July 19, 2021
Pets, Plants, and New Partnerships: Creating Space for Social Activities at LPForum21By Lauren Collister
About this series: The 2021 Virtual Library Publishing Forum was a huge success, combining excellent content with smooth facilitation and a liberal dose of whimsy and care. We decided to pull back the curtain on how it was run to support other organizations that are interested in hosting thought-provoking, humane events on a shoestring. Because we have a lot to say, we are publishing a series of daily posts, each with a different theme. The series was created by the group of Educopia staff and LPC Program Committee members listed above, but the guide is written in first person and each section is written from a different perspective. Authors listed above who aren’t credited on a particular section helped with planning and editing this series.
I know that one of the things I miss most about in-person conferences are those hallway conversations, the serendipity of chatting with the person in front of me in the food line, and catching up with my friends and colleagues from around the library publishing world. Our Program Committee wanted to offer possibilities for socializing without a high investment cost, as well as a wide range of socialization mediums and venues. This year, in particular, we wanted to offer an asynchronous option for participants to chat, since everybody had different needs and confines on their schedule. I was excited when we spun up our Discord server, because although many might be used to using Twitter at conferences for text-based conversation, not everybody would want all of their casual conversations to be so public on their Twitter feeds. I felt that Discord might better replicate those informal conversations and allow for more private messages between individuals too.
The asynchronous Discord chats were a delight. As one of the moderators, I was in and out of all of the channels and got to see every pet and plant picture (many of which really brought up the mood we’d set for the conference, of being cozy and easy and surrounded by the comforts of home).
I also got to see the wonderful conversations happening in all of the special topic channels, such as the tips and help being exchanged in the DOAJ text channel, and the ideas being bounced around for future forum presentations. I know for a fact that several of these conversations wound up as email follow-ups and future collaborations, which is exactly what this informal, asynchronous medium was designed to facilitate. Success!
There were also some technical issues which we were able to troubleshoot in real time, but not always successfully, and people who may have been having technical issues may not have reached out to us for help. This is why it’s important to have a dedicated person or people moderating Discord and helping with troubleshooting. And speaking of moderation—each channel should have an owner or moderator to make sure that everything is going fine and that everyone is following the Code of Conduct. Jason Boczar and I moderated Discord overall and kept an eye on all channels, and each subject channel had an owner from the Program Committee or LPC Board to take charge.
After a year on Zoom, most attendees were familiar with Zoom video tools and etiquette for socializing, and Discord video was new and unfamiliar. Discord is great for small group video conversations, but I learned that it quickly becomes unwieldy as the group grows larger. The small groups who met with video on Discord were great, but the large keynote happy hour sessions or the big group meetups were better held on Zoom. Fortunately, we were able to pivot mid-Forum and offer big official meetups on Zoom instead of Discord, and attendees followed along with us. This was reliant on good communication practices that were already in place.
Although we encountered some hiccups, Discord served the asynchronous purpose well. We wound up pivoting to Zoom for the larger official video socials, partially because folks had less familiarity with Discord video features and issues, and partially because Zoom has some better affordances for larger gatherings. All in all, I would strongly recommend that all virtual conferences include some sort of asynchronous socializing option, as long as it can be monitored by conference staff.
I could also envision that something like Discord would be beneficial for in-person conferences. In my experience, asynchronous conversations at conferences typically happen publicly on Twitter, with a conference hashtag (or several) and side-threads between individuals. Discord’s organization into channels for different topics, in my opinion, would be preferable to the firehose of tweets on a conference hashtag! Having a virtual place to leave messages, discussions, questions, and connections during an in-person conference would be a nice complement to the in-person socializing in the hallway and at events, and give participants more options for connection. I really look forward to the ways that we can expand access and connection at conferences with the best of both the online and in-person worlds.