Sunday, January 17, 2021

Virtual Programming - Let's Be Honest

Is there anybody who really feels they've got this down or that it's really what people want? Does anyone really enjoy it? C'mon, let's be brutally honest here...

I'll be the first to admit I hate it, for so many reasons.

I am not comfortable in front of the camera to begin with, but during the time I was out of work due to shut-downs and lay-offs I worked at getting more comfortable and better on camera, and made several videos for this blog and set up a YouTube channel. I got to where I was much more comfortable in front of the camera, and fairly satisfied with some of them. I did webinars about virtual programming, watched YouTube videos with tips and tricks, and watched the content being put out by others to see what worked and what didn't, and tried to learn from others' mistakes (poor lighting, too fast, too slow, too long, not enough energy, not looking at the camera). 

But despite all this, now that I am employed again, I still find myself struggling with virtual programming on every level: the performance, the technology, the production, the content, marketing, lack of participation/feedback, overall feeling dissatisfied and unfulfilled. Being in a new place and using different equipment and platforms has completely thrown me off and I'm having to get comfortable all over again. The equipment is contrary and sometimes difficult to deal with, the lighting is terrible, the camera quality leaves a lot to be desired, and initially there was a lot of pressure to do everything live, which added much more anxiety to the whole thing.

We have a very small staff, so we really cannot spare anyone to assist, you have to do everything on your own. I find worrying about the technology for a live program to be extremely stressful and distracting, and greatly affects my performance. Then when there are technical difficulties, it's REALLY stressful trying to power thru fixing it while live-streaming. It's just a nightmare! Thankfully, the powers-that-be have backed off and are now much more accepting of pre-recording. I don't have time to spend on editing, but knowing I can just stop and start again if there is a major flub or technical issues removes a lot of the anxiety.

But the other issue issue is trying to build an audience. I am brand new to this library, so did not have any existing pre-pandemic relationships with patrons. In addition, my predecessor left shortly after the beginning of the pandemic, so this branch has not had any regular virtual programming for kids for months, so I am starting absolutely from scratch without a built-in audience. I get very few views, as it is only posted on our individual branch Facebook page and YouTube Channels, not the main ones for the system, and many in our community lack internet access or have to prioritize it for work and/or school for their older children. All marketing and social media is centrally controlled, and there is apparently a major disconnect there because our stuff really does not get marketed or promoted very well, but I have no control over it. 

Thus far I've had no audience participation or feedback. The few comments are from other staff, as are most of the "likes", despite shamelessly begging for viewer comments. I ask questions, provide prompts, ask them to tell me who is watching so I can say hello to them, encourage them to ask questions in the comments, etc., and nada. I've put flyers in the bags for take & make kits and in curbside pick-ups that have children's materials, I shared posts in community groups on Facebook, cross-promote, anything I can think of, but I really don't think it's ever going to take off in this community. We are also doing several different take and make kits each month, which do seem to go over better, but are typically just simple crafts.

I find none of the joy in virtual programming that I had with in-person programming. I don't have the excitement about doing them or look forward to it like I did in-person. I am continually frustrated with the technical and production issues, disappointed with the overall quality, and discouraged by the lack of views or feedback. Despite knowing what many of the pitfalls and mistakes are from having watched many others over the summer, I still find myself making the same mistakes and just cannot relax in front of the camera and be natural. I'm too distracted by worrying about whether the technology is working, is there audio, how I look, can they see the book or whatever I'm showing. My confidence has really been shaken and I'm getting no sense of fulfillment at all.

I cannot wait until I can do in-person programming again! I suspect that will not be until fall, but I'm hoping I can try outdoor storytimes before then. Some say virtual programming is here to stay, and I suppose it may be to some extent, but I don't plan to continue it any longer than I have to, unless I really start see some significant interest. Until then I will keep trying my best, but I feel so much is out of my control....

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more! I've been doing storytimes for almost 30 years and cannot get comfortable in front of the camera. We will be doing some outdoor storytimes for March, April and May but I fear the online is here to stay. Also, only a handful of publishers have given permission to use their books so it's quite difficult putting a storytime together with those constraints.