Prezi and Me – CDG West Country AGM and International and Health Libraries Event

International and Health Libraries

So yesterday I went to the AGM of the West Country Branch of CILIP’s Career Development Group at which I had been invited to talk about my experience of carrying out research in Malawi at a rural primary school library

The first presentation was delivered by Jane Villa from North Bristol NHS trust who talked about her experience of running a workshop in Kenya at the University of Nairobi on “Evidence Based Health Care: the role of the librarian” as part of the Kenya Health Information Partnership Her talk reminded me of something that I had become aware of when I was researching for my dissertation -that the health library sector are very good at building international networks, collaborating and finding ways of improving access to health information in developing countries. Jane said that international partnerships “have become mainstream in the NHS” so it is easier to secure funding for projects (however she was unsure how long this will continue under a new government). I think libraries in other sectors should be seen as important to the development process and I think that those who do seek to provide such services have a lot  to learn from the health sector.   Ok, for obvious reasons it is vital that researchers, practitioners and academics in developing countries have access to the most recent and relevant health and scientific information, but opening up access to information for other audiences is also vital. For example, school libraries are ideally placed to fill the resource gap faced by schools in developing countries, but the networks, collaboration, partnerships and needs-based evaluation are lacking in this area. Maybe we should look to international health partnerships and to organisations such as International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications for ways to rectify this. I believe this is vital…after all, school is where the researchers, academics and practitioners of the future are!

Thanks to Jane for such an interesting and informative talk.

Here is my presentation which followed (navigate through the presentation with the arrows at the bottom. It is better to view Prezi “full screen”, so you can view the notes I have added, which can be accessed by clicking the title at the bottom of video, viewing it through VodPod and selecting “full screen” under the “more”menu on bottom right hand side )

Vodpod videos no longer available.

One of the event organisers mentioned that someone had commented to her how surprising it was to get two speakers at one event talking about international libraries! why is this?? I think this really needs to be rectified and we need to get out there as we really do have so much to give and so much to learn. International librarianship should be included in every library school course in my opinion. So many people have said to me they would not have considered all of the complex elements involved in library aid and the role that librarians have to play in international development, if they hadn’t been in my talk. I love that at this and the AULIC event people have been genuinely interested in what I had to say and I hope that I have encouraged them to look a bit further afield and perhap even consider getting involved in similar projects themselves 😀

Prezi, me and my attempt at changing my approach to presenting

As mentioned above I did a similar presentation for an AULIC event in June which I didn’t feel went so well so for this one I decided to change my approach. Things I wanted to change:

1) Props: Despite knowing my subject inside out and being very passionate about it I am terrified of going totally blank when a sea of faces are looking at me, forgetting the simplest of words and saying stupid things, so I use a full script as a crutch. It usually works for me as it is more of a comfort blanket than anything, I don’t read it straight off and I do look up and address the audience…but this time it FAILED. It distracted me, stemmed my flow and made my talk seem staggered. (note: this wasn’t helped by the fact some of my old tutors were in the audience, one of whom had been um..a little sceptical of my research ambitions…so I was VERY nervous) However, I noticed that when I took questions at the end of my presentation I came thoughts, opinions and knowledge flowed. All the nerves disappeared and the audience responded positively.  So I decided NOTE FREE might be the way to go. I CAN DO IT, Go JoBo!!!…Eeeek!

B) Visual Tools: It was a requirement of my MSc course in library and information studies that we were assessed in controlled conditions once for each module as well as submitting one piece of written work. One of the few ways this could be done was by presentation, so over two years my cohorts and I presented almost to death! As a result I have become a bit tired of Powerpoint and almost compile them mechanically, so I decided it was time for a change and looked for other options. There has been a lot of talk on Twitter about Prezi and having seen some examples of great looking presentations on their website I decided to give it a go.

Prezi – my trials and tribulations

A lot of people I know have mentioned that they have been considering using Prezi themselves so I thought it might be useful to share my experiences. Judging by comments from my Twitter network people either seem to love Prezi or are a bit apprehensible to say the least. There is the danger that it can make an audience seasick as the presenter whizzes them around the material doing loop-the-loops and whirl-mcswirls. I looked at examples on Prezi of other Prezi presentations and established that there were some REALLY BAD examples and some REALLY GOOD ones like this one and this one . It became clear that with the best ones the authors had thought really carefully on the placement of the material within the presentation and the path that you took the audience through. The bad ones seem to get a bit carried away with the whizzy things Prezi can do, forgetting about the original point of doing a presentation. The most important this to remember is that  THE OLD RULES OF PRESENTING STILL APPLY. It has to be clear, consistent and follow a coherent path.  DO NOT use functions just for the sake of it. I remember the early days of Powerpoint when folk got a little carried away with flashing font etc …then we all agreed that SIMPLE IS BEST…this still applies.

Compiling a Prezi – my tips and thoughts

  • Do NOT attempt to do it on a laptop without a mouse or Prezi misbehaves and shoots all over the place – I nearly launched my laptop out of the window on many occasions. It was much easier on a PC with a mouse. However, I have to say although I found Prezi infuriating to use but I am happy with the result. (it is embedded here as you can see and any thoughts would be most welcome – feel free to comment)
  • Prezi has no spell check…and for someone who cannot spell (me!) that can be a problem…I hope there are no spelling mistakes in my presentation.
  • I found it really useful to organise my thoughts in Prezi. It is so easy to move ideas around and delete/add to them that I used it initially as a mind-mapping tool in a way I couldn’t with Powerpoint. I think this really helped me to improve the flow and make my points more concise (and the end result had barely a bullet point in sight!!!) It made it more dynamic and I really had to think about what I wanted to say and how…something that had become mechanical when compiling a Powerpoint.
  • WARNING – I found Prezi extremely  temperamental.  Sometimes it would upload jpg images, sometimes it wouldn’t (on one occasion it took me two hours to persuade it too and I never did figure out why it suddenly decided to play nice!) I also tried to add a YouTube video to it –  a potentially useful function but in practice the video looked really pixelated and a bit rubbish when viewed through Prezi. I tried to address this by changing the format of the original video file on to a flv file after some helpful advise from a lovely Twitter friend…only to be told by Prezi the file had become to big for it to be uploaded…grrrr! I managed to do it in the end by converting the YouTube video to flv on Zamzar, the result was a smaller flv file that uploaded and looked better. Please don’t ask me why…I have NO idea!  Perhaps someone wiser than me could explain???
  • When I tried to download the final presentation (as advised by Prezi with really limited instructions) on to my computer to take as a back up (as all super prepared presenters should) I has so many problems. It would not download on my computer so I had to race into work and try on two different computers. It finally downloaded as a Zip file that had so many components in it I had no idea how to find the actual presentation! (again, perhaps someone could enlighten me on this?) so I had to go without a back up and access it online. I had been considering taking a Powerpoint back up with me in case of technical failure but I had spent so long faffing with Prezi and coaxing it to do what I wanted that I didn’t have time…and quite frankly if Prezi was that great I shouldn’t need a back up using another programme…the whole point was to be Powerpoint free! The upside to this was that in normal circumstances I would have gone to the event feeling terrified that Prezi would fail but, because I felt free from Powerpoint and the script, and because I had spent so long working on my presentation, I thought “what the hey..if all else fails? I know my subject. I know what I want to say. I will just talk sans visual aids!!” Ooooh! HELLO new confidence and embracing risky strategies! 🙂
  • The non-pay version of Prezi insists that your presentations be publicly available. I don’t mind this but it did make me really think about what details I should include. I normally put all my contact details on my presentations but I didn’t with this one.I left on my name and where I work as people could easily find this anyway but I still do not know if I did the right thing. My presentation was for my audience but the tool I was using was making me limit the information I would normally have given them. This has led me to question whether this defeated the whole point?
  • Prezi is not so easy to print out for people to make notes on but it is easy for people to access online without you having to post it anywhere that might require passwords etc and you can embed it in your blog which also serves to draw traffic to your blog and I hope to encourage feedback.
  • Embedding the presentation in a hosted blog is not straightforward. After a lot of cursing I found (thanks to the same lovely Twitter friend mentioned above that I hear-by name Super Man) that the only way to do it was to sign up with VodPod and post it into my blog this way. I have been told it is easy to embed in and other blogs however.
  • Prezi advises that after the event you add comments into your presentation so it makes sense without the presenter. This I have duly done, but again, it took ages. The only option available is to put these comments into the presentation itself, which I think makes it look messy, unlike with notation in Powerpoint which can be at the bottom and subtle. Due to the restrictive nature of the templates I also could not find a note-type font similar to those demonstrated in Prezi’s guidelines so mine had to be red and bold to make it different from the rest of the text…..hardly ideal! I hope this does not cause to much confusion and annoyance to people looking at it. Let me know your thoughts? Maybe there is a better way of doing it but I could not figure it out…another usability issue!

If you are thinking of using Prezi then go for it but please make sure you have PLENTY of time and patience, consider whether it is appropriate for your audience and try not to make folk seasick. It has been suggested to me that the problems I encountered may have been because it takes a while to get used to using Prezi but I was working on it on and off for three weeks and in my opinion, if after this time I was still having problems with it, it is not user-friendly enough.


I think overall my presentation was a success. Without the shackles of a script my talk flowed and I was able to get back that old enthusiasm. I had spent so long organising my ideas and compiling my Prezi that I really felt like I knew what I what I wanted to say. Driving the Prezi was fine and I only lost my place once because I pressed the wrong button. I am yet to receive formal feedback from my audience but I got good verbal feedback from the people I did speak to. A really interesting discussion was had at the end of my presentation which indicated that I had succeeded in engaging my audience. This new approach really worked for me. I am in two minds as to whether I will use Prezi again and I await feedback from my audience and readers to help me decide.

Oh, I also learnt that it is probably is not a good idea to tweet your Prezi technical dramas when the person who invited you to speak is following you on Twitter…they may have a heart attack – Sorry Lizz!

Any thoughts on any part of this blog post be it my presentation subject, Prezi or the art of presenting in general would be most welcomed 😀

Thanks to the West Country branch of CILIP’s Career Development Group for inviting me to speak. I had a lovely day and met some lovely people and thanks to Southmead Hospital Library for welcoming us and for the fascinating tour at the end.

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11 responses to this post.

  1. Great Prezi – really pleased that you got it to work – amazing that it is your first one!

    “For example, school libraries are ideally placed to fill the resource gap faced by schools in developing countries, but the networks, collaboration, partnerships and needs-based evaluation are lacking in this area.”

    At a time when UK school libraries are under such pressure, I think you are being a little harsh on us! So many schools do not even have a library or professional librarian, especially in England. Of those that do, we are going through a period of intense cuts – to budgets, staffing and even the library itself. This week alone, I have heard of 3 friends who are losing their jobs. Library budgets are often tiny – I’m talking here about less than £1000 in many cases. So we are struggling to cope in our own schools, never mind work with those in other countries. This is not to say that some of us couldn’t do so. I do know of school librarians from the UK who have been involved in Africa – but I don’t know enough detail.

    Loved this post – so interesting about an area where I have no experience at all. Now I will have to find out more about the international links that my school does have!


  2. I am not criticizing school librarians here, I am criticising the library world in general. There are a lot of NGO’s and development agencies that work to provide libraries in developing countries but they often do not see fit to consult librarians and very little project evaluation is done….or libraries are totally overlooked all together and not seen as being crucial to development. The reasons are many. Economics being a major one but also if we do such a hopeless job of advocating our profession here then why would these people in NGO’s etc see fit to employ us?… as I said in my presentation I think this is a false economy though. This is not a new problem it has been the same for years…what we are good at is working with tiny budgets and evaluating the needs of our users at a local level and I think this expertise is overlooked by the bigger agencies and is crucial to providing effective services to the poorest people in the world. The librarians managing on even less in developing countries could also teach us a thing or too….especially considering current and future hard times you mention.


  3. um, I also do not necessarily mean that school librarians here should be helping out abroad. I know that happens and it provides a lot of value but it is also often very informal and falls to volunteers. What I mean is that librarians should be being employed by people who work to provide info services overseas. Dumping books on shelves is not enough. I can see a need for us and we are not being used to address that need, I have seen two, paid librarian jobs advertised by NGO’s and Development agencies in the three + years I have been studying this area. 😦


  4. Thanks for the clarification, Johanna, I think that school librarians are all feeling a bit raw this week! I read your post and Prezi and then realised just how ignorant I am about the situation in other countries. At the SLA Weekend, Frank Hogg was telling me about the work he is doing in Mexico, I think. Again, this brought up issues that I knew nothing about – maybe we need more articles in professional magazines to bring it more to our attention?


  5. oh no, my fault. I re-read what I wrote and realise now how it must have sounded to you. It is a bit of a huge subject for a blog post I guess.
    I am working on the article thing. I have submitted one to ASLIB, am considering one for CILIP and am going to submit one to Development in Practice….I hope!
    Librarians are really respected and seen as sooo important to people in other countries who don’t have such ready access to information, we just need our government and agencies here to get it! Great example of what I mean here


  6. Hi Johanna,

    Glad you persevered with Prezi… The results are fab. After finishing my dissertation about freedom of expression in the Iranian blogosphere I presented my findings to a group of Information Studies students with a god awful PowerPoint! I kinda wish I’d been braver and tackled Prezi now too.



    • Hi Lex,
      Thanks for posting….and for the kind comments about my Prezi 🙂 I am sure your Powerpoint wasn’t awful! An interesting subject and an engaging speaker is more important…and your subject sounds fascinating! I think that the presentation is just an extra really. I would rather listen to an interesting person than look at a whizzy presentation any day! What research methods did you use? I am really interested to hear how you went about it. It always amazes me the amount of scope there is for dissertation topics. Some great MSc research is done and I really think more should be made of it. There is nothing stopping you doing a Prezi for it now…I would be interested to see it! 🙂


  7. no, no, I will when I have a minute. I am not being polite when I say I am interested I truly am! Thanks for sharing! 🙂


  8. Posted by Anabel Marsh on July 25, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    Finally got to your post and Prezi which came in while I was on holiday. I’m very impressed and there’s a lot to think about. Your enthusiasm and passion really comes over in a way I think would be unlikely with PowerPoint. We have connections with Malawi too so I will be forwarding it to colleagues. I also found your comments on Prezi itself useful as it’s something I’ve only dabbled in myself but want to learn to use properly. Finally, the photographs at the end were wonderful – people enjoying themselves on a momentous day and then those amazing sunset shots. And I did spot hoops….


  9. Posted by Johanna on July 27, 2010 at 11:44 am

    Thank you Anabel and thanks for forwarding it to your colleagues. If they want to find out any more just give me a shout. This is a tiny fraction of what I discovered. It is nice to know it might be useful to someone.
    I think it must be impossible to take a bad picture in Malawi! Well spotted with the hoops 😀 The hoops were brilliant ice-breakers and were responsible for lots of laughs, Very few of the women in the village spoke English and many of them kept their distance but the fun of the hoop melts these barriers and we even got some of the women in the village hooping…even if we could not understand a word we were saying to each other some of them came and hung out with us after that…..the power of hoopla! (or ‘hula-hip’ as the beach boys liked to call it)


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