Tag Archives: virtual programming

Virtual School Age Program: Pokemon Week

Last week was an extra layer of busy for me. Each summer for the last three years we have had a Pokemon event. Typically, our Pokemon Party lasts about two hours, has about 200 attendees, and includes trivia, BINGO, crafts, tech, snacks, card trading, and more. The 2020 Pokemon Party was on the calendar…and then COVID happened. Even though this event typically relies heavily on in-library activities and the shared love of a few hundred Pokemon fans in one space, I knew this was one of my must-make-virtual activities.

Pokemon Party turned into virtual Pokemon Week, mostly hosted through Facebook Live. This platform creates some limitations, but it has been our go-to location for most of our virtual programming (and we do still see a lot of familiar faces on there). I created off-Facebook versions of these programs to allow for non-social-media users to also join in on the fun.

Attendance was strong at these events, with 60 active participants in both Pokemon Trivia and Guess that Pokemon, and about 40 active participants at Pokemon BINGO.

In addition to all of the shared content below, I also had these three links available for each event:

Day One: Pokemon Trivia

Very similar to our in-person trivia (except no prizes and easier), our virtual Pokemon Trivia included 20 questions. This was created in PowerPoint and presented using Facebook Live’s screen share tool. Due to the setup, my computer screen was the PowerPoint file, so I had a coworker typing answers to comments, and I verbally responded to some comments after seeing them through the livestream on my phone. Audio and video quality are a big deal as we move farther down the path of virtual programming, and I will never doubt the value of my lovely Yeti microphone (I actually like my voice when I listen back to a recording. I didn’t think that was possible.).

Video of Facebook Live Event:

Same Event on YouTube: The same trivia content can be found in the YouTube video, though this was created for this platform so the extra content is a little different:

Certificate: At the end of the trivia event, we provided a link in the comments to a printable Trivia Master certificate:

Additional Links:

Day Two: Guess that Pokemon

During our in-person event, this is a passive station with images on the wall that attendee’s identify, self-score, and then pick-up a small prize (like a button or bookmark). I made this another trivia-style event.

Video of Facebook Event:

Same Event on YouTube:

Certificate:

Additional Links:

To Make Your Own Character Shadows: I used Microsoft PowerPoint, though this should work in any Microsoft tool (and most image editing software):

  • I found most of my Pokemon images here, though any image without a background can be edited this way.
  • In PowerPoint:
    • I pasted the image.
    • Right clicked on the image and selected “Format Picture.”
    • In the new options to the right, I selected the fourth image in the new toolbar, “Picture.”
    • Changed the “brightness” to zero. The image is now solid black.

Day Three: Pokemon BINGO

Pokemon BINGO was a different virtual adjustment–attendees were able to see me this time! There was an extra “step” here–attendees needed to download Pokemon BINGO cards ahead of time and either print them out or play virtually (like in a paint style program).

Video of Facevook Event:

Downloadable BINGO Cards: 100 unique downloadable Pokemon BINGO cards, plus instructions to play at home.

Certificate:

Additional Links:

Day Four: How to Draw Pokemon

We wrapped up our Pokemon week with our first virtual presenter for the summer, cartoonist Steve Harpster. He taught kids how to draw cartoon-style versions of a variety of Pokemon!

Virtual School Age: Virtual and Augmented Reality

I’ve been part of my library’s virtual storytime team for the last few months (and into the summer). Last week, I had a chance to dive into school age programming again.

This was my second foray into a virtual Innovation Academy program. I received zero feedback from the first program or from this program, so I have essentially no idea what patrons thought of either event, or if they even opened the documents I sent. So it goes with virtual programming.

Read more about the how, why, and pros and cons for this particular program series in my last post on this topic: Virtual School Age: Coding.

Some details on how this series works:

  • Program materials are designed and curated for ages 6-11.
  • Attendees register via Evanced (our regular event registration software).
  • On the day of the event, the program presenter emails attendees a video introduction as well as a PDF with resources, content, and activities to do at home.

Content

The challenge with tech programs at home is coming up with tech ideas that only use technology the average family is likely to own–essentially, a computer and a smartphone. Coding was an easy choice, but so many of my regular in-library programs rely on physical technology (3D pens, 3D printer, Bloxels, various robots, etc.).

Augmented Reality just involves a smartphone–something that many people may already own (or at least those people who are signing up virtually for a virtual event).

I wanted to make this program a bit more focused with activities that build based on your knowledge and age–starting with defining the concept, moving on to exploring the concept, and finally creating something on your own.

This was a great plan until I spent way too many hours trying to find a tool that allows kids to create their own Augmented Reality apps or games. This feels like it should exist, and it does in a few forms, but most of those forms involve (1) apps that are outdated/don’t work with the newest Android/Apple updates, (2) software that costs money, or (3) apps that are in development by Princeton and will be SO COOL in three years.

To allow for that “create” portion of the program, I expanded the program topic to “Augmented and Virtual Reality.” While you can’t explore virtual reality without a headset, you can create some cool virtual reality tours with Google that can be made and shared without needing a headset. Is it as cool without a headset? No. Does it still get the point across? Yes.

Just like last time, I provided an instruction video for participants:

Participants can watch the video, or they can move straight to the packet, included below. It covers the concepts reviewed in the video, and also provides a written explanation of the resources and tutorial shown in the video.

Summer Reading Promo

Like so many libraries, we are re-examining our Summer Reading Program through a virtual lens. At the end of 2019, we moved our reading program from software designed and managed in-house to the ReadSquared platform, kicking off using that service with our first Winter Reading Program in December. Personally, I can’t say I love ReadSquared, but it gets the job done.

We don’t have answers to many of the questions that I see being asked in Facebook Groups every day–how are you distributing prizes? Will any part of the program be available in person? What about people without Internet?

My library doesn’t have all of those answers, and I surely don’t, but I did get tasked with making a video to replace our annual school assemblies. A few years ago, we were able to start visiting 15+ elementary schools in our service area during May for assembly-style presentations where we got kids excited about summer reading. In Ohio, the kids didn’t go back to school after mid-March, so those assemblies obviously were not going to happen. However, we did want to send the schools something to supplement those visits.

Enter the summer reading video.

This took me a few full days worth of work to make, with the bulk of the work taking about 8 hours (filming, editing, screaming at my computer, etc.). Finished product is below:

…and the how-I-did-it follows.

Preparation

General Idea

I knew I wanted to create a video that mimicked the general style of YouTubers–short quick cuts, lots of humor. That seemed like a safe, approachable direction that should appeal to elementary students, and it also meant that I wouldn’t have to (1) memorize really long chunks of text or (2) read from a script (a pet peeve of mine–it is always obvious you are reading, and it always pulls me out of whatever I am watching).

During my storytime videos I just talk freely, but I wanted to make sure I got my words exactly right in this video because so much of our program is up in the air, and people remember what we say. I don’t want to talk about how the kids get to choose their own prize books (a normal staple of our program) when that may not happen this year. We just don’t know.

I was a bit lost for direction on this until a coworker sent me a lovely video made by a school librarian advertising their book fair. I think her humor and silly motions gave me a much better idea of what I was aiming for (and an answer to the dreaded “how do I start?”).

Storyboarding

Storyboard Images, Stock Photos & Vectors | Shutterstock

Back in the days when I made videos more frequently, I got into the habit of storyboarding. I knew I was going to need some sort of direction for this video, as I was planning for a lot of short clips/scenes to keep the video moving.

I didn’t draw out a full storyboard, but I did write out a simple word document breaking the film into clips including my general ideas for props, background, and more:

Some of this changed before the final run through–I couldn’t find free green screen software quickly, so I dropped the space bit. The Spongebob rainbow imagination hands didn’t translate when filming either. However, this gave me a place to start.

PPT Text

I transferred big chunks of text to PPT slides, broken into the small bits that were going to take place in one cut. I was going to use this as a script behind the camera to read from, though, as mentioned before, I hate reading from a script, so I ended up just using this to help practice before saying whatever came out of my mouth on film.

Props & Supplies

Mostly, I didn’t need too many props…except for the bits where I attempt to be funny near the beginning middle. (Yes, that is supposed to be a tiger king joke. No, I don’t think it hits home.)

I worked with what I have on hand. For example, the book fair video started with that school librarian playing a trumpet and using a toy megaphone. I have neither. I made a paper megaphone and leaned into the awkward by writing MEGAPHONE on the side.

After the experience I had filming this, I would suggest less props. I think I started to lose my mind when I started swapping out all of the props on the storage unit behind me for each of the “funny” bits (tiger king, Harry Potter, Frozen). This took much more time than it was worth (maybe 10 seconds of camera time for 20-30 minutes of setup and destroying my house).

Filming

Background

I don’t really have a house that is setup for filming anything. The easiest room for me to film in is a spare bedroom, which was essentially a storage space before this. To avoid the mugshot effect (filming against a bare wall), I hiked upstairs the best piece of furniture I could stage–a 3×3 cube unit (that had once been holding craft supplies…that are now all over my house). For storytimes, keeping this unit on the floor works well–it isn’t very tall, but I was trying to focus on the rhymes and my stuffed bear “baby.”

For this video, I wanted my background to be more engaging. So, suddenly, the cube unit is precariously on top of a trunk, and I am rearranging the items on the unit to appeal a bit more to the 6-11 year old crowd instead of the 2-3 year old audience I normally have.

I also had to figure out placement. For storytimes, I am typically a bit further away from the camera–for baby storytime, I want my lap to be in the shot to show when I am touching my baby’s feet or bouncing; for toddler storytime I need to have enough space around me to hold up a flannel board or book. None of that mattered here–it was all about me being engaging, and, following the pattern of YouTubers everywhere, that meant making myself more of a central part of the frame. Figuring out how to position myself with roughly my shoulders and head filling the frame with a background that was engaging but not overpowering took more time than I would like to admit.

Equipment

The particular equipment I use included:

For my particular device, I think the audio in the smartphone is sufficient (no need for an external mike). I have a few issues with lighting on particularly gloomy days, but 90% of the time, natural lighting is the best option when filming. Just make sure your window isn’t directly behind you.

Being on Camera

I read about the struggles of being on camera for many librarians, and, unfortunately for any readers out there, I don’t have too much to add to that conversation. I think I’m actually a little more comfortable in front of the camera at this point than I often am in front of patrons.

My tips for getting comfortable:

  • Don’t watch yourself while filming. If you tend to overthink everything you do, turn your phone around and film with that much higher-quality camera on the back of your device. I started doing this for live storytimes because, on an Android device, you can’t flip a livestream so that the words in a book are facing the right way for the audience on your front-facing camera. And it is freeing. I stare at that little circle on my phone and release any tension–I can’t see comments, I can’t see my weird hand gestures, I can’t see anything–and it is all out of my control now. Embrace the chaos. It let me stop overthinking every motion.
  • Picture that one storytime kid. You know the one. The one that comes to all of your storytimes, and hopefully appears at some virtual ones too. I know that Miss Julia is always watching–and she is who I am presenting too. If no one else comes, I know Julia had a blast–and that is all I need.
  • Get silly. I am always, always, so self-aware in storytimes. I can move past some of it, especially with a bigger crowd, but when I have just a few adults and kids staring at me, it makes me very aware of my every motion and every time a story, song, or joke doesn’t connect. I am always looking for reactions–and here, I have to give that up because there are no reactions (at least that I can see while presenting). It is just me. So, mentally, I tell myself that every single thing hit home. There is nothing to tell me otherwise–so gosh darn it I am going to believe that the viewers LOVED every second of it. This lets me get sillier than usual. There isn’t a mom in the corner silently judging me (more likely spacing out completely out of exhaustion, but our brains tell us we are the center of the universe so…). It is just me dancing like no one is watching.

Editing

Oh, editing.

Your success and frustration with editing is largely going to depend on your computer. Do you have a high-powered computer? Preferably a Mac? The fastest, best internet humanly possible? You should be set.

Oh, you are like the rest of us mortals, and you don’t have all those things?

Join the club.

I have a decent-ish (Windows) computer now, but it was still a struggle at many points in the editing process. I don’t suggest you buy a new computer for this, so use what you have.

I used OpenShot video editior. This is free software that gets the job done. It is not very intuitive–not nearly as intuitive as, say, iMovie (available for free on a Mac)–but it has the bells and whistles if you know where to find them. I had to do a lot of Google searches to figure out how to do most tasks, but there are many really accessible tutorials out there. Just be ready for the time commitment and learning curve, especially the first time you use it.

Music

I didn’t worry too much about music being copyrighted, except for whether YouTube would demonetize a video vs. block it entirely. Most popular songs lead to demonetization, which as a public library not making any ad revenue anyway, this really isn’t a big deal. (Some songs do lead to a Youtube video being blocked in most countries, which is depressing after all of the effort you put in to make it.)

I was able to download both songs I used for free from Freegal using my library card. I also regularly pull Royalty Free Music from bensound.com for introductions and such.

So many of us are filming our own videos now…what are you doing? What questions do you have? Virtual programming isn’t going anywhere anytime soon–how are you making it work for you?

Virtual Book Talks

Reader’s Advisory is a major part of any youth librarian’s job–you need to be familiar with popular titles as well as be ready for those more obscure reader’s advisory questions (“I want books about REAL unicorns. None of that pink glittery nonsense. The REAL ones that eat people.”).

In the library, we provide this service regularly through all kinds of resources–in-person reader’s advisory, displays, booklists, librarian-curated posters and bookmarks of recommended titles and popular genres, and more. My library also sends us into classrooms to talk directly to kids about some great books they might be interested in.

I read a lot. I also love booktalking in classrooms. But I am now working from home, schools in Ohio are not going back this year, and, honestly, I don’t really expect public librarians (or anyone really) to be allowed into classrooms next fall.

So how do we keep reaching those kids? The same ways we have been doing everything lately…virtually.

Video Book Talks

Someday, when we are in a better routine and know what to expect out of life again, I would love to make video book talks. At the moment, I am just getting my feet under me with weekly virtual storytimes and starting monthly virtual school-age programs, and with the constant uncertainty of when and how we will reopen, I don’t want to start something like this at the moment.

Feel free to watch this, uh, interesting creation circa 2017 (that has over 700 views?!?!?!).

I think there are ways to make virtual video book talks much more engaging than the above video, even after eliminating the obvious issues like what-color-is-that-wall and better sound (And, um, pronouncing the title and main character’s name correctly. I’m sorry Hena Khan.).

Some of my dream video book talks include a lot more engaging cuts, edits, and images to be more visually exciting, but I think I may have to settle for a notch under that if I am able to start filming these in the next few months, just due to the time required to make those edits. I’m storyboarding our summer reading video at the moment, and while I think it is going to be pretty awesome, I also recognize the time involved.

Audio Book Talks

One of my coworkers started making audio-only book talks uploaded to SoundCloud, which is a new format for me. I really miss the visual element of video, but I will be the first to admit that it is much easier to read a script into a microphone than babble into a camera and worry about lighting and camera placement and my hands endlessly moving.

I have not put in the time on these that my coworker has (listen to Lisa’s great work here), but some of my files are linked below.

For any of you with an ear for audiobooks–I know some of you are reading this blog–please ignore my mouth sounds. And breathing. And spit. And dry mouth. And p-pops. I’ve been trying to edit all of that out, but it is exhausting, and there is only so much time in the work day. I can’t spend three hours or more editing a three-minute audio file, as much as ALL I HEAR is spit when these play.

Note: I watched a webinar yesterday on disability access and virtual programming. One of the key points they mentioned was making audio files accessible with a script to read for folks who are deaf. I hadn’t considered that before but am planning to edit descriptions for the files below and include text for future audio book talks.

2nd-3rd Grade:

Desmond Cole Ghost Patrol by Andres Miedoso

Mia Mayhem by Kara West

Zoey & Sassafras by Asia Citro

3rd-4th Grade:

Poop Detectives by Ginger Wadsworth (non-fiction)

Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat by Johnny Marciano

4th-5th Grade:

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

Do you have plans for new ways to look at reader’s advisory in a world where we may not be encouraging patrons to hang out in our building and may not be going into new locations for in-person outreach?

Virtual School Age: Coding

I’ve been part of my library’s virtual storytime team over the last month, and today, it is my turn to expand into virtual school age programming.

About three years ago, I started the Innovation Academy programming series because of a technology grant that gave us about $5000 in tech ideal for ages 8-11. The program series was popular, as anything with technology seems to be, but after a few years I grew close to burnout with tech. I was one of the only staff members interested in tech programming, and I felt obligated to keep creating it since there was a patron interest.

We had a mixed audience at every program, which made it difficult to plan. I couldn’t move on to advanced content because at least a third of every program’s attendees would have never used any kind of tech before. Another third would have come to every single tech program I had done in the last 2-3 years, and they would quite loudly complain that they had done this activity before. The other third would be some combination of the previous two, while also regularly letting me know that they had more advanced tech at home or at school. Oh, and there were also the kids who were too young to be in the room and couldn’t read (and didn’t have the patience to try to work through any kind of problem solving).

Luckily, last year, our department divided up the Innovation Academy program series, expanding its content to cover more than tech but also expanding the staff who ran the program. This gave me a much-needed technology break, and while I can’t say I am ready to jump back into monthly tech programs, I don’t mind the occasional offering, and I definitely don’t mind trying to translate that content to a new medium–online!

My library decided to approach school age programming so that:

  • Ages are expanded–all programs have materials for ages 6-11.
  • Attendees register via Evanced (our regular event registration software).
  • On the day of the event, the program presenter will email attendees a video introduction as well as a PDF with resources, content, and activities to do at home.

My first program goes live today, so I don’t know what the patron feedback will be. Four days before the event, we already have 60 sign-ups, which is fantastic! Our first school-age event from last week, virtual Young Engineers, received a great response from virtual attendees, so I’m hoping that pattern continues.

Content

This session’s intro video is below. It is boring. I’m going to work on ways to make it more engaging–including seeing my face talking–for next time, but I was determined to get this done this week, and double storytimes meant that reading my notes instead of talking was just easier.

Participants can watch the video, or they can move straight to the packet, included below. It covers the vocabulary reviewed in the video, and also provides four pages of coding resources for all levels of coders, from beginning to advanced, including unplugged, block-based, and text-based coding activities.

Pros and Cons

Obviously this format is different than standard library programming, and there isn’t too much we can do about that. Until we have a vaccine for COVID-19, our world is going to look different. Encouraging people to gather for entertainment purposes, while mentally helpful, is simply dangerous at the moment. Speaking personally, my life, my coworker’s lives, and our patron’s lives aren’t worth creating an hour’s worth of entertainment–or learning–right now. When stay at home orders are lifted, some people will run from their homes to any open location–that doesn’t mean we are obligated to amuse them at our own personal risk. Other people will stay home and prioritize their and other people’s safety.

Everyone will make their own choices, and virtual programming allows us to reach people in a way that is safe for everyone. Unfortunately, it means we will be missing people, especially those that need our services the most. I don’t have an answer for that, but I will say that in almost all cases, in my particular library, the people who are coming into our library to attend our physical programs are not the people who don’t have Internet at home. They may make choices about screen time limits that may make it hard to attend our virtual programs–and honestly, if you are able to stick to those limits in these crazy times, good for you–but they still have access if they choose to use it.

I don’t think temporarily moving our programs virtual is preventing our regular users from accessing the library. Figuring out how to reach those folks who could never make it into the library in the first place is a bigger question, and virtual programming may actually be opening doors instead of closing them. According to Pew Research, 68% of low income families use social media (with Facebook being by far the most popular tool). While I don’t have the statistics, I will bet that 68% of our low income families don’t visit our library regularly.

Obviously, no matter how I try to spin it, there are still cons to online programs. They feel impersonal. I can’t adjust a program based on a participant’s response. I can’t lead them through a problem the same way I could in person. I can’t give them physical items to work with and explore, from robots and 3D printing pens to even simple craft materials. I don’t even know how many participants opened the files I sent or actually did any activity. People could really struggle with what I provide, or simply not like the format, and I may never know.

To end on a positive note, however, there are small good things to focus on too. So many of those reasons that I was burnt out on tech disappear here. I can provide activities and resources for all ages and abilities–from those preschoolers sneaking their way into school-age programs to the attendees that have been coding for years. I’ve got you all covered.

Online programs can promote family engagement in a way that in-library programs can promote peer-to-peer learning. Adults learn about fun ways they can connect with their kids without having to spend money on robots and 3D printing pens and craft supplies. Programs can be completed whenever is convenient for a family–as soon as an email is distributed, after work is done, over the weekend, a year from now. If the baby is super grumpy, a family doesn’t have to worry about leaving the house and arriving 30 minutes late. If a kid is really, really, really bored with Scratch, they don’t have to yell that at the top of their lungs in a room of their peers–they can just try Code Combat instead.

I want to get these kids back in our programming space–I miss them. I miss watching them grow up over the last few months, and possibly over the next year. Virtual programming provides us a bit of everything–while we don’t always get to see the kids, we still get to connect with families, share some cool learning opportunities, and connect our patrons to the ideas, interests, and passions that matter to them. Just with a little more distance between us and them.