Weekly Nibble: July 17, 2020

Here I am, back at it again. I just can’t help myself. =) In all seriousness though, there is something I wanted to put out there this week for discussion.

I finished filming and editing my final summer reading video this week. For almost four months now, I’ve been doing this digital programming thing and I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. The process has made me feel a lot of feelings about myself and what I do, but I think one of the most important revelations came this week through conversations with several coworkers.

Let’s talk about how much energy it takes to do a digital versus traditional in-person program. Both require lots of planning weeks in advance, although I daresay that in-person programming likely requires a bit more because more people means more logistics to figure out about flow, amount of materials, timing, etc. It’s a little bit easier to plan when it’s just yourself in a room with a camera and enough materials for yourself (plus no public in the building to interrupt depending on your situation).

So in-person programming may take a bit more from you in the planning and preparation phase, but then we get to implementation. In general, it usually takes me about an hour to set up and tear down altogether on a program day, plus an hour to facilitate. Let’s say things run a little longer or it’s a more involved program. You’d be looking at two to four hours the day of (unless we’re talking LibCon or something out of the ordinary). A digital program, on the other hand, can take anywhere from one to several hours of filming (our Choose Your Own videos took an entire day plus some). Plus there’s the added pressure of being on camera. I don’t know about you, but I’d take a live audience of kiddos over a recorded performance any day. So now you’re expending more energy in the implementation of said program than you did in the planning phase.

Now, after you’ve cleaned up an in-person program, there’s not much left to do but tally and report the stats and move on to the next one.

But for digital programming, we really NEED to talk about video editing. If you have someone to do your editing for you, thank your lucky stars. It takes hours, even for a short five-minute video, and it is excruciating. If you weren’t self-conscious before, you will be the minute you sit down and watch yourself. Over and over. And over. And OVER. Seriously, to get enough usable content, you probably need to film at least twice as long as you intend for your video to be. So for that five-minute video, at the least I’d be filming ten minutes of myself talking and demonstrating (although realistically it’s probably longer than that). And you have to comb through that ten minutes at least two or three times. You watch it through once to figure out which parts you want to use. You watch it through again as you chop it up and move parts around. You add in B-roll footage and slides and text and logos and watch it through again to make sure everything transitions. Then you might choose to add music or other sounds and have to watch it through to be sure everything lines up. By this point, you’ve heard yourself say the same phrases so many times that you absolutely nitpick and hate everything about it. You’ve watched your own facial expressions and hand gestures so much that they seem almost alien. Then, you spend several minutes up to an hour or more exporting the video once it’s all finished (my longest export was somewhere between seven and eight hours). But no, you’re not free. You have to watch it (or beg a dear colleague to do it for you) one last time to be sure everything exported correctly. By now, you hate yourself. And I didn’t even go into troubleshooting and figuring out the editing process as you go because you’ve never done this before in any real way.

Once it’s uploaded to the platform of your choosing, you sit and you wait for the views and comments to pour in. And at first, they do, and boy, do you feel like you are making a difference in the world! Even if it’s not in the way you want to be, it feels like you are still contributing something of value to your community. But then as the weeks go on and the novelty wears off, views drop and comments are non-existent. You worry that you aren’t making a difference or that what you’re doing isn’t what people want or need. But you have no way of knowing what they do want or need because it’s hard for people to know or articulate that right now.

That’s a lot of energy gone in that process I just described. The physical and mental energy to plan and implement the program and the emotional energy of confronting your quirks and habits on film repeatedly and waiting for approval from the people who matter and worrying about your effectiveness. But let’s be fair. You expend a lot of that same energy on in-person programming too. And sometimes, from a technical standpoint, the numbers can be a lot bigger on the digital programming than you’d ever see in-house. So where is the disconnect? Why isn’t this fulfilling for us as library professionals?

I believe that it all has to do with energy flow, and I think it ties into Project Outcome‘s ideas of program measurement. We want to know how effective our programs are by what good comes of them. What new skills did our patrons acquire? What question did they have that was answered? What new knowledge or understanding did they walk away with? What did they gain? When we are doing in-person programming, we see the answers to those questions unfolding before our eyes. We can describe it to anyone who asks and put a face and a name to it. It’s meaningful to us as facilitators and that is how we, born helpers in a public service profession, refill all that energy we put into the program. We gain more energy by seeing the impact we are having. It propels us to do more, to go bigger, to be better. It pushes us to innovate, inspire, and educate. We are able to see very clearly which programs are useful, which ones need tweaking, and which ones aren’t worth pursuing. We listen to the feedback that’s given during programming to redesign and improve for the next time.

When we make videos in a vacuum and put them into the void of social media where we are competing with algorithms, news stories, and trending topics, it is incredibly difficult to even be seen, let alone see the impact of what we are doing. That’s not to say that patrons haven’t shared some wonderful anecdotes with us this summer. But I’ll use my Fairy Tale STEAM program as an example (program post coming Sunday). In those videos, I provide a slide with examples and talk about asking open-ended questions at home when working through engineering challenges. If the children were at the library doing the program with me, I would be the one asking those questions. I could see in that moment exactly what they are understanding and what they are struggling with. I would be the facilitator. Right now, I feel like a performer, an influencer, an under 1K YouTube noob. These are not the things I ever wanted or intended to be. The energy flow is disrupted. It goes out, but it doesn’t come back. And as a result, it makes it more and more difficult to continue.

What we are missing in all of this is meaningful interactions with our patrons. Emailed pictures and curbside anecdotes are great, but it’s not the same as being next to them when you see that light bulb go off or the palpable excitement of discovering something new. View counts and audience reach numbers cannot give us those experiences.

I have always believed (and still do) that if it’s doing good for even one person, it’s worth it. But I also believe that you cannot pour from an empty cup. So how can we balance these things? For myself, I think taking my focus away from digital programming and putting more energy into collection development might be the key. It’s a part of my job that often gets put on the back burner in favor of programming and outreach, but it is necessary and ensures that I will be better able to serve our patrons whenever they do reenter the building. It may not provide those meaningful interactions that I crave, but it gives me something useful to concentrate on. What are you doing to protect your energy and refuel? I’d love more ideas. =)

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