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A Free Virtual Conference for Librarians? It’s On!

by on October 21, 2014

On Tuesday, August 26th my colleague, Gwyneth Stupar, and I hosted Library OnConference, a virtual library conference held completely on Google Hangouts. Over 60 librarians from around the country registered for the conference and R. David Lankes was gracious enough to deliver the keynote address. So how did this come about and would we do it again? Would you ever host your own conference?

First of all, Gwyn and I decided to host a virtual library conference on Google Hangouts after attending the 2014 PLA Conference in Indianapolis, IN. I don’t know if you’ve been to PLA before but it’s such an amazing opportunity to meet and learn from fellow public librarians. One of my favorite parts was participating in Spark Talks (link to article about SparkTalks: https://publiclibrariesonline.org/2014/04/fast-five-my-experience-as-a-spark-talks-presenter/). Gwyn and I discussed using Google Hangouts On Air to livestream library programs. We received a lot of positive feedback and had so much fun learning new ideas from other librarians that we wanted to continue the conversation.

Fast forward a couple of months and we decided to experiment: we would use Google Hangouts On Air to connect with librarians in a virtual conference, which we named Library OnConference. The conference would include a keynote presentation and then small group hangout sessions based on topics of interest. It would be free and since it was on Google Hangouts, there were no travel costs.The support that we received from fellow librarians was truly amazing: R. David Lankes agreed to deliver the keynote presentation and nine different librarians agreed to moderate small group hangout sessions that included Digital Librarianship, Business Librarianship, Community Engagement, and Reader’s Advisory.

We also created a website for the conference and a Twitter account. After that was in line, we asked people to spread the word and were pleasantly surprised to see that over 60 people registered for the conference from around the country.

On conference day, R. David Lankes delivered an incredible keynote speech that focused on continuous learning in librarianship (link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zB3Ewz79cKA) and participants broke up into small group hangout sessions afterwards. The whole event went surprisingly smoothly and it was fun to read the Twitter feedback from participants. We sent post-conference surveys that had both positive feedback and suggestions—both of which was very encouraging.

The Pros: It was completely free! Aside from buying the domain for the conference website, there were no start-up fees and absolutely no cost to the participants. Additionally, unlike other virtual conferences where people listen to a presenter but don’t really get to interact, the small group hangout sessions allowed people to share ideas.

The Cons: Like any other online video conference host, you will have your occasional background interruptions or connection issues. Additionally, ensuring that participants had proper training and equipment, like headsets and microphones, was a challenge.

So would we do it again? Absolutely. It was a great learning experience for everybody involved in the conference. There are things that we will change and tweak for a future Library OnConference, like improving pre-conference training sessions and the registration process. But we definitely want to do this again!

Should you host a virtual library conference? Yes! It’s challenging but also energizing to see library colleagues from around the nation connecting with one another. Even if you just use Google Hangouts to “hangout” with people that you’ve met at an in-person conferences, it’s a fantastic, free way to continue to build library relationships.

Learn more about the conference and the moderators at www.liboncon.com. Are you interested in organizing in a virtual conference?  Share your thoughts below!  

Cover Photo Credit: Scott Maxwell

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