Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Librarian Guide to Guest Lectures and Panel Discussions

Guest lectures and panel discussions allow libraries to foster intellectual curiosity, engage patrons, and promote learning. 

This guide provides an overview of organizing and hosting successful guest lectures and panel discussions at your library.

If you cannot afford an honorarium for guest speakers or panelists, there are several alternative ways to show your appreciation and make their experience worthwhile:

Publicity: Offer to promote the speaker's work, research, or upcoming projects through your library's website, social media channels, and newsletters.

Networking opportunities: Provide opportunities for the speaker to connect with other experts, community leaders, or professionals who may be attending the event or related activities.

Letters of recommendation: Offer to write a letter of recommendation or testimonial for the speaker, acknowledging their expertise and contribution to the event.

Professional development: If your library offers workshops or training sessions, extend an invitation for the speaker to attend for free or at a discounted rate.

Event recording: Record the speaker's presentation and provide them with a high-quality copy for their portfolio or personal use. Ensure you have the speaker's permission before recording and sharing their presentation.

In-kind support: Offer to help the speaker with their projects or initiatives, such as providing research assistance, proofreading, or access to library resources.

Tokens of appreciation: Present the speaker with a personalized certificate, plaque, or small gift as a token of gratitude. Consider gifts that are unique to your library or community, such as a local artist's work or a signed book by a local author.

Membership: Offer a complimentary library membership or access to library resources, such as databases or digital collections, if applicable.

Acknowledgment: Recognize the speaker's contribution by including their name and bio in event materials and thanking them publicly during the event.

Personal touch: Send a handwritten thank-you note after the event, expressing your gratitude and outlining the positive impact of their presentation on the audience.

Identifying Topics and Themes

  • Choose relevant topics that cater to your community's interests, current events, or local issues.
  • Align the subject matter with your library's ongoing programs, exhibits, or special observances.
  • Consider a mix of themes, including literature, history, science, technology, art, and culture.

Relevant Topics Catering to Community Interests, Current Events, or Local Issues

  • Environmental conservation and sustainability
  • Mental health and well-being
  • Racial and social justice
  • Local history and heritage
  • Women's empowerment and gender equality
  • Science and technology in everyday life
  • Personal finance and economic literacy
  • Immigration and cultural diversity
  • Parenting and early childhood education
  • Public health and wellness initiatives

Topics Aligned with Library Programs, Exhibits, or Special Observances

Banned Books Week:The importance of intellectual freedom and the fight against censorship

National Poetry Month: Exploring diverse poetic forms and the power of language

Women's History Month: Celebrating the achievements and contributions of women throughout history

Earth Day: Discussing the impact of climate change and the role of individuals in preserving the environment

Black History Month: Honoring the contributions of Black individuals to society and culture

Science Literacy Week: Examining breakthroughs in scientific research and their implications for society

LGBTQ+ Pride Month: Fostering understanding and support for LGBTQ+ rights and experiences

Indigenous Peoples' Day: Recognizing the history and culture of Indigenous peoples and their contributions to society

National Novel Writing Month: Encouraging creative writing and the exploration of diverse narratives

World Mental Health Day: Raising awareness about mental health issues and promoting emotional well-being

Themes Incorporating Literature, History, Science, Technology, Art, and Culture

  • The impact of digital technology on literature and reading habits
  • Exploring the historical context of popular literary works
  • The intersection of art and science
  • How creativity drives innovation
  • The role of artificial intelligence in society and its ethical implications
  • The influence of cultural movements on the evolution of artistic expression
  • The history of scientific discovery and its impact on human progress
  • The changing landscape of journalism and the future of news media
  • The role of public art in community engagement and urban development
  • The relationship between technology, privacy, and security in the digital age
  • Examining the cultural impact of influential authors, artists, or historical figures

Finding Speakers and Panelists

  • Contact local universities, colleges, and research institutions to identify experts and academics who can speak on your chosen topics.
  • Connect with local organizations, community leaders, or activists who can provide valuable insights and perspectives.
  • Consider partnering with other libraries or organizations to share resources and expertise.
  • Utilize social media, professional networks, or personal connections to identify potential speakers.

Preparing for the Event

  • Develop a clear event format and agenda, specifying the lecture duration, panel discussion structure, and Q&A session.
  • Coordinate with speakers or panelists to confirm availability, provide logistical information, and discuss presentation content.
  • Test audiovisual equipment (microphones, projectors, etc.) and ensure the event space is appropriately set up and accessible.
  • Create a backup plan in case of speaker cancellations or technical issues.

Event Promotion

  • Design eye-catching posters, flyers, and handouts to promote the event at the library and within the community.
  • Use social media platforms, email newsletters, and your library's website to share event details and generate interest.
  • Contact local newspapers, radio stations, or community websites to publicize the event.
  • Collaborate with local organizations or educational institutions to co-promote the event.

Hosting the Event

  • Provide a warm welcome and introduction for each speaker or panelist.
  • Ensure that the event runs on schedule and smoothly transitions between segments.
  • Facilitate audience participation during Q&A sessions, encouraging diverse viewpoints and respectful dialogue.
  • Thank speakers or panelists for their participation and give them a token of appreciation, such as a small gift or certificate.

Post-Event Follow-up

  • Solicit feedback from attendees to evaluate the event's success and identify areas for improvement.
  • Share event highlights, photos, or recordings on social media and your library's website.
  • Maintain relationships with speakers or panelists for potential future collaborations.


By carefully planning, promoting, and hosting guest lectures and panel discussions, your library can become a hub for intellectual engagement and community enrichment. These events offer an excellent platform to learn, debate, and connect with experts, academics, and patrons alike.

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