My last semester of library school, I opted to do a Professional Field Experience, which is just a ridiculous way to make an internship sound better and less juvenile than it actually is. The professor who was supervising these PFEs, told us that our grade would be determined by the journal that we kept throughout the course of the semester, and by a poster session at the very end.
This was the first time, in my life, that I heard the term poster session. I was baffled by why we, grad students, would have to do something so sophomoric and lame. Plus, how was I supposed to portray reference services and collection development on a damn poster? Librarianship is not a profession that lends itself to poster sessions, I decided, and then half-assed my way through it.
I asked friends if they had ever had to do a poster session, and my questions were typically met with blank stares and shrugs. One friend told me that she had done dozens of poster sessions because she had a professor who insisted that they would need to know how to do this once they got to grad school. I still maintain that as a grad student, I should not ever be required to do something that makes me purchase card stock and glue sticks, but whatever, it’s all in the past.
I recently got an email asking for help judging student History Day projects at a fancy parochial school in Providence. History Day is actually a really rad thing that I would have been terribly lazy about had they done this at my school. Basically, students pick a topic in history that fits into the overall theme of the year–this year it’s Innovation, and then they do research, present what they’ve learned, and get judged and ranked. It’s kind of like the science fair, but with history.
Since I’ve had dozens of students come into my library looking terrified and asking for primary sources (note: I also had never heard of primary sources until I was in library school, now they’re all I hear about. I’m really sick of primary sources), I wanted to see what was made of all of my helpful research guidance. I wrangled a history-loving friend into being my judging buddy, and we set off to assess kids who are getting a much better education than I ever have.
One of the things I really like about History Day besides it forcing kids to do research, is that it gives them options as to how they want to present it. They can do a documentary film, a live-action play, a paper, website, or exhibit. Naturally, I was excited to see what they came up with, and what I ended up judging over the course of my two hours, was about eight poster sessions.
What absolutely killed me about the whole experience, was how well these kids did. Not only were their posters much better designed than my own had been–and I mean designed, very few tri-fold boards here, rather elaborate configurations that spun, and spoke volumes in a single placard–but the presenters were as poised as motivational speakers and beauty pageant contestants. Even the group who had not typed a bibliography, and clearly had slacked as much as a group can, still sold me on why their project was obviously the best using a vocabulary and slick confidence that made me feel like I would be a fool to not give them top marks.
It was a heady experience having all of these achievers kissing my ass for two hours on a Thursday morning, but I couldn’t help but feel a hint of the dread that so many librarians seemed to feel when meeting me, the eager library student full of new ideas and technical wizardry–this kid wants my job. Frankly, I think I’m ok with letting these kids be my leaders because they seem scarily competent, and the ones that are just faking it, will probably burn out before age 25. They’ve mastered poster sessions, that’s for sure, they have the keys to the kingdom.