July 13, 2021

Finding Connectedness, Inspiration, and Comfort at the 2021 Library Publishing Forum

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 the series.

Virtual conferencing means attendees miss out on travel to new places and after-hour meals with distant colleagues, plus being virtual means another reason to be stuck on Zoom all day. But, we also recognize the upsides: pants with elastic waistbands, more inclusivity for folks unable to travel, and a mute button for when people make more of a comment than a question.

After a year of Zoom fatigue, isolation, and dealing with all the difficult issues thrown at us by a global pandemic, how could we plan an online event that didn’t compound these effects, but instead led us to connectedness, inspiration, and comfort? What kind of an event could we plan that led from a place of empathy and yet still provided swag?

We knew we wanted the 2021 Library Publishing Forum to be friendly, informal, and conversational. We knew that we wanted to have a diverse group of speakers and presenters, and provide a space where everyone felt welcome. We wanted our presenters and attendees to leave inspired by new ideas and connected to new people. We also wanted it to be easy – easy for people to attend, easy to engage with, easy to connect to others, and (for us) easy to host and coordinate.

From the outset, the program committee dedicated its work to caring for each other in order to provide the same experiences to attendees. From the budget to the program, the technology to the staffing, the program committee strived to make decisions that would infuse the virtual conference space with generosity and connection. 

Now that the Forum is behind us, we wanted to stop and reflect on some of the key moments in the conference planning process. Starting today (July 13, 2021), we will be sharing a daily reflection from a program committee or LPC staff member that zooms in on one aspect of the conference and grapples with our approach, our implementation, and the lessons we learned along the way. Below is the first post in the series – happy reading!

More Than a Feeling: Using Design to Create a Shared Experience

By Hannah Ballard

Hannah BallardWhen I sat down to design the graphic for the Library Publishing Forum in October 2020, we were in the thick of the pandemic. 

As Director of Communications, I spend a fair amount of time on libraryland Twitter and what I kept hearing from colleagues on that platform was, on one hand, a heady mix of loneliness and grief for what we had lost and, on the other, immense gratitude for the “small” comforts of a life spent at home. Pets, baking, watching the seasons change—we all seemed to be newly attuned to our surroundings and, in true human form, finding beauty in unlikely places. It was this newfound appreciation of the “small things,” of creature comforts, of feeling safe and cozy, that inspired the design for the 2021 Library Publishing Forum. 

Library Publishing Forum, Virtual Conference, May 10-14, 2021. Learn more: http://bit.ly/LPForum21. Pictures of blankets, cat, cactus, coffee, home, cupcake, daffodil, notepad, and dog with Library Publishing Coalition logo

As it turned out, the design ended up being very much in line with the overall feeling of the conference—the sense of care, informality, and comfort that the program committee, the staff, and the attendees all cultivated and contributed to. On the conference Discord server, for instance, there were very active conversation channels devoted to pets, plants, and food. Attendees were sharing photos of their beloved furry friends and exchanging gardening tips and recipes (more on this, including pet photos, in a future section on social activities).

Many attendees also downloaded and used one of the free Zoom virtual backgrounds that was based on the conference graphic, which meant they would have an image of a cat, or a cupcake, or a coffee sitting with them on the screen. The design of the virtual backgrounds added a sense of levity to the conference, and their use by attendees helped to create a shared experience. It was these seemingly small acts, and so many more, that allowed the conference to expand beyond a solely professional event and transform into a much more comfortable, kind, and caring space.  

Image of Shetland Pony standing on hill
“Horace on his hill” -Photo credit: Jane Buggle

In the future, it would be interesting to crowdsource some elements of the Forum graphic to give the design a truly “community-centered” aesthetic. This idea was inspired by one of this year’s program committee members, Jane Buggle, who shared a photo of Horace, her Shetland Pony, and I am now fully committed to making Horace the star of the Library Publishing Forum.

Other posts in this series:

Blending the Synchronous with the Asynchronous: Strategies for Planning a Successful Conference Program by Justin Gonder

Stick-With-What-You-Have and Add Slowly: Configuring Technology for a Virtual Conference by Nancy Adams

You Always Need More People Than You Think: Staffing a Virtual Conference by Sonya Betz

Pets, Plants and New Partnerships: Creating Space for Social Activities at LPForum21 by Lauren Collister

Sponsorship, Streamlined: How We Shifted In-Person Benefits to a Virtual Space by Caitlin Perry