SAA First-Timers Reflect on Poster Presentations and Networking Opportunities

Joan Ilacqua is a master’s public history student at the University of Massachusetts Boston and Sarah Galligan just graduated from Simmons with a master’s degree in library and information science.


At the Society of the American Archivists (SAA) Conference in New Orleans, we presented a graduate student poster entitled “Picturing the President’s Appointment Book: White House Photographs at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.” This past year we worked as processing interns in the archives at the John F. Kennedy (JFK) Presidential Library. As part of our internship, we worked on the tail-end of a collaborative project to rehouse and digitize the White House photographs at the JFK Library. This project was the subject of our poster.

SAA required us to stand with our posters twice during the conference, two hours on Thursday evening and one hour on Friday morning. We presented with about forty other students in the back of the vendor exhibition hall. Coming into the presentation, we were not too nervous because we knew we did not have to make a speech in front of a large number of people. Instead, we stood by the poster describing the process and answering any questions.

The initial poster session started out somewhat slowly.  After meeting our fellow presenters, we patiently stood by our posters eagerly awaiting visitors. It should be noted that free food was served in the exhibition hall during both graduate student poster presentations. The vendors often also give away freebies like pens and hats to lure unassuming archivists into their corporate grasps (or graduate programs). After people loaded up on snacks, some would walk through the graduate posters and ask questions or make comments.

Given the number of attendees at SAA (we heard over 1,500), we were somewhat disappointed with the number of people who talked to us about our poster. We would guess that it was at most 50 people. We assumed that the best way to network would be by showing our work, but instead we found better networking at the New Member Orientation. The poster viewers also seemed to be either other students or senior archivists. That is not to say that we did not encounter some younger professionals at the poster presentation, but they were in the minority. We were extremely pleased with the support from full-time staff members at the JFK Library. Every JFK staff member at SAA visited our poster. In general, we felt lucky to be able to share our internship project at the SAA Conference, but we wished that we had a bigger audience and a better opportunity to network with people looking for up and coming archivists. Regardless, it was the first SAA Conference for both of us and we enjoyed it a lot. We look forward to attending the Conference in the future when we will certainly visit the graduate student posters.


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