Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

How to Give Great Library Talks

A lot of aspiring library speakers come up to me in the street and say, "AL, what’s the secret of a great library presentation? I want to be famous like you and some of the other insufferable librarians out there. How do you do it?"

It’s easy, of course. There are just a few things you need to remember to be a big hit as a library speaker.

1) Show a lot of pretty pictures. The pictures don’t need to have any relationship with the subject under discussion. In fact, the less relation they have to whatever you’re babbling about, the better. That way, anyone in the audience who isn’t mentally numbed by your vapid presentation will be busy trying to work out the relationship for themselves. Given that your presentation will almost assuredly require no thought to follow, this will give the intelligent people in the crowd something to occupy themselves. The rest of the crowd will be busily tweeting your presentation for the lucky many who don’t have to sit through it in person.

2) Show a lot of cutesy pictures, too. You need to intersperse your clear skies and grandiose mountains with some babies dressed up as animals. Cartoons often work, especially if they have cute kitties in them. These are librarians in the audience, after all. And when you show the cutesy pictures, don’t say anything. Just let them speak for themselves. After the audience has "ooohed" or chuckled, just move on to the next slide. It’s possible to get through an entire presentation at a library conference like this. I know. I’ve seen them.

3) Don’t say much. This comes easily for a lot of library conference speakers because they don’t have much to say in the first place. After years of viewing presentations by librarians, I can say with some authority that they almost never have more than 5 minutes of worthwhile material. The rest of the time in the presentation is the crap factor, figured by dividing the time by 5. Thus, a half hour presentation has a crap factor of 6. You, too, almost certainly have nothing worthwhile to contribute to the library conversation, but that absolutely will not hinder your library speaking career. On the contrary, the most popular library speakers often have the biggest crap factor.

4) If you have to say anything, it’s best to have a few vapid "inspirational" sayings. "Tell your story!" "Be kind, rewind!" "Love your cats!" That sort of thing. Librarians lap this up like a cat laps milk. Whatever you do, don’t use a sentence of over 4 words, and why use 4 when 3 would be better. Also, make all the sentences imperatives, because given your weighty moral and intellectual authority, you’re in a great position to be commanding people to do things your way, or at least a certain class of people, namely the class of people too dumb to avoid your talk.

5) If you want to be really daring, you can superimpose the vapid sayings over the cutesy pictures. Doing so will achieve the apex of library presentations and is almost guaranteed to make you a sought-after speaker at library conferences and other fun professional gatherings.

6) Remember that any librarians gullible enough to come hear you speak are even dumber than you are. Thus, you have almost nothing to lose. Anyone smarter than you won’t come to the presentation at all, or will walk out in the first five minutes to express their disappointment that your pictures weren’t pretty enough. Dumb people are easily led, which explains the success of many popular librarian speakers.

And there you have it, the secret of library presentation success. It could probably be condensed even more. Lots of pictures, not many words or thoughts, and never underestimate the stupidity of your audience. Keep that in mind, grasshopper, and you will go far.

Now the naysayers can stop claiming I never give any positive advice for the profession.



  1. gershbec says:

    The pretty and cutesy pictures that relate to nothing drive me absolutely bonkers. I just flipped through a powerpoint created by a major name in the library world and it was literally 100 slides long, with only about 20 slides of anything close to real content. I realize that people don’t just want to show words on a page, but if I see that picture of kids going down a slide that’s actually a cheese grater I am going to punch someone!

  2. gershbec says:

    The pretty and cutesy pictures that relate to nothing drive me absolutely bonkers. I just flipped through a powerpoint created by a major name in the library world and it was literally 100 slides long, with only about 20 slides of anything close to real content. I realize that people don’t just want to show words on a page, but if I see that picture of kids going down a slide that’s actually a cheese grater I am going to punch someone!

  3. Boris, thei Spider says:

    People approach you to talk to you about library talks.

    Since no one truly knows the secret identity of the AL, you must have a lot of weirdos approach you talking at you on a number of topics.

    If you are anonymous, then someone must come up to you cold and ask for your sage advice because you have a snappy suit and a John Edwards haircut (and no, it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman). You must exude intelligence, charm, and bullshit. All the hallmarks of an anonymous know-it-all blogger.

    Thanks for the advice though on presentations. My next one will be done with the aid of a 1960’s era overhead projector, grease pencils, purple dittos to hand out, and a film strip from the Library of Congress on what makes a good card catalog.

    That should keep the old school, tenured, hippie, scum librarians who will never retire happy. Plus, they are the only ones going to conferences because the next generation have learned how to do things much more cost effectively.

    Have a nice day.

  4. LibPresentationFuturist says:

    Forget 5 minutes of something to say, I believe most library conference presentations can be said in just 5 words!
    Tweet yours with the tag #5wordlibcon and let’s see what you can do!

    “Text us. Really. Pretty please?”

    See, that was easy. wasn’t it?

  5. Dances With Dogs says:

    Hey, Boris, some good ideas, especially handing out purple dildos. They should stimulate some interest. Keep thinking outside the box!

  6. Boris, (and other who will surely post similar responses):

    It is not technology that makes a vapid presentation, it is the use made of the technology. I am old enough to remember really bad presentations using overhead projectors and videos.

    That the technology was more cumbersome did reduce the urge to use it just to give people something else to look at beside you. So I guess there is something to be said for overhead projectors.

  7. Dumb Cluck says:

    Yesterday, I had to learn marketing.

    Today, I have to become a graphics designer and sparkling presenter.

    I am just a librarian, who knows how to check out a book, check in a book, and how to answer reference questions.

    Isn’t that enough?

  8. LIS degrees are a joke says:

    This is why we must take an information literacy course in library school. Even though what the AL sums it all up, the only way to get jobs with info lit in the description is to take the class–even though anyone can do it.

  9. So that’s why one of our recent director candidates had a picture of a horse lying on its’ back looking dead in his powerpoint about how technology is everything! I get it now. I thought he was just weird.

  10. A Lulz Moment says:

    “…On the Sabbath they entered the ALA Council meeting and sat down. After the stunning 3 hour Powerpoint presentation on the Law and the Prophets were broadcast verbatim from the slides, the ALA Councilors sent word to them, saying, “Librarians, if you have a message of great import for the people of Darfur and where the ALA fits in, please use the flip chart with multicolor pens. ”Standing up, the ALA Councilor motioned with his mouse and curser and read out loud: ‘Librarians and you Gentile paraprofessionals who use Powerpoint, read along with me!’ And the audience fell into a deep sleep. (Acts 13:14-16)

  11. Dr. Brooks says:

    WHAT are the chances for actually getting PAID to do a talk at a conference? I’ve done at least 100 of them over the years, I have barely gotten a thank you. Free, Free, Free…..that’s ALL the associations want from their speakers, they could care less about the content. All of the money they get goes to their OVER-PAID salaries! Why not throw some crumbs at the speakers?

  12. Dances With Books says:

    This summary by AL is pretty accurate. I’ve had to sit through a good number of librarian presentations that fit the descriptions perfectly. A dead horse on a slide to say “don’t beat a dead horse” (yes, I have seen presenters use that, and not a “cutesy” horse either). The sad thing is a lot of library administrators buy into that nonsense. My boss is notorious for finding these vapid talks (online), then making us sit through them. Chinese water torture sounds more appealing. Besides, it is common knowledge that a lot of these talks are by librarians in tenure line jobs who have to present something in order to pad their CVs. It does not matter what they present as long as they can say they presented something at a conference. And then people wonder why no one takes librarianship seriously.

  13. Br. Drooks says:

    Sorry, Dr. Brooks.

    The ALA are socialists and believe that they money is theirs to distribute to the unfortunates of the world.

    Sadly, you are not unfortunate enough to warrant any of that dough.

  14. Librarians should be seen and not heard.

    If there is something important to be said, I am sure that some journalist/blogger covering the library field will hit on it.

    Either that or a director of a library will be compelled to say something.

    Either way it will be way more intelligent than hearing the mumbled dronings of a bun wearing, old maid.

  15. 23 FL OZ. - 680 ml. says:

    “If the world hates a librarian, keep in mind that it hated me first.” So fluck y’all and remember that Jesus was hated first.

  16. My favourites are the semantic web presentations. All text and xml document samples. It’s like a whole other conference..

  17. Curmudgeon says:

    Seven words.

    Shut up and get back to work.

  18. Lifelong Learner says:

    I am amused (long since past being shocked, puzzled or outraged) that so many ‘librarians’ seem most petrified of the concept of LEARNING SOMETHING NEW.
    Welcome to the 21st century. We’re never going back to the world you learned about in library school. Get over it, get working. LEARN. You might like it. (Seems “lifelong learning” isn’t just for patrons any more….)

  19. Lifelong Socialist says:

    Lifelong learning is a stupid phrase.

    Everyone is a lifelong learner whether or not if they sign contracts, follow rules, mentor, and so on. It is the level that people learn at. Once formal school is over, many people go into a slower, less structured format of learning. They read the paper, watch television, talk with neighbors, hang out at the water cooler chatting with co-workers, change jobs, and more. Basically the school of life.

    Lifelong learning a matter of degrees and where you want to go with it. Unless you are dead, you are learning. It may just be that McHale’s Navy is now on retro tv or that someone was voted of American Idol or that after years of reading and analysis you feel that a universal theory of everything might rest in string theory.

    If libraries truly want to accommodate lifelong learners, then they need to recognize the different levels and needs of each individual learner and help them find the resources that will ultimately get them to their goal.

    At least, that is what I have learned.

  20. Dr. Brooks, really? You’ll speak for free? Members of an upcoming conference planning committee have been unable to get a keynote speaker for just the cost of transportation, accommodations, and a food stipend. The lowest anyone will go is $3000. Meanwhile, we also have no corporate sponsors, which means no money to pay speakers. Individual librarians can’t do it – many can’t even afford the airfare to attend the conference. But, hey, you’ve spoken before for free, so do you want another gig?

  21. Since PowerPoint was invented it seems that there are many fewer talks illustrated by cartoons from The New Yorker.

    IMO the closing session at last week’s PLA conference was an example of how NOT to give a great library talk. Sarah Vowell was self-absorbed, made a snide comment about the on-screen captioning, and mentioned libraries only at the end. (Did she realize who was paying her?)

  22. rcn, you should have the AL speak.

    If you can scape up the money, it is totally worth it. Now where else in the world do you insight and depth.

    Your attendees will walk away from your conference well armed to be the librarians of the 1950s.

  23. wagalicious says:

    NBH: You would rather Sarah Vowell have mentioned libraries? Like the insipid “I Love libraries, my Mom took me there every Saturday, they helped me write my book” blah blah blah that I get at EVERY library conference. Boy not me! I’d rather Sarah Vowell talk about anything but. Or maybe have someone talk about how they HATE libraries! That would be awesome!

  24. vv.richard6 says:

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