Ways To Watch | Programs That Pop

No matter how audience behaviors ultimately swing in the future, hybrid events will be a pillar of our new normal. We must continue to refine our capability of being anywhere and everywhere for anybody.

Mitch Albom and interviewer seated on stage, backdrop with Westport Library logos behind them
Author Mitch Albom in conversation with sports anchor and reporter Lindsay Czarniak at the Westport Library's StoryFest. 
Photo by Lynn Untermeyer

As we learned during the pandemic, the library can provide greater access and further reach by simultaneously offering in-person and virtual services and programs. That means no matter how audience behaviors ultimately swing in the future, hybrid events will be a pillar of our new normal. We must continue to refine our capability of being anywhere and everywhere for anybody.

StoryFest, produced by Connecticut’s Westport Library each fall, is the largest literary festival in Connecticut. For our festival headliner, New York Times bestselling author Mitch Albom launching his book The Stranger in the Lifeboat, we used a hybrid approach to facilitate engagement within the community whether people attended in person or virtually. This approach also allowed us to capitalize on new physical spaces and technologies that were designed to increase visibility, flexibility, and connectivity.



The installation of robotic cameras in our library’s primary programming space during a two-year transformation has enabled us to produce high quality in-person and streaming events, offering programming like StoryFest to the widest possible audience. We essentially produce and deliver our hybrid content in a fashion similar to a live television broadcast, with program team members handling talent onstage and patrons in-house, while production team members produce the livestream for home audiences. To deliver the virtual content, we use Zoom and Vimeo. For programs such as Albom’s where the audience asks questions, we use Zoom Webinar to help us rotate between live audience questions and those typed into Zoom’s Q and A feature. In addition, we have a member of our program team read questions posed in the chat. If we have a performance, such as an orchestra where there is no audience interaction, we use Vimeo.



In any virtual event, audio always trumps video in terms of importance to the audience. When it comes to sound quality, little things make a big difference. We provide our speakers with lavalier microphones, affixed with the mic facing up, typically on a lapel, collar, or center of a shirt or blouse. We also gently remind our speakers not to touch the mics during the program, which creates static and muffles the audio. With a consummate professional like Albom, none of these steps was necessary. However, we did conduct a sound check before the audience arrived to ensure high-quality sound for our in-house patrons and those at home. We also set up two microphones on stands for audience members to use during a question-and-answer segment, so they don’t need to touch the microphone. Early in the pandemic, when scientists were more concerned about transmission by surfaces, we had a program team member disinfecting the microphone after each person.



room with video and audio editing equipment
Westport Library's Broadcast Control Suite with a Midas M32 console and a Ross Carbonite 2ME Switcher with six 1080 HD robotic cameras is perfect for event video capture, streaming and the incorporation of live feed audio/visual streams.
Photo by Verso Studios

A technically clean program is, of course, foundational to success. Unlike many public libraries, we have the benefit of a full-time audio engineer on our staff. This hire, made at the height of the pandemic, has proven to be vital in our new programming landscape and has allowed us to produce more programs than ever before. If that’s not possible, smartphones have a lot of editing capability that you can utilize for video and audio. Our engineer mixes sound to different channels—one to the library and the other to the livestream. We have a similar working method on the video side, with a full-time video production manager on staff. His job is to ensure that video quality and camera angles hold up to high production standards.

Another crucial component of our hybrid events has become expanding our reach by recording the program and posting it on our digital platforms, including our website and YouTube channel. We don’t watch TV the way we used to, so why should we expect our patrons to do so?

Westport Library continues to identify opportunities to offer programs to people anytime, anywhere. Neither the physical nor the digital space alone is enough to support these intellectual and cultural activities. When it comes to programming, the future is both. As a case in point, despite the pandemic, the Westport Library experienced its most successful year in 2021 in terms of program attendance. Attendance grew by 152 percent, from a total of 33,127 attendees in 2020 to 83,956 in 2021. Despite ongoing challenges owing to the pandemic, the Albom event attracted more than 200 people in person and more than100 virtually, illustrating that the intersection between the physical and the digital is where the library can truly succeed in providing access to all.

Bill Harmer is Executive Director and Alex Giannini is Associate Director of Programs and Events, both at the Westport Library, CT. 

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing