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The Library Comic Convention Goes Virtual

by on June 2, 2021

COVID-19 has caused many issues for in-person programming for libraries. Comic conventions are big events at libraries all over the US. I talked with staff at three libraries to hear how they turned their in-person library Comic Conventions to virtual events. 

JD Smithson, Communications Coordinator, at the Couer d’Alene Public Library in Couer d’Alene, Idaho talked about their library’s change to a virtual event. The library’s Comic Convention is always held in August. They decided in May that the 2020 event would be virtual.

They held a variety of virtual events that were reflective of the in-person event. “We had an online cosplay contest, online fan-art contest, take-home craft kits, a gift wrapped sci-fi/fantasy book giveaway, online gaming on Discord and three virtual panels,” said Smithson. “We advertised vendors on the website.” They held an “extra” online event that had not been held in the past which Smithson described as a geeky to do list they named “fandom quest.”

Although their attendance numbers dropped, with 2200 people attending in 2019 and 771 in 2020, Smithson noted a positive was that they were able to reach people who cannot physically get to the library.  For their upcoming 2021 Comic Convention, Couer d’Alene Public Library will be doing a hybrid program with small programs outside and by appointment. 

The Erie County Public Library in Erie, PA also moved their Comic Convention, LibCon, to a virtual environment in 2021. Abby Zielinski, librarian assistant, explained why.  “The LibCon Erie team felt that this event needed to happen in some capacity due to its overall popularity. This is one of our library’s largest events and is a huge draw for the teen population. We knew we could transfer some elements of this event to a virtual platform. We had to cancel the event in 2020 and did not want another year to go by without some version of this event.”

Zielinski stated that attendance was lower than the in-person event, but feedback was positive overall. Some of the events, like the cosplay costume contest, did better in-person. However, the art contest had double the entries from previous years. 

There were some definite pros to the online LibCon as far as Erie Public Library was concerned. “One pro to having a virtual con is you can share premade content. With three staff members, we were able to create and manage two contests, sixteen video panels, six live events (Zoom) and two digital escape rooms. During the in-person event we would have to depend on third party participants and the LibCon Erie team to create that much content. Another pro is that the ninety percent of the content was available after the event day. We had patrons continue to view the content even after the event.” 

Like Couer d’Alene, Erie will keep some aspects of a virtual con for future events. Per Zielinski, “There are a few aspects of the virtual con that we will use when we return to an in-person LibCon. One was running a bracket-like voting system throughout the day. The Teen Advisory Board helped pick the superheroes that were in the bracket which updated every thirty minutes.  This proved a very popular activity for this event. We will definitely have a hybrid version in the future, because it allows people who may not normally be able to attend engage with the content and participate in programs. For example, if patrons were not able to make it to a panel, we shared PDF files, links, etc. afterwards so everyone could access it. One program we would like to adapt for next year is our cosplay Q&A. We encouraged cosplayers to record themselves answering a few interview questions as their character. We then shared these videos on our social media accounts. These were rather popular.  We may incorporate this element into our in-person con to encourage more participation/ interaction with our cosplay community.”

Some libraries took their Comic Conventions to the extreme and instead of holding a one-day event created a week-long virtual con. The Mission Viejo (CA) Library was one of them. Lauren Regenhardt explained the library’s Comic Convention history, “The Mission Viejo Library is in Southern California and our community is full of families and retirees. We are lucky to have some ‘big names’ in our community such as Marv Wolfman (DC and Marvel fame), and YA author Neal Shusterman, both of whom we have had at least once in our Comic events. We marketed heavily on our webpage https://cityofmissionviejo.org/mission-viejo-library-comic-fest, and put flyers in all our curbside bags. We started marketing on Facebook the month of the event.”

Regenhardt said the week-long Comic Convention was successful by their standards and they were surprised because they thought everyone would be “Zoomed out.” Each presentation had between 18-30 active attendees. They also stated that the virtual aspect allowed them to have panelists from around the country that they couldn’t otherwise afford because of tight budgets. 

When asked if the library would continue to have a virtual aspect to its Comic Convention, Regenhardt responded, “I’d love to have a virtual option moving forward not just so attendees from around the world can watch, but so we could have panelists and presenters that we might not normally be able to afford in person. Virtual programming has opened up a new world for us and for the publishing world, so we’re excited to see what future virtual events hold for us!”

Although each library staff member mentioned that attendance was lower and that they missed the excitement of the in-person event, most recognized the benefits of virtual ibrary comic conventions, including exciting discoveries, expanded opportunities, and improved accessibility. As with other library programs that turned virtual during the pandemic, many library Comic Conventions will continue in a hybrid fashion, offering patrons the opportunity to choose how they are most comfortable participating.