Best Practices of Library Virtual Programming

Since the pandemic began, libraries have been scrambling to go virtual. Some of us dove right in, others dipped their toes, and others are still trying to get there. As a library specialist and a graduate assistant, I experienced a few methods of virtual programming. One of the most difficult parts for me was finding tips for how to do virtual programs. However, over the next few years, I believe that libraries will establish best practices for these programs. Although I am by no means an expert as I have done a blog virtual program, a video virtual program, and a live virtual program, I’d like to contribute some takeaways from my experience to the conversation about best practices today.

  1. Use items that patrons likely have at home. This was one of the first best practices I established with myself. Libraries often offer crafts with material or toys that we purchase that patrons likely cannot afford to buy on their own. It is up to us to find crafts that use common household items to make your program accessible. I’d personally really love to see some junk drawer crafts.
  2. Don’t abandon your programming priorities. If your library was previously doing story time, STEM, MakerSpace programming, etc., then center your virtual programs on those. If you start the in person story time by listing the schedule for the day or with a particular song, do the same virtually. This gives patrons consistency, which is vital during a time where everyone and everywhere else is unpredictable. With that being said, you may need to revamp some programs to meet all these best practices, but it is worth it.
  3. Utilize all methods of promotion. I inherited a Goodreads Teen/Tween Book Club this month. One of my first tasks was to increase engagement in the club. So far, I’ve reached out to all of our local school media specialists, homeschooling groups, and teen volunteers to promote. I’ve also submitted work orders to promote it on various library social media and the website. I’ve also secured some incentives for participation in the club and am continuing a monthly blog. Finally, I began posting weekly discussions and polls to, you know, send everyone a notification that it exists. This is a lot of work, but it has increased engagement. Virtual programs need a ton of promotion to reach your audience.
  4. Take stock of your own and your staff’s skills. Is someone on your staff a great cross-stitcher? See if they’re willing to record a lesson or teach you a lesson that you can use. Being able to take your hobbies, like crochet or other crafts, to work and share them with others is a good way to help you enjoy work during an especially difficult time. Want to learn something new? Test it out and see if you can turn it into a virtual program that’s easy to do at home.
  5. Focus on quality, not quantity. In libraries, we can often get caught up in the number of people who show up to our programs or the number of programs that we deliver. With virtual programming, we often only get to see that through the views and many of those viewers do not view it live. We lose something with virtual programs, but we do gain lots of time to make sure that they are quality. Breathe in. Take your time. Make it something you like.
  6. Prioritize best method of delivery. Think about the learning objectives or goals of the program you want to give. Is it best shown through a blog with images? Or is a live virtual program the best way? Don’t be afraid to pass on your great idea this time if you need to do a blog this month and it would work better as a live program.
  7. Commit to accessibility. At my library, we are fortunate to have lots of staff with knowledge about accessibility best practices for videos, images, and websites. Learn about them. Use them. Hold your peers accountable for them. And never forget to caption your videos.
  8. Always, always check copyright. Before you plan a program, check the publisher’s copyright allowances. Many publishers have relaxed permissions, but some of those relaxed permissions are only given to educators who submit a form. Research before you put something on the internet forever.
  9. Build community. It may feel silly to the computer screen like it’s a child, but doing your best to make eye contact with the camera and interact as much as you can is vital to successful virtual programs. Pause often and give time for them to respond, like some of our favorite children’s television programs do. Encourage viewers to participate in chat-box conversation or send pictures of their creations. One of my coworkers actually high-fived the camera during a toddler time and it was one of our best received programs. Community matters.

As this is my last piece for Hack Library School, I would like to end by saying see you later and to please share your best practices in the comments if you can. It has been a great privilege to write with this organization, and I hope readers and writers will continue to support it. Thank you, Hack Library School.

Courtney Evans is graduating this semester with her M.S.I. from Florida State University with an interest in public library and academic library partnerships, information literacy, and open science. She recently accepted a position as a Teen Librarian in Gainesville, FL. You can connect with her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/courtney-evans-2018/) and on Twitter (@cevans_lib).

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