Competencies for Librarians Serving Children in Public Libraries

Transitioning to Virtual Programming: You Already Know the Basics!

I know, I know, I know, if you are a children’s librarian or programmer, everywhere you look on blogs, Facebook groups, other social media, you are probably seeing a lot of conversation related to virtual programming. The do’s, the don’ts, the how’s. What platform is best? Should you use live programming? Should you use recorded programming? What do you do about copyright?

I’d like to provide a different perspective. As somebody who has a background in Instructional Design and teaching at a distance, I personally did not find the transition to virtual programming as monstrous an undertaking as many others, because, in reality, educators have been participating in distance education since the advent of snail mail, then radio, then television, and then internet. And after the internet, we just started creating a lot of different platforms to increase the level of interaction between individuals who are participating in a class. And what is programming in a public library? It’s how we provide learning and community building opportunities in our community, and we can do that at a distance as well. Instead of talking ad nauseam about distance education, here are some highlights and best practices from instructional design that we can utilize in order to provide those learning and community building opportunities for our community, even when our doors are closed.

Program Planning

Just like all program planning, we need to think about the scope and sequence of the content that you are creating, who your target audience is, what supplies they may have available at home, if there is a way to get them supplies, what resources do you want them to have access to? These are all questions we should already be asking as we develop programming, and those don’t change. So let’s think about some of the program planning process.

In Person Programming. When we program plan, we need to think about the kind of program that we will be presenting. So, thinking about how your program fits within these categories:

  • Educational
  • Social
  • Recreational
  • Structured
  • Less-structured
  • Experiential

If you are looking to teach a new skill, craft, or concept when you are developing your program in a traditional sense, you think about the following:

  • What information do participants need up front?
  • What are the steps to completing this activity?
  • What order do I need to model the steps in?- This helps with sequencing your program
  • How much background knowledge do participants need? Is this program for beginners or those with a higher skill level? This will help you determine the scope of your program.
  • What supplies do I need to gather and prep in order to make this program a success?
  • What will interaction within the program look like? Do participants need to interact with each other? Do they need to interact with the programmer? Or do they need to interact with the supplies? Or any combination of the above

Pre-Recorded Programming. For a pre-recorded program, you will still need to think about all of the above components of planning and developing a program. However, the following may also need to be considered:

  • If you are recording a program, there is no interaction between the participant and the programmer, so what questions might come up that you can address during the recorded program in order to decrease the amount of confusion and frustration the participant experiences?
  • Will your participants need help from others in order to complete the program? If so, indicate that caregivers can provide assistance and provide them with tips/tricks for how to help with the program.
  • Right now, it may be difficult to provide participants with the resources they need in order to complete your activity, so make sure you are thinking about the items that may be commonly available, or at the very least suggest alternatives for items.
  • How do you plan on recording your content? What platform will you upload your content to?

Live Virtual Programming. For live, virtual programming, you will still need to consider all of the above components of planning and developing a program that is pre-recorded. However, now you are also introducing an element of interaction between the programmer and participants and between participants. The following may also need to be thought about as you are developing this kind of program:

  • How will you build a sense of community? What is the central topic or goal of your program? (Eg. Gaming, book clubs, learning from an expert, content that requires more of a Q/A element, etc)
  • Your program planning process remains the same, your message remains the same, the way in which you are delivering your message changes. What platform facilitates delivery in an interactive way? What technology do you have readily available?
  • How do you normally facilitate interaction between participants in an in-person way? Do you need them to see your materials? Your screen? Do participants need to see each other?

Available Technology

Admittedly every library system is not the same, and the access to the kind of technology you need in order to plan, develop, and implement virtual programming may be limited. So, if you need to start there, go for it!

What do you have available? A cell phone? Tablet? Computer with a camera? Google Hangouts? Zoom? WebEx? Adobe Connect? Digital video camera?

Look around and use what you have available and then take a look at the kind of virtual programs that have been discussed above and think about the questions listed and how you can alter your delivery approach.

Remember, the message and content stay the same…. It’s the tool and delivery that change. So, when you look at it this way… you don’t have to alter much! Control what you can, use what the technology that is available, and rely heavily on those awesome program planning skills you already possess!

Keep being awesome! And remember… you can do hard things!

Share in the comments!

  • What have been some challenges you have experienced when transitioning to online programming?
  • What have been some success you have experienced as you transition to online programming?
  • What is the one piece of advice you would offer somebody as they alter their programming approach?

Headshot of guest blogger about virtual programming, Jennifer Brown
Photo courtesy of Guest Blogger

Today’s guest blogger is Jennifer Brown. Jennifer is the Youth and Family Services Manager for Suffolk Public Library and has worked in youth and family services since 2013. She is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor for Old Dominion University and has taught various classes on information literacy and library science since 2012. Jennifer earned her MSLIS in Library and Information Science from Syracuse University in 2010 and her Ph.D. in Instructional Design and Technology from Old Dominion University in 2017. She is a member of the American Library Association, Public Library Association, Association for Library Service to Children, Virginia Library Association, and Association for Educational Communications and Technology and serves as Secretary for the Technology Integrated Learning Division. She earned the Alan Mandell Endowed Award for Instructional Design and Technology in 2017 and Donna G. Cote Librarian of the Year in 2019.​

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competency: Programming Skills

One comment

  1. Chip Woods

    Employed by a program that serves adults w/intellectual disabilities. Our work prior to COVID 19 was Community based services but now are working to establish Virtual services as an alternative.

    Any suggestions or recommendations to assist us with creating a minimum of 1 hour of service per day is appreciated.

    Thanks you.

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