Last year was very different in terms of the service our library provided due to pandemic. Our branches closed in mid march and we pivoted to online classes within 3 weeks or so. And I had to facilitate my book club – online – via WebEx. I was terrified. New platform, new way of doing things, my very old, tired Chromebook, unknown technology….. recipe for disaster. I am a chicken and I was ready to throw in the towel. My boss said, ‘Just give it a shot. You can do it.’ My intrepid co facilitator said ‘Lets do this.’ My friend from work gave me confidence – “Think of what you will be doing for the community. They will be happy to see you providing their familiar platform in this uncertain time.” I timidly said, ‘okay.’ So I did it. I learnt how to navigate WebEx, sent out invitations to the participants. I pivoted. Many of my coworkers pivoted with confidence, I pivoted kicking and screaming.
On the evening of the book club, several of the participants joined. My old yet faithful Chromebook did not fail me. My co facilitator failed to show up though. I texted her in desperation, “They are all here. where are you?” She said, “I am trying, I can not get on!” I smiled on camera, while in my head a mantra played out, “This is gonna be a disaster! This is gonna be a disaster!” Lastly, I held my phone on speaker near my laptop with my friend on the phone, co facilitating with me. It was not perfect by any means but we were ‘together’ somehow. At the beginning of the session, I could not focus on what book club members were saying as I tried to hold the phone up, check my questions that I had painstakingly prepared, tried to make eye contact with pixelated figures on my screen. There were echoes when someone spoke, we fumbled on our end trying to figure out how to minimize the echo and finally muted ourselves. But before I knew it, I was enjoying myself. And basking in my ability to conduct a virtual book club while holding a speaker phone up so my co facilitator could participate. The participants seemed relieved to be able to talk about books – a constant, in such turbulent times. And they were thankful that we arranged this ‘meeting’. They were relieved that we planned to continue to meet each month. For some, that was their constant during those times. While everything was shut down, they could read a book and talk about a different world, different set of characters. They could escape from their pandemic ridden world with fellow bibliophiles.
That was back in April 2020. Now I love our virtual book club discussions. From a free WebEx account our library got licenses for wonderful Zoom accounts. The connections are great for the most part. I feel so much more comfortable with the technology. I can not believe I was so fearful of this new way of doing things – pivoting, a year ago. Since my book club meetings are in the evening, I throw on a pretty sweater over my pajamas, put on some earrings, light make up and voila! I am ready to roll…. I mean, have literary discussion.
While I do miss face to face discussions, I have noticed through our various virtual classes that participants with limited mobility can join us. Participants who do not have child care can join us. I have changed my mind about virtual classes – they are more inclusive in a way. There are folks who do not have the luxury of owning a computer, smart phone or tablet and eventually in person classes will start when it is safe, but I hope some of these virtual classes will continue to give equal access to all.