Exploring Hybrid Programs

During the pandemic, online programming allowed libraries to reach new audiences — including, in some cases, people who had never come in person to the library before. But virtual programming fell short in meeting the needs of patrons without a reliable internet connection.

Now, with the pandemic winding down, libraries are exploring ways to keep the benefits of online programming while re-opening to in-person events as well. The solution may lie in hybrid programming.

Hybrid programs are classes or events that are run in-person and virtually so patrons can choose to attend the event in either format. In addition, with hybrid programming, you can choose to record the event and make it available for people to view later asynchronously.

How did we get here?

Even as we were busy closing our physical buildings in the spring of 2020, most of us were trying to find ways to continue providing services to our patrons.

During those first few months of closures, we saw a lot of virtual story times for young children and virtual book groups geared toward adults. There were many lectures, author talks, and a variety of classes. Take-and-make kits soon appeared to allow people to participate in craft classes remotely, along with programs related to self-care and healthy aging.

What did we learn?

We learned a lot in those first few months of the "pivot to virtual." One of the most important things was getting a hang of the technology needed to make these programs happen. In many cases, the pandemic was our first encounter with Zoom, and we had to teach ourselves how to use it along with other new technology and virtual platforms.

As we started presenting programs online, we also had to learn about new presentation styles. In virtual programs, we lacked the feedback that we would get from face-to-face interactions with patrons. How could we make sure that our attendees would be engaged?

Pros and cons of virtual programs

Virtual programs allowed us to reach new and wider audiences, like people who never attended a library program before. Virtual programming also gave us access to a larger pool of speakers since they didn't have to be with us on-site. Additionally, there was no longer a need to cap program sizes since there were no physical room limits to hinder attendance levels and virtual programs can accommodate different patron abilities and preferences. Without refreshments and speakers’ travel costs, virtual programs could also be less expensive.

A con to virtual programming was coming face-to-face with the reality of the digital divide. Many patrons lacked technology access altogether; others struggled with a learning curve due to inexperience with Zoom and other technologies. Additional cons include technology glitches (remember Zoombombing?) and differing levels of comfort with virtual programs among library staff.

So, what is hybrid programming exactly? And why should we consider it? 

Many libraries have relaunched face-to-face programming, but not all patrons or staff are comfortable being in-person. As we bring people back together, libraries have begun offering hybrid programs to meet these differing levels of comfort.

Some things to consider before planning a hybrid program:

  • Technology requirements (e.g., camera, microphones)
  • Logistics (do you have ample space and staffing?)
  • Equity of experience for those attending virtually (interactivity, engagement, activities)
    • Suitable programs (for example, hybrid is less suitable for hands-on/maker programs)
  • Comfort level of speakers and/or instructors (not everyone is comfortable with presenting to a virtual and in-person crowd at the same time)

Hybrid programs can expand your program’s reach. However, hybrid formats don't fit every program type and they require resources and ample planning. The next webinar in this series will cover how you can decide whether hybrid is the right choice for your needs.

See the full list of hybrid programming webinars and articles from this series.

Funding for this article has been provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as part of the American Rescue Plan: Humanities Organization Grant.