Home » What We’ve Learned: Major Takeaways from 2020 Virtual Forum and Affiliated Events Feedback

What We’ve Learned: Major Takeaways from 2020 Virtual Forum and Affiliated Events Feedback

As Team DLF works with Planning Committee members to help plan 2021 events, feedback from 2020 events is part of this process. Thank you to everyone who participated in events and offered comments. We’re excited to share some of the major takeaways from the surveys that are informing the decisions and plans we’re making for this year.

When we opened the calls for proposals for our 2020 events, we did so assuming we would convene in person as we have for the past 21 years. Once we realized the global pandemic would prevent an in-person gathering, we were faced with new challenges that revolved around the question of how to bring CLIR’s Digital Library Federation (DLF) Forum, NDSA’s Digital Preservation conference, and Learn@DLF into the virtual environment in a way that centers the community. And what would that look like in the throes of multiple pandemics that disproportionately impact Black and Indigenous folks, and communities of color?

Our guiding focus was “building community while apart,” a priority that came directly out of responses from a DLF community survey. As a step in this direction, all of our 2020 events were free of charge and event resources were made widely available after the events. Additionally, the planning committee prioritized submissions from folks who identify as Black, Indigenous, or People of Color working at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other institutions that work to center historically excluded communities. 

We welcomed over 2,000 individuals from all 50 states, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, and from more than 30 countries, with nearly 1,200 people viewing the Forum’s opening plenary. We received 136 responses from our general attendee survey and 15 responses from our survey for Program Committee members. Feedback also came from CLIR staff.

Major Takeaways

The virtual format allowed for even more attendees and a variety of options for interaction.

I absolutely loved the synchronous/asynchronous balance of this conference. The "sessions" (and conversations on the associated Slack channel) would occur at the same time for everyone, but . . . I also had the option of pausing, accessing slide decks, rewinding, looking something up on the internet, and resuming the videos... I was more than 100% happy with the experience. I feel like I was able to take in a lot more information at more [of] my pace.

Survey Respondent

Although a virtual format was not as ideal as in-person for community building, having an interactive option such as Slack for attendees, coupled with a free event, went a long way in terms of bringing more people into the community and introducing them to the work of CLIR and DLF. 

We’ve personally experienced a wide variety of conference platforms as attendees, so we know how disorienting it can be to jump on yet another platform. This is why we plan on sharing information about the platform we’ve chosen for 2021 and (we hope!) providing opportunities for orientation ahead of DLF Forum. 

We also heard you when you said it was confusing to follow the conversation across multiple platforms (e.g., Aviary, Slack, Twitter, shared notes). For this reason, for 2021 we decided to go with a comprehensive platform that allows for streaming, live chat, and spontaneous conversation such as video meetups, all in one spot. 

The virtual event environment brought engagement challenges and accessibility responsibilities to the forefront. The lessons learned will benefit future online and in-person events.

My only note would be though some people were very engaged in discussions through online platforms, there were definitely some who were not that I heard from later on. I don't know if the technology was a barrier but if there could be several different ways to engage people in conversation, that could be helpful.

Survey Respondent

Making content accessible is of the utmost importance to us. DLF was among the first library tech-related conferences to present a Code of Conduct; we were also among the first to offer childcare. Now we have the opportunity to lead on accessibility, and we must do so at future DLF Forums and other CLIR events. 

The 2020 Forum re-emphasized the importance of captioning, which has prompted us to look at ways to make this feature available for all group meetings, not just to those who request it in advance. Additionally, requiring presenters to pre-record sessions and submit their recordings along with edited captions helps not only to reduce technical issues that arise with multiple streams of live content but also to ensure that all sessions are captioned.

The programming schedule must be community-centered and include intentional partnerships.

What I loved most about DLF Forum was its criticality, the high-level of competency in presentations and presenters, the care and empathy with which sessions were led, the practical strategies that I can bring back to my institution, and the general feeling of "we got this". I have been to so many COVID-era conferences, in a way more than I would have had access to previously due to cost and travel, and this conference reminded me why I love what I do, left me empowered, with more tools in my toolkit, and with new friends and connections -- and somehow you all accomplished this VIRTUALLY. I could not be more impressed, and excited to be more involved in DLF in the coming years.

Survey Respondent

The differences between attending conferences online versus in-person go well beyond physical differences. This year we’ve built in more explicit, substantial breaks to make sure folks have a chance to take a meal or walk away from a screen. We’ve had to make some hard decisions when it comes to accepted proposals, but we hope this might jump start more conversation, collaboration, and sharing elsewhere, such as in shorter web events. 

We heard our community when you said we need to up our game when it comes to a guide for folks who are new to our events. Such a guide is essential, regardless of future event formats, as is an updated Code of Conduct that lists specific expectations and reporting options for virtual events, including Working Group meetings. 

We’re also happy to announce that, like last year, the 2021 DLF Forum will feature two sessions co-hosted with the HBCU Library Alliance, an intentional partnership bringing new projects and people to the event. 

The meta experience of attending a virtual conference that actually worked and felt like a community was probably the biggest thing. I feel more optimistic about the possibilities for virtual and hybrid events in my own work.

Survey Respondent

More about 2021 Virtual Forum, NDSA's Digital Preservation, and Learn@DLF coming soon

We look forward to sharing more about 2021 DLF Forum, NDSA’s Digital Preservation, and Learn@DLF in the coming weeks including sharing our social-first platform and the addition of a couple live sessions. At Forum we’ll be hosting live Birds of a Feather sessions where presenters will share works-in-progress so they can receive feedback from the community, and by feedback request, we’ve added live workshops to our Learn@DLF program. 

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