Hosting a library workshop can be exhilarating, especially when an engaged crowd is spilling out of your conference room. But it can be a bit discouraging when the instructors outnumber the attendees. This article offers a few tips from my years of hosting and presenting library workshops that will better your chances of having a winning topic and an enthusiastic audience.
Hop on hot topics
Last year I noticed a steady increase in coverage of predatory journals — in both scholarly publications and the mainstream media. I also received a few emails from faculty who had been invited to submit to journals and had questions about whether they were valid or predatory journals. Lastly, I presented a paper at a conference and subsequently started receiving spam emails from a publication inviting me to submit to its journal. This trifecta added up to a call to action on my part to develop a workshop on predatory journals.
Questions from faculty and students are always a good indicator of a needed workshop.
For Graduate students, frequently ask about citation management tools so we know that’s a constant need. However, there are different ways to present this information, and it’s worth thinking about what is most helpful for your audience.
Act on observations
We previously presented individual workshops for various citation management tools, and noticed several students showing up for all the workshops. I we decided to do a combination session, where we would present all the tools, spending about 15 minutes on each one. Our participant numbers increased dramatically. We decided to team-teach so that the best-trained person could present each tool. For example, I took on the Mendeley portion since I had received specialized training on Mendeley.
Offer online options
To meet the needs of our university’s distance learners, we held an online version of the citation management workshop. Students could attend the live event online or view a recorded version.
Sometimes it’s the instructor who can’t be there in person. I recently recorded some brief videos — you can think of them as micro-workshops — to accompany an introductory chemistry course. I normally do these in the classroom, but my schedule didn’t match the instructor’s availability.
Partner for peak visibility
Faculty members will always be a key source of inspiration on workshop topics and a partner for publicizing them, but I also work with several other campus groups and departments. For example, I chair the scholarly communication interest group, which takes a lead on programming during Open Access Week in October. I participate in a data interest group, which lead to presenting workshops on research data management with a colleague in coordination with the Office of Excellence in Research. And I have worked with the Office of Excellence in Research to give provide training on increasing researcher impact through their mentoring workshop series for new faculty.
The Office of Graduate Studies is another key relationship, given that its students are heavy attendees of library workshops. This office partnered with us on the citation manager workshops, and we have presented other topics such as crafting your literature search. These groups help to uncover new workshop topics and get the word out to their students and faculty.
Don’t forget that vendors can be helpful too. For example, at a recent workshop focused on a chemistry tool, the vendor gave a demonstration, provided tips on grant writing and funding, and even created an event flyer.
Promote in public
Whether we create a flyer or a vendor does, we ensure it’s posted on bulletin boards in the relevant departments’ instructional buildings and faculty offices. I ask the Science and Engineering Library’s staff to post the information on the monitor near the library’s entrance, so it’s one of the first things that visitors see. I send it to relevant listservs and to department coordinators or my personal contacts among the faculty so they can circulate it.
Leave them wanting more
One piece of feedback from our two-hour workshops was that they were too long. Sometimes I give more information than is necessary because there’s so much I know about a certain topic, and I want to share it all. But that can be overwhelming for attendees. I have learned that if a workshop meets the key learning objectives, it gives the attendees some confidence in a topic and sparks their interest. If they want or need more, I make sure they know how to get in touch with me. Realistically, an hour is the amount of time most attendees are willing to commit unless it’s a deep dive into their discipline.
I hope you have found a few of these tips useful and urge you to share your own insights in the comments section below.