Every librarian is at a different place when it comes to virtual programming. Some of us are longtime users/experts, some are coming up on a year of using video meeting software, Facebook, or YouTube to present programs, while others are just starting out. Programming in general can be difficult, but virtual programming has its own rules. Here are some of the things that have helped me in my first year of virtual programming.
Setting the Atmosphere
If you are used to in-person programming the jump to virtual programming can be tricky. For one thing, when a program is online, there is not the same feeling of camaraderie as when a group of people come together in person. However, a similar feeling can be created for your virtual event. Using ice breakers and utilizing breakout rooms can be a great way for people to come out of their shells and interact in ways that often occur at in-person events.
Reading the room while giving a virtual presentation can be difficult if not impossible. Make sure to ask if attendees have questions or understand points made. An interactive element can also work to get online participants more involved. When I teach my grant writing boot camp, I give out a package of M&Ms or ask the participants to buy their own single pack if they do not want to come to the library. I use them when I teach the evaluation plan section and talk about statistics. (Did you know there is a statistical equation that decides what percentage of a single serving size bag of M&Ms is which color?)
You May Be Surprised By Your Successes
One of my most successful programs over the last year was a virtual vinegar tasting program. I worked with a local vinegar seller to create take home kits. Each kit had six samplings of different vinegars. This was part of a book club where we were reading Kate Quinn’s ‘Empress of Rome’ series and so the vinegars all had an Ancient Roman tie-in. Two pieces of Italian bread were also included. I picked up the kits at the store and participants, who signed up in advance, came to the library to collect them. The kits were available two days before the program. This program went over exceedingly well. I highly recommend trying a similar program with beer, wine, olive oil, flavored popcorn, or whatever else inspires you.
You Are No Longer Bound by Geography
In November and December, my library held a four-week author workshop. I worked with the Creative Academy for Writers. Although it is online most of its instructors live in British Columbia. I worked with one of the founders, Eileen Cook, and together she and I scheduled four authors, including her, to do different programs about writing and marketing books. Some of the classes were limited to ten people and others had open enrollment. The authors were excellent instructors and I did not have to worry about the expenses of flying them in and paying for hotels. Right now, I am in discussions with Noah Charney, an art theft expert, to present a library program and he lives in Europe. Since everything is virtual geography is no longer an issue.
Your Programs Can Be More Inclusive
With Zoom and most other video conferencing software you can add closed captioning so customers with hearing impairments can attend and still enjoy the program. You can also include descriptions of slide pictures and make sure your slides have readable colors for customers with sight and color impairments. The ALA Public Programs Office offers great accessibility tips for virtual programming here.
More People Can Attend
One of the programs I facilitate is a 10-week course in how to start a business. It is once-a-week, three-hour commitment. The program is in its third year, but this year we had to pivot and go virtual. Originally, we thought this would be bad for the program. That not being in the same room during the 10-weeks would make it so the cohort would not bond, but one of the pluses was people with children could attend and did not need to find or pay for childcare. They could be in their home and the ability to mute yourself made it possible for a parent to watch a baby while attending a class that will help with their future.
Also the ability to record a program, if allowed by the presenter, means that the video can be shared via Youtube or your website so if a person cannot attend at the original time they will still be able to attend the program at a time convenient to them.
The virtual programming world has its challenges, but with luck, patience, and ingenuity, I think it is a format we can all come to enjoy and appreciate for the many opportunities it offers.