Virtual library programs connect regulars, draw new participants

Like so much else these days, our monthly library groups for writers, performers, language learners, and more are now meeting virtually. While all in-person programs are canceled through August, these online programs are drawing new participants as well as regulars.

For example, Oak Parkers who joined the virtual French Conversation Hour in April met new attendees from Connecticut, Maryland, Iran, and Switzerland.

“This really speaks to how we’re all in this together, and how we all yearn to connect and engage with others during the pandemic,” says the library’s Manager for Community Engagement Sarah Yale. “What a refreshing experience during an otherwise isolating time.”

‘Some normalcy and contentedness’

The No Shush Salon, an open mic for all creative types, is “a very kind audience, and a very comfortable place,” says Neighborhood Services Supervisor Jeanine Vaughn.

That place used to be the lower level of Maze Branch, before it moved to Zoom in April (pictured above). “We got to hear so many delightful stories and music,” Vaughn says, including a banjo rendition of “The Rainbow Connection.”

Also in April, the Writers’ Word Feast workshop moved online through Zoom. That meant one former regular, who hadn’t been able to attend in person due to injuries, was able to rejoin the group online. It also meant “some normalcy and contentedness when everything is so uncertain and unsettling,” says another regular participant.

Building community across borders

Cultural exchange … en français

French Conversation Hour has been held in person at Maze Branch for years. When the event went virtual in April, it drew folks from around the country and the world, including Switzerland and Iran.

“They found the program via Google, apparently,” says Community Engagement Manager Sarah Yale. “The participant from Tehran even set her alarm so she would wake up in time for the program! The patrons from Oak Park thought it was pretty incredible. Conversation topics ranged from where everyone was getting their face masks to their favorite type of chocolates. The international connections and community building happening was really lovely to watch.”

Community Engagement Librarian Ian Gosse, who leads the group, says attendees made great connections, including a high school French teacher from Oak Park and a participant from Geneva, Switzerland. “She was working on a lesson on Geneva and asked the man in Geneva what some of his favorite parts of the city were that she should share with her students,” Gosse says. “It was an engaging and interesting hour that built cultural knowledge for everyone.”

… y en español

The online Spanish Conversation Hour in May was the largest ever, with 13 participants from Panama, Kentucky, and other parts of Illinois, as well as Oak Park. Like those in the French group, the participants from Panama said they’d found out about the program through an internet search.

“We were enthralled to hear how their experience has been while they ‘shelter in place’ in a different country,” says Early Childhood Community Engagement Specialist Nora Sanchez, who leads the conversation group.

Some said they appreciated the expanded access an online program brings. “I would never wish this pandemic on anyone anywhere, but I’m grateful that it has opened up this virtual event,” one participant said. “And I hope that when life goes back to normal, we are still able to utilize this virtual event in addition to the regular group function, so that those of us who can’t get to the library can still benefit from this group.”

Launching June 1: Virtual summer reading for kids, teens & adults

Our summer reading programs for kids, teens, and adults will be online this year and will launch June 1. We will be sharing more details throughout May. So stay tuned!

Coming soon: Virtual meeting help for community groups

Providing public spaces to learn, collaborate, and create is a core library service available to the community. While we are unable to provide physical meeting spaces at this time, we are planning to offer virtual meeting rooms under the library’s Zoom account, with library staff assistance as an added benefit. Again, stay tuned!