Live-streaming at the Library

“You can learn anything if you make it playful.”

Pam Sandlian (2013)


Listening to the stories of new types of technology that are being adapted at libraries, I wanted to focus on the way stories are told at libraries, and to whom they are told. As the Tea Tree Gully library asked, “Why is story time just for children?” I think that we can combine modern ideas of library engagement with modern technologies to create something at libraries that is of interest to younger adults who may not otherwise find libraries very interesting. Not all stories told to adults need to be author readings.

Author Mark Bittner reading from his own work at the San Francisco Public Library

In my personal experience, libraries seem the most adept at engaging users who are either young children (and parents of young children) or older adults. Modern younger adults have a wide variety of interests and can benefit greatly from free library programs. What things are interesting to younger adults? If they are like me and the people I see online, they are interested in storytelling. Modern online storytelling has two dimensions: stories being told by single authors or narrators, or stories being told collectively through games. As Professor Stephens says in his lecture: “Spot trends and make them opportunities.”

One of my favorite podcasts in recent years has been LeVar Burton Reads, an audio experience where renowned film & TV actor LeVar Burton reads short stories to his audience. Burton’s personal interest is in speculative fiction, but he reads a variety of stories with his own signature flair. Many younger adults remember him from his role as the host of Reading Rainbow, and find it comforting to hear him telling them stories again in their adulthood.

Another online trend in the last several years has been the live-streaming or recording of “actual play” of games, often role-playing games (RPGs), the game type made famous by Dungeons & Dragons. Whether in video or audio form, people from all walks of life are playing different RPGs online and sharing their game experiences and stories with their audiences. These experiences range from the semi-professional (e.g. Critical Role) to the frequent-but-less-formal (e.g. ActualPlay).

A recent Critical Role episode. Spoiler and language warnings!

Whether the stories are written and edited beforehand or created on the spot through play, stories are engaging and younger adults enjoy both listening, watching, and creating their own artistic responses to the stories they hear. Communities spring up online, particularly for collaborative storytelling through games, where audience members feel inspired to create art based on the characters and situations they hear described to them through stories.

Fan art for the podcast Friends at the Table, from Twitter

My idea and plan is to use the library’s recording spaces to allow people to create and share storytelling through live-streaming and recording in mediums such as YouTube and Twitch. The library can have scheduled performers who read short stories or play storytelling games, while also allowing library users to record and share their own stories and games.

To use the format shared in the participatory service module:
We want to convince adults ages 18-38 that by watching library live-streams they will be entertained and sparked creatively which will get people more interested in creating because the library wants you to make things. We also want to convince library staff that by participating in library live-streams and recordings they will be entertained and sparked creatively which will get people more interested in creating because the library lets you to make things.

The tools required to make such live-streams or recordings possible are computer-based: computers, internet connections, microphones, and if desired, web cameras. These would need to be available in a space designed for recording, or at least a space where other library users would not be disturbed. The library would need at least a YouTube page and a person who manages the videos that are uploaded or live-streamed there. Ideally, there would also be a Twitter account to share updates about the videos and live-streams, since many people browse Twitter who do not regularly check YouTube. There may be a need for further staff to manage any storytellers who are hosted by the library, either as paid guests or as volunteers, if the library intends to create its own content. Otherwise, staff are only needed to manage the user-created content. If the library plans to live-stream their stories, at least one person will be required to be available as a monitor of what is being broadcast.

The library would need a clear policy about what kinds of content are going to be shared through the library’s accounts, and whether or not certain behaviors (such as profanity) or topics (such as discussions of death, violence, sexual violence, etc) will be allowed in content published by the library. Several modern RPGs emphasize the importance of making sure the players are comfortable by controlling what themes or scenes are allowed to be discussed during the game. Determining what is appropriate for the game is as appropriate as determining what is appropriate for publishing by the library.

Promoting videos and live-streams of storytelling is often best done through Twitter, because users of platforms like Instagram expect to be able to see everything on that platform, while Twitter users are more accustomed to seeing promotional links to activities elsewhere on the web. Twitter is also a great platform for sharing things that fans of the stories create, further encouraging users to create.

Getting library users engaged with the library, whether they are telling stories, playing stories, or creating art in response to stories, engages their minds and keeps them interested in what the library has to offer. The library has books full of stories, but users can tell or create their own stories as well. By making the library more than just the written stories engages the creativity of its community and taps into the current trend of “niche fandom.”

One Response

  1. I adore this! My own post was for a non-live version like LibraryYOU to share educational how-to videos, but just having live streaming content where patrons can show off their art or gaming skills or read stories aloud is a great way to connect to patrons on a social media level. The few times I’ve seen Sacramento Public Library livestream something as simple as socratic discussions there was a huge number of viewers, and I’d love to see the view count on a program like this. Especially for Genzennials!

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