We are all exceedingly aware of how COVID-19 has dramatically impacted public gatherings. One need only check a preferred news source to read about the terrible social cost this past year has taken. Many are feeling isolated and alone. And in-person conferences have become both a relic of the past and a hope for the future.
But there is a silver lining! Virtual event offerings have exploded. They are often less expensive for attendees than their in-person counterparts. And they save people the time and expense of travel. This allows folks who otherwise are not able – or willing – to travel the chance to meet with and learn from colleagues from near and far.
…Makes In-Person Difficult…
As part of our duties as the members-at-large for the New Jersey Association of School Librarians (NJASL), my co-member Beth Raff and I are tasked with planning the NJASL Mini-Conference for Spring 2021. Traditionally, this event takes place in the library or school of an NJASL member kind enough to lend their space for a get-together.
After a general membership meeting, members volunteer to share ideas and information through short workshops and poster sessions oriented around a theme. It’s a great chance for NJASL members to network and catch up.
All NJASL members are invited to attend. But in the past, attendance numbers have generally been under 100 school librarians, plus some exhibitors. New Jersey is not a small state, making it impractical for many members to attend in-person events for a state-wide organization.
…But Opens Up New Possibilities!
This year, we are taking the NJASL Spring event online! This has opened up a whole new realm of possibilities as we plan and prepare. Removal of the barriers of physical travel provided us with session proposals from a much wider range of presenters.
All of the remote instruction we’ve been doing also inspired our theme: Rethink, Refresh, Reboot!
NJASL recently began an initiative to engage with allies to enhance awareness of all that school librarians can do for their schools. We’re using the requirement of moving our mini-conference into virtual space to help us move that initiative forward.
We’ve opened up proposal submissions and registration beyond school librarians. And thanks to careful resource management, strategic partnerships, sponsors, and grants (particularly from LibrayLinkNJ), NJASL has found a way to make the event free to all registrants!
Normally, I believe that you get what you pay for. Free events often reflect this.
But the school library world is wonderful at sharing. And many of us have taken to heart the message that we are #BetterTogether.
Combined with the removal of financial and geographic barriers, the #NJASLSpring21 event has become pretty epic!
- We have Amy Hermon, school librarian and host of the School Librarians United podcast, giving our keynote from her home in Michigan.
- We have school libraries activist and blogger K.C. Boyd providing a closing address from Washington, D.C.
- We have nearly 50 fifteen-minute “virtual poster sessions” lined up, running in a series of concurrent sessions between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. These will be recorded and available to registrants for 30 days after the event, thanks to our virtual platform provider, Eduscape.
- With three weeks left until the March 13 event, we already have 200 attendees registered! While New Jersey is in the house in a big way, we also have folks registered from all over the country: Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Iowa, Virginia, South Carolina, Louisiana, Michigan, Colorado, Texas, Arizona, Missouri, and California. We even have international registrants from Canada!
A lot of what we’ve accomplished in planning this event comes down to using free resources and friends. Our website, bit.ly/njaslspring21, is a free Google Site. We used free Google Forms for our solicitations and registrations. We used the free add-on FormMule to auto-send messages to presenters. Our schedule is arranged and visible through Google Sheets. MI student Grace McCusker designed the amazing logo as a favor.
We have been lucky to know people who are willing to share their knowledge and skills with their peers for free. We were able to advertise and promote the event for free via social media, with strong pushes on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And we have been fortunate to see first-hand that we are #BetterTogether!
We are also fortunate to have found a great virtual platform provider in Eduscape. We used Eduscape as our platform host for the major NJASL Annual Conference in December 2020, and their abilities, service, and cost made it a no-brainer to work with them again.
We haven’t even gotten to the actual event yet, but we are thrilled with how it has come together so far! There’s no doubt that in-person events offer some major benefits. But it’s impossible to deny that having online events also opens up a wide range of possibilities. I am already considering plans for a virtual (or possibly hybrid) #NJASLSpring22 event.
I look forward to telling you next month about how the event comes off!
And maybe I’ll see you there!
Author: Steve Tetreault
Steve has been teaching for over 20 years, mostly middle school English Language Arts. He has earned an M.Ed. (2006) and an Ed.D. (2014) in Educational Administration and Supervision, and completed an M.I. degree in Library and Information Science (2019). He is certified as a teacher, school library media specialist, supervisor, and administrator. He is an old dog constantly learning new tricks!