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February 10, 2016 / Christian M.

5 Things I Learned Exhibiting for the National Library of Medicine

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My first exhibit! The Public Health Association of Nebraska.

Fall was a very busy time for me and all of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM) Coordinators. We have a lot of conference exhibits, presentations, and health fairs to attend to promote resources from the National Library of Medicine. I ended up exhibiting at 6 conferences and 2 community health fairs from September through November. It was fun and exhausting. As I get ready to do some more exhibiting in the next few months, I thought I would take a few moments to reflect on what I have learned so far.

 

1. Know Your Audience & Speak Their Language
We are often sharing information about the same resources at different conferences. However, depending on the audience, we may describe them in different ways. For example, MedlinePlus is a consumer health website with content geared towards the general public. When talking with other librarians, using the term “consumer health” works fine. But if I exhibit at a conference for physicians, and tell them about a “consumer health resource,” that doesn’t mean much to them. I have to call it a patient education resource because that is how they would use it – to help educate patients. I was politely chided by a doctor for calling the pages and printouts on MedlinePlus “articles.” When I said articles, he thought of PubMed journal articles. He calls them patient education handouts. He reminded me that I needed to speak his language so we would both be on the same page. Likewise, when exhibiting for public health, I refer to MedlinePlus as “health promotion materials,” and for the education field, it can be referred to as a “health education” or “open education” resource.

2. National Library of Medicine – what’s that???
Unfortunately, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) is not a household name ….yet. Often when people visit my booth, they don’t recognize the name of the library. Sometimes they have heard of at least one of NLM’s products – PubMed/MEDLINE, MedlinePlus, WISER – and I can use that as a way to introduce other related resources. Other times they straight up ask me, “What is the National Library of Medicine?” or look puzzled that a library is exhibiting at their conference. I can’t operate on the assumption that everyone understands the importance of libraries, librarians, or specific information resources. Hence the need for exhibits. Of course I am always happy to educate. On the flip side, it is very gratifying to hear positive feedback from people who had experience with NLM products or librarians and came by to just to say “thanks.”

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Christian Minter and Alicia Lillich exhibiting at the Association of Healthcare Emergency Preparedness Professionals in Omaha, NE

3. Know which resources to highlight when short on time.
Conference attendees often don’t have a lot of time to spend talking to exhibitors. There are some who take time for in-depth conversation and have lots of questions. But most of the time, they just spend a few minutes at the booth. NLM over 130 different databases and websites, and I don’t have time to talk about them all. So I have to be ready with my “sales pitch” and identify a couple of resources that I think are most important for that target audience to know about. I have even had some people ask me “what is the most important handout I should take?” or “what is the most important thing for me to know about?” For example, for family physicians (and other related professions like physician assistant or nurse practitioner) I usually start the conversation talking about patient education through MedlinePlus and MedlinePlus Connect. If there is time, I tell them about InformationRX materials as well. For public health I usually promote MedlinePlus as well as PHPartners. Information on NLM’s mobile apps are really popular with health professionals as well. I also include handouts about other resources on my table, so they can browse, or case something else comes up in conversation.

4. Sometimes you need to make the first move.
Everyone has their own “style” of exhibiting. When starting out, I tended to lean towards just letting people come to me. If they were interested in stopping, great, and if not, that’s cool too. However, I have become a little more proactive. I definitely try to make eye contact with everyone who passes by (unless I’m already engaged in conversation), and say “hello” or “how are you doing?” This sometimes encourages people to pause who might have been on the fence about coming to my booth. In general, I’m not big on small talk. But you need small talk when exhibiting! Sometimes I go straight to explaining what NLM provides. Other times I start out asking a few questions: where are you from, what kind of work do you do, how are you enjoying the conference, what information resources do you use, etc. This can help me identify which resources to promote to that individual. It also helps people to open up and tell me more about how they use information. Sometimes if I start out asking “do you have any questions,” they will say no, but if we start talking, I find out that there are some information needs that I can help them with.

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Coffee and cookies. The snack of champions when you finish a day of exhibiting and have a 3-hour drive back home.

5. Do your homework.
Some of the conferences I exhibit at have been covered by my colleagues in the past. So I have access to reports and information on their experience exhibiting there. As I explore other conferences, I realized that I can (and should) ask questions before registering. I can contact the conference staff and find out how many attendees they expect (will there be enough people to make it worthwhile to spend XXX amount of money to exhibit there?). I can also ask if there are non-profit discounts on exhibit fees. Some conferences will advertise their non-profit rate, but other conferences you have to ask if they have one. In most cases NN/LM qualifies for non-profit rates because we are not selling anything, and we offer free services and resources.

 

These are just a few things I have learned. Have you ever exhibited for your library or organization? What are some things that you have learned in the process?

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