ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Verletta Kern, Digital Scholarship Librarian, and Madeline Mundt, Head of the Research Commons at University of Washington Libraries.
Everything was going smoothly! This was an event we had planned twice before–third time’s a charm, right? We had been planning since September and were just hitting our stride when news broke that the first case of coronavirus had made it to the US, just north of the city of Seattle where our university is located. It soon became clear that what started as one small case was turning into something more, as Seattle became the epicenter of the US coronavirus outbreak in early March. With less than a month before our event launch, we faced a tough decision–should we move forward with planning for an in-person event for 150 people? Was it even ethical to ask people to gather in a confined space given all that was going on? Should we postpone to an unknown future? Should we cancel? Should we move this event fully online? Could we move it fully online in 21 days? What if we moved forward with an in-person event and the University closed operations, leaving us to cancel and deal with the messy work of canceling catering contracts, etc.?
“Going Public: Opening Scholarship to All” was designed to be the third in our series of annual “Going
Public” events, which encourage researchers to come together to learn about and
exchange experiences communicating research openly beyond the walls of the
academy. The 2020 focus was equity in the production of and access to
scholarship and we were excited to bring this work to our campus community. We hoped
that shifting online would allow us to reach a broader audience beyond the
University of Washington. With the encouragement of our wonderful planning team
and the support of our Libraries’ administration, we began the scramble to
convert our event to an online format in 21 days. Shortly after we made this
decision, the University of Washington became the first university in the
country to suspend in-person instruction in favor of finishing the quarter
The shift wasn’t easy! We needed to
confirm our presenters were still okay with presenting online and to talk with
them about the possibility of recording their sessions and sharing them
following the event. We revisited conversations with our five event co-sponsors
to see if they would still be willing to co-sponsor an online event. We
negotiated the purchase of a zoom webinar license to protect the privacy of
attendees. We set up live captioning for the event to provide equitable access
to all. And then we tested. And we tested. And we tested the technology more.
We tested it ourselves. We tested it with our speakers to make sure they were
comfortable. We assigned chat moderators to moderate the question and answer
period. And with two weeks remaining before our event, we felt confident enough
to launch registration!
Without the constraints of a physical
space capacity to worry about, we opened registration with 450 spots, assuming
somewhere around our normal 120 people would register. To our surprise, numbers
rose quickly and by the time we closed registration 24 hours before the event
we were at 269 attendees! Our largest group of registrants were graduate
students, followed by staff and faculty. About two-thirds were affiliated with
the UW. While our marketing campaign was not so different from a normal Going
Public campaign in its content, it was conducted entirely online at a time when
we were all beginning to look for ways to engage remotely rather than in
person. Many face-to-face events at the UW and in Seattle were canceled in
early March, and we suspect our event may have stood out as a rare online
option at the time.
All 269 attendees received an email
with a Zoom Webinar link about 24 hours before the event; this email cautioned
them to refrain from sharing that link with colleagues (who could instead
contact us to register). We hoped that by sharing the link in this restricted
way, we would head off any “Zoom-bombing” or other malicious activity–things
that were just beginning to hit the news. Then, on March 26th, they joined
public scholars, librarians, and experts Nikkita Oliver, Chris Coward, Jason
Young, Negeen Aghassibake, Lauren Ray, Gillian Harkins, Clarita Lefthand-Begay,
and Linda Ko for a keynote, short talks, and a panel on inclusive research
design. Sessions covered topics from libraries as spaces for public engagement
(Oliver) to equity in research data visualization (Aghassibake).
Although our link-sharing strategy
worked to prevent Zoom-bombing, we did belatedly learn the importance of
creating a code of conduct for online events like ours when a UW attendee began
making inappropriate comments in the webinar chat. Going forward, we will use
event codes of conduct based on our UW Libraries Code of Conduct, with procedures in place to make sure all attendees understand
our expectations and what will happen if harassment occurs.
Along with the importance of a code of
conduct and other tools to address malicious use of Zoom, we also learned the
importance of timing for online events like ours. We originally planned a six
hour in-person event with simultaneous talks attendees could choose between and
workshops scheduled over the lunch hour. To make the shift to online
manageable, we cut the workshops and decided to run the day’s event from a
single zoom webinar account. As a result, we were able to cut the event down to
five hours. We limited ourselves to very short breaks between sessions,
reasoning that attendees wouldn’t need to move between breakout session venues.
While this was true, we learned that people wanted longer breaks to combat the
draining nature of starting a screen for hours on end. Although we traded off
moderating chat, the length of the online event proved exhausting for our
symposium planning team as well. In future online symposia, we will build in
10-15 minute breaks and stick to a three to four hour event. Overall, the hours
selected for the event seemed to be accessible across multiple time zones as
registrants from the west and east coasts as well as the Midwest attended.
Credit for the successful online shift
of “Going Public: Opening Scholarship to All” is due to the creativity,
enthusiasm and hard work of our planning team along with the support of our
Libraries’ administration and our wonderful event co-sponsors. Thanks in
particular go to our planning team: Joanne Chern, Robin Chin Roemer, Beth
Lytle, Sarah Schroeder, Elliott Stevens, Sarah Stone, and Christine Tawatao.
Due to this collaborative effort, we were able to successfully social distance
yet still share our message of equity in the production of and access to
scholarship to a wide audience at a time where research communication and
access is more important than ever.