Successful Virtual Adult Services Programs @ Your Public Library

By Kaitlyn Sparks & Debe Moreno
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We asked some librarians around the state to tell us about their most successful virtual adult services during a time when most of us have been forced to go online with our programming. We received a few exceptional and innovative ideas as well as what one might consider bread-and-butter library services. We hope this sparks your interest or gives you some programming ideas for your own unique community.

Goodnight, Flagstaff – Flagstaff Public Library

Jamie Paul, Events and Marketing Librarian

Goodnight, Flagstaff is a virtual community radio show where community members read from beloved chapter books and readings are broadcast every weeknight at 8:00 PM on Flagstaff Public Library’s YouTube and social media channels. A local online radio station, Crater Radio, also broadcasts at the same time. They recently started reading the Chronicles of Narnia, and have previously read Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket, and The Princess Bride. There has been a ton of community participation,which has made this unique program a huge success!

How did this idea come about?

We thought of the program back when the pandemic started and JK Rowling and many other authors were making statements about fair-use and encouraging classrooms and libraries to use their books for online read-alouds. I work in the reference department and so conceived of the idea as a way to involve readers of all ages. We’ve always had a lot of success with all-ages Potter programming, and so we started there!

Did you have any issues (technical or otherwise) to overcome?

When I had mentioned this idea – or one like it but less involved – pre-pandemic, there were some concerns about copyright, but several articles in School Library Journal about online read-alouds combined with public statements from authors and publishers about fair-use really helped allay those fears for my supervisors.

There was also some concern about getting enough volunteers, but we staffed the first book in less than 12 hours using a Facebook post on my account and on the library account. So that went well. The biggest problem has been overcoming technical glitches and knowledge with some of the volunteers, but that has really actually been a win in the end, in that many of the volunteers who were less technically savvy have told us they used their new skills elsewhere as well!

We at first ran the program daily including weekends and then moved to only weekdays because the processing can take quite a bit of time and I was going nuts.

What marketing strategies did you find particularly successful?

We have a fairly robust social media campaign going and so we advertised there. The local paper also featured the program in an article early in the summer, which sent us some more new volunteers.  A local online radio station heard about it and started posting our content every night, and the local Sun Sounds station for the blind heard about it and started sending us additional content for Nana Deb’s Bedtime Stories, which they had already been recording once a week for a couple of years. We added NaNa Deb to the rotation with daily stories for younger children every day in the summer and switched to once a week once we had run through their back catalog.

What tools and guidance did the library provide for people recording from home?

They do record on their own using the voice memo app on their phone or computer, or if they are super fancy some of them use more official recording equipment. One father and son always include license-free music during the opening and closing credits when they submit their chapters, which is really cool. We worked with people on a one-on-one basis to troubleshoot tech and figure out how to send the files for the larger Harry Potter chapters using Google Docs and other free online sharing software.

Do you plan on continuing Goodnight, Flagstaff once starting in-person programming again?

The community has really rallied around the program and we would love to continue it even when we go back to in-person programming. We have had several special recordings involving multiple readers for holidays, and the readers are so enthusiastic and have so much fun! We do those via Zoom. We’ve had about 200 volunteers participate, all told, and maintain an email list that we contact every other month or so to ask who wants another chapter. In March we have a boy scout troop reading several chapters, the Flag High School Drama Club read some of our chapters last spring, and many actors from our local community theater have gotten involved. It has really been a lovely way to bring the community into the library, and the library into the community. I think it will continue to be that when we open the building again. In the fall we put a survey out to choose our next books and I think we have content now to carry us through all of 2021!

What advice do you have for another library system planning on providing similar services?

I think it might be more efficient and reach more people if run as a podcast? We are looking into that but I haven’t seen any usable free options yet.

Are there any other virtual programs or services that you would like to tell us about?

We are also running all of our book clubs virtually, and a writers’ drop-in chat as well as monthly writers workshops. And the Author Talks have been awesome virtually since we’ve been able to get authors we wouldn’t ordinarily be able to get, like JA Jance! We would love to co-host the book clubs with other libraries who are interested, since Zoom really makes geography rather unimportant. Pima County started hosting our Spanish Book Club with us today for the first time so we will see if that increases attendance! If any libraries are interested in collaborating around that sort of thing, I would love to hear from them!

CoffeeHouse Concerts – Prescott Public Library

Ruthie Hewitt, Lead Librarian Adult Services

The CoffeeHouse Concerts series usually runs September – May. It was cancelled in April and May 2020 due to the pandemic, but over the summer after many hours of learning the equipment and practice sessions to get the lighting, location and sound worked out, they were able to kick it off virtually in September! The concerts are filmed and then published on Prescott Public Library’s YouTube channel a week later.

The host Jo Berger has been so committed to making it work virtually. She is a musician herself and finds the performers for each month, and uses her sound equipment to capture the performers voice and instrument to perfection. Adult Service Librarian Rosemary Medrano is the real expert with the camera, lighting and video editing software and uses her magic, mostly time and hard work, to produce a beautiful monthly concert series that has been viewed more than 2,000 times!

What was the most challenging obstacle you faced in providing these services and how did you overcome it?

The most challenging part was staff training and the huge time commitment this took along with doing the filming and preparing of the video. Learning the equipment and adjusting for each performer has been a really challenging part and took a lot of time and patience. We received a CARES grant to purchase a camera and tripod and had lights donated.

What advice do you have for another library system planning on providing similar services?

Be prepared to devote a lot of time to a project such as this. Learning the camera and video editing software first, and feeling comfortable with that before launching the program. Use the talented people you have in the library, I could not have accomplished this without Adult Service Librarian Rosemary Medrano who had some background in theater and is a novice photographer.

Are there any other virtual programs or services that you would like to tell us about?

We have also had a lot of success with our Crafts-to-Go program. We did a marbled mug, string art, and next month we will do a macramé plant holder. We delivered them through our curbside service and the last one was gone in 2 days. We provided all of the needed supplies, a related booklist, instructions, and a QR linked to a video showing how to do it.

Author Booktalks – Mesa Public Library

Brenna Klassen, Librarian

Mesa Public Library held booktalks with well-known and bestselling authors via Zoom and broadcasted them live on Facebook, which garnered many viewers. J.A. Jance’s booktalk, Bestselling author J.A. Jance discusses Credible Threat, from July 2020 currently has 2.9k views on Facebook. This was followed by Libby Copeland’s book talk in September 2020, Libby Copeland talks about The Lost Family, which has 3.4k views!

What was the most challenging obstacle you faced in providing these services and how did you overcome it?

The biggest obstacle we encountered was staff training, many had never used Zoom, edited a video, etc. Next was time constraints, we as a staff were running the Mesa CARES call center at the same time, which finally ended December 31st, and our own expectations. We tried different ways of doing programs as well, the above booktalks are something that we would have done in person most likely. J.A. Jance frequently came to Red Mountain and it was an immensely popular program with adults.

What advice do you have for another library system planning on providing similar services?

Our advice for libraries looking to do more virtual programming would be to try something out of your comfort zone. I taught myself video editing this pandemic! And as Sara says: “Temper your expectations. Remember online is a different world from in-person (some things translate, some don’t, you’re constantly competing for people’s attention, etc). Consider your ROI. Remember that nothing is perfect, technology fails sometimes, people forget to unmute, the cat’s meowing in the background, etc, it’s okay, working in this environment brings new challenges. Breathe, relax, and have fun.”

Originally, one of the most difficult things was getting staff to switch their sights to online when they weren’t used to it/comfortable with it. There was a very quick process of finding out “who could do what” and then quick staff training sessions on our video creating software. Two of our staff were into theatre so they transitioned easily to create a video for Pipeline the job hunting site; they wrote a script to make it more conversational.

Are there any other virtual programs or services that you would like to tell us about?

Aside from those above, we also hosted a “Resume Consulting” service via email run by volunteers from WIOA Adult Workforce and the Legacy Foundation – Chris-Town YMCA. Patrons sign up through Sign Up Genius. While this has not been our most popular program, it has been extremely helpful in the pandemic and a low time investment for us. We had the advantage of polling Mesa residents for the CARES project so we had the data to back up job hunting as a need in the community.

Additionally I had a popular Adult Craft Night pre-pandemic, so I made crafts I would have done with them in person as quick craft videos. I learned that the shorter the better for these and don’t talk, most people watch videos like this with the sound off! The difference in the style of the video relates to its popularity. You’re competing for people’s attention online, so your video needs to look enticing. The most popular craft video was a cactus planter made from 2L bottles

Book Clubs – Tempe Public Library

Jill Brenner, Adult Librarian II

Tempe Public Library had three book clubs that have been very successful in person, so they switched them to virtual programs using Zoom due to the pandemic. Coffee, Tea & Books is a club for contemporary literature lovers, Great Books uses Great Books Foundation materials, and Mystery Club for die-hard mystery fans.

What was the most challenging obstacle you faced and how did you overcome it?

The most challenging obstacle has been the technology. While Zoom is relatively easy to use, for many of our book club members learning to use Zoom has been a challenge. I created a handout with instructions on how to use the most common functions and then sent the handout to the attendees. They were very appreciative and it helped them feel more comfortable.

What advice do you have for another library system planning on providing similar services?

The best advice I can give is to make sure the staff running the program is relatively knowledgeable on how to use the product. I have walked many patrons through how to use “Share Screen.” Also, set up a little early in case there are any computer/wifi issues on the library end.

Are there any other virtual programs or services that you would like to tell us about?

Our annual Tempe Writing and Cover Design contests have always been done virtually since we use Submittable.com to submit the writing and email to submit the cover designs. The only thing we will have to do virtually this year is our Book Launch celebration where the winners read from their winning works.

We also have a writers critique group called Writers Connection that has been virtual. Writers share their work with other writers over Zoom.

Your Public Library

Arizona Public Libraries are creating programs and initiatives that make our communities stronger, more informed, and better connected. When we work together, we are all better equipped to serve our communities. If you are interested in more information about any of these virtual adult services programs, contact:

  • Jamie Paul, Events and Marketing Librarian
    • Flagstaff Public Library
    • libraryprograms@flagstaffpubliclibrary.org 
    • 928.814.3378
  • Ruthie Hewitt, Lead Librarian Adult Services
    • Prescott Public Library
    • ruthie.hewitt@prescott-az.gov
    • 928.777.1509
  • Brenna Klassen, Librarian
    • Mesa Public Library – Dobson Ranch Library
    • brenna.klassen@mesaaz.gov
    • 480.644.4346
  • Jill Brenner, Adult Librarian II
    • Tempe Public Library
    • jill_brenner@tempe.gov
    • 480.350.5569

If you have programs, initiatives, or information that you would like to share with other Public Libraries around Arizona, contact your AzLA Public Library Division Co-chairs:

  • Kaitlyn Sparks, She/Her/Hers
    • Assistant Manager
    • Pima County Public Library
    • public.libraries@azla.org
  • Debe Moreno, She/Her/Hers
    • Youth Services Librarian
    • Chandler Public Library 
    • public.libraries@azla.org

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