Poster Sessions – A Beginner’s Guide

02/12/2013 § 9 Comments

I tried to make my poster for the SAA 2013 meeting as unique as possible!

I tried to make my poster for the SAA 2013 meeting as unique as possible!

It’s hard to believe, but the end of the fall semester is a good time to start thinking about next summer’s professional conferences.  Though June, July and August might seem like ages away, many conferences use January as their deadline for submissions from students.  So today is as good a time as any to talk about a type of submission that can seem foreign to a lot of library students- the poster session. Let’s dive in!

What is a poster session?

At conferences, poster sessions are an opportunity for students and/or established professionals to present their work in an informal context.  It’s a great way to dip your toe into the conference presentation waters.  Unlike a traditional session, all of the posters are set up at once, and each presenter is expected to stand with their poster for the entirety of the session (typically an hour or two) to answer questions from passers-by.  The advantage of this format is that it can be a lot less intimidating to be a part of than a panel or paper presentation.  Also, at most conferences more posters are accepted than papers, especially from students.

Where do I start?

If you keep an eye on your listservs, or check the website of a particular organization you’re interested in, you will notice a lot of calls for posters.  Here are a couple of examples- one from ALA and the other from the Society of American Archivists.  The timing might vary- you could have six months or six weeks.  But you know how these things go- you’re most likely to find out about the deadline a week or so before it’s due. DON’T WORRY. One of the secrets of conference presenting is that you typically only need an abstract of around 250 words at this stage in the game. So now it’s time to set your idea down on paper.

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Too Much Structure or Not Enough?

14/10/2013 § 20 Comments

No librarian, me.

No librarian, me.

I confused some people when I said that I was going to library school, but that I wanted to be an archivist. I developed my passion for archives when I was an undergrad, and that was the specialization I was going to the pursue in library school. I’ll just come right out and say it- I had no interest in becoming a librarian. Man, that feels good to get off my chest.

This doesn’t mean that I’m entirely devoid of librarian skills. Maryland requires 12 credits of core classes (out of 36 total) for all MLS students, so there are plenty of opportunities to intermingle. It’s been fascinating to learn about the different approaches librarians and archivists take to similar issues such as long-term preservation, or the differences in user interactions.

After those 12 credits, though, it’s harder to get that useful cross-specialization interaction. Many of the specializations at Maryland are adding more required courses, and becoming more strictly prescribed. Online cohorts in the general and e-government tracks, as well as the school library track and the archives/digital curation double specialization, are completely or almost completely set programs, with no chance for electives. And there are signs that the other specializations will follow suit. There are fewer and fewer opportunities to take classes with students from other cohorts as you go through the program.

“That’s excellent,” I hear you say. “Having a plan ahead of time takes the stress out of course selection, and you know from day one the sort of topics you’ll be covering. I love it.”

Whoa, Skippy. Let’s stop and think about this for a second. An entirely structured graduate program might be great in a STEM field- a you must learn X, Y, Z in that order kind of thing. But an MLS degree is much more fluid.  What happens when you get into the workplace and have to work with say, an archivist, but you can’t understand why they’re more concerned about temperature controls than the serials budget?  The ability to work across fields is vital, but gets lost when the student doesn’t get the chance to choose to break down those barriers. Or on a more practical level, what happens when you decide to change specializations- say when you decide you don’t want to be a school librarian anymore and want to pursue the e-government track? Are you willing to start from scratch because you haven’t taken the courses in the prescribed order?

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Student Leadership: Time to get on Board!

26/08/2013 § 4 Comments

The most important ship of all is leader-ship! (groan) (image from

The most important ship of all is leader-ship! (groan)
(image from

I’m a joiner. There, I said it. Being a part of one organization or another has been as natural as breathing for me since I was a kid.  So it was only fitting that I joined the Student Archivists at Maryland (our chapter of the Society of American Archivists) when I arrived at the University of Maryland iSchool.  It’s a quick way to meet like-minded people and dive quickly into a field that you’re going to spend a relatively short amount of time studying.  I was a little surprised at the low attendance at the meetings though- why should that be? « Read the rest of this entry »

EADiva brings plain talk to Encoded Archival Description

07/06/2013 § Leave a comment

Ruth Tillman

Ruth Tillman doesn’t like to be bored. In addition to being a full time library paraprofessional and part time library student, she has embarked on a number of projects that many of us might see as full-time jobs unto themselves.  I wanted to talk to her about one of her explorations in particular- EADiva.  This website sets out to improve upon a system that students in archival concentrations across the country view with equal parts suspicion and dread- Encoded Archival Description, or EAD.  I asked her about EAD, and what she hopes to accomplish with EADiva.

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I’m an archives student at the UMD iSchool, with one semester of coursework to go. Between college and library school, I spent a lot of time doing various kinds of web work. A lot involved HTML/CSS/PHP, but some involved XML (eXtensible Markup Language) and SQL. I discovered EAD and Archivists’ Toolkit in my first semester of library school and, since then, I’ve been working on learning more about it. Last fall, Molly Schwartz (who just graduated from the iSchool, congrats!) and I presented a paper at MARAC on using Archivists’ Toolkit to learn EAD.

When I have free time, I’m a crafter when I can be, I’m a bit of a geek, and I’m a gamer—Xbox and tabletop. Right now I’m playing through the Mass Effect series to celebrate my summer break. I’m also interested in accessibility for libraries and doing a self-directed summer study on disability and accessibility.

Can you explain for the uninitiated what EAD is?

EAD stands for Encoded Archival Description. It’s an XML schema designed by archivists, for archivists. It’s used to encode or “mark up” data about archival collections, generally for finding aids.

To break this down even further, EAD is a list of XML tags which you can put around information about archival collections. For example, an item about me might be encoded as <persname normal=”Tillman, Ruth” source=”local”>Ruth Tillman</persname>. The tag tells any search system that my name should be handled as Tillman, Ruth, but display systems will show it as Ruth Tillman. It also tells the system that this is a locally-generated name, not from LCSH or some other naming authority.

Once a finding aid is encoded in EAD, a lot of things can be done with it. It can be transformed and displayed as HTML. It can be transformed into PDF. There are a lot of things one can do with XML to extract and transform data from the EAD file into other files. Fortunately, you don’t necessarily have to learn any of this transformation or scripting, unless you specifically want to get into that kind of work.

Is EAD just for archivists? Or do you think it’s something librarians and other metadata professionals should understand as well?

It’s primarily for archivists. I think metadata and systems librarians should not only be aware that it exists, but be aware of the kinds of elements it has and how it approaches description. Archival materials are quite different from most library holdings, which is reflected in EAD. A site like EADiva might be an good place for one to get an overview.

As for non-metadata/systems librarians, I wouldn’t say there’s an especial need.

What prompted you to create this site?

I was working on a paper and some projects to teach myself more about it and became aware of some of the improvements that could be made to the Library of Congress’s EAD tag library. Since no one else was doing it, I did.

Specific improvements I made are: linking to other elements when they’re mentioned (LoC’s tag library has no internal links) and defining Attributes every time they’re mentioned (LoC uses a DTD format—if you don’t know what it means, that’s kind of the point for why I didn’t—and requires one to check one of three pages for attribute definitions). I also tried to write it in a fairly approachable style, but I think the interlinking and attributes were the biggest improvements.eadiva logo

What lessons did you learn from trying to interpret EAD in plain language?

Well, I learned that there are a LOT of tags and that it’s impossible to remember all of them, but that’s ok. I think my biggest takeaway was that EAD really is designed by and for archivists. It’s completely unsuitable for cataloging library books, but it truly reflects the nature of archival materials. It’s not like Dublin Core, which, the longer I studied it, the more dissatisfied I became with it for its purposes (non-archival, I just saw a lot of problems related to displaying different materials types).

I also learned that it’s quite difficult to translate from tech into non-tech. I’ve done my best and I hope people will ask for clarification if something is too technical for them. I’ll make edits as I can to improve the quality of the description. I had to accept, for example, that people will have to know a few very basic things about XML in order to use the site. However, I put together a page about understanding EAD and XML with some of the basics and a link to another description of XML.

Are there any complementary resources you would point new EAD users to?

I’ve linked each element on my site to the Library of Congress’s EAD tag library. I also really suggest their EAD homepage and its links. For people looking for even more context, I recommend the LoC’s EAD best practices page.

I strongly recommend that, as well as looking at the elements themselves, people learning EAD use a program like Archivists’ Toolkit or the upcoming ArchivesSpace. Simply creating a basic finding aid in the Archivists’ Toolkit sandbox (explained further on their site) and then exporting it as EAD can help one see how that information will look when marked up.

Because of the tools available, one rarely has to create one’s own finding aid from scratch. But that doesn’t mean people should just ignore EAD. It just means that we don’t have the memorize it, thank goodness.


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