity to consult with someone who had previously completed and presented a poster project, the guidelines and preparatory information provided by the organizers of the poster session were helpful and adequate. Aside from the obvious point that you should prepare well enough in advance to allow sufficient time for the task, the lessons we learned were:
Later, back at our institution, my colleague and I shared the details of our experience with other library faculty and staff members. We provided details about our contacts and discoveries as well as comments about some of the lessons we learned along the way. Our major conclusion is that the process is very much worthwhile as a method of reaching a specific audience of interested people and participation in a poster session is very effective at a conference. Because a poster session is typically sponsored by a group that has a specified agenda, it is an excellent way to disseminate specific information and target people who are already attuned to or inclined to be receptive to a particular subject or interest.