Submitted by Eugenia Opuda and Rachel Charlotte Lerner, AHIP, “NAHSL in Action” Virtual Planning Committee, North Atlantic Health Sciences Libraries (NAHSL)
Librarians’ collective response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been adaptability, flexibility, creativity, and resilience. Chapters cancelled annual meetings or shifted to remote programming, and the North Atlantic Health Sciences Libraries (NAHSL) was no exception. This year saw NAHSL pivot to our first completely virtual two-day event, “NAHSL in Action.” The conference strove to renew NAHSL’s commitment to a strong community of care and to emphasize action, diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Pivoting to digital
The virtual planning committee (VPC) selected the Whova conferencing platform. This simplified the process of creating schedules, speaker bios, vendor information, poster presentations, and more, and made conference details available to attendees through a website and mobile app. Presenters shared documents ahead of their talks, and attendees engaged in real time with presenters, vendors, and one another through chat, Q&A, and community features.
The two most challenging aspects of pivoting to a virtual conference were our compressed timeline and reassignment of conference duties among members of the VPC. Some committee members had to leave due to increased job responsibilities amid the pandemic, and others took on new roles related to their interests and aptitudes. An ad hoc technology committee was formed to set up and manage the online platform.
Value to members
Conference admission was reduced to $5 in response to the pandemic’s economic strain on NAHSL members. NAHSL determined that the 2020 conference would be revenue-neutral or operate at a deficit. Additionally, NAHSL’s professional development committee reallocated unused scholarship funds to ensure all members and students could afford attendance. Ultimately, those funds were not needed as sponsorship and vendor revenue covered all costs.
The two-day virtual format provided a compassionate schedule that included a late-morning start and an earlier end. It also introduced an opportunity for broader outreach to new members and current library students. NAHSL was able to promote its no-cost student membership, introduce student librarians to the association, and provide the opportunity for new members and students to engage with current members in a casual, low-stakes online format.
This year’s content aligned with the “NAHSL in Action” theme. Our keynote speakers Stephen N. Xenakis, US Army; Terra Reed, Silver Hill Hospital; and Matt DeBernardis, Silver Hill Hospital, discussed the cumulative mental health impacts of the pandemic and racial injustice on frontline personnel. Panelists Shannon D. Jones, AHIP, Medical University of South Carolina–Charleston; Brenda M. Linares, AHIP, University of Kansas Medical Center–Kansas City; Lisa Liang Philpotts, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA; and JJ Pionke, University of Illinois–Urbana Champaign, spoke about diversity and inclusion in libraries. Panelists Jessica Kilham, AHIP, University of Massachusetts Medical School–Worcester; Philpotts; and Martha E. Meacham, National Network of Libraries of Medicine, New England Region, Litchfield, NH, facilitated an interactive panel on resilience during the pandemic. Finally, member posters and lightning talks covered topics in redefinition of library services amid a pandemic, the shift to remote work, social justice, empathy, community outreach, and best practices.
The planning committee offered opportunities for members to network in breakout groups and encouraged participation on message boards. The Lucretia McClure Networking Event allowed NAHSL Executive Board members to meet new members and first-time attendees and share ways to be more involved with the organization. Other breakouts provided opportunities for group discussion on social justice, hospital librarianship, collection development, and COVID-19 planning.
The NAHSL auction, a traditional component of the annual meeting that contributes to the NAHSL scholarship fund, was moved to the 32 Auctions virtual platform. The VPC solicited donations of gift certificates to local businesses or services from members and state groups. Members bid on 15 items via PayPal, and the winners were emailed prizes.
NAHSL gives back
As part of the “NAHSL in Action” theme, NAHSL matched up to $1,000 in donations to 3 charities: Feeding America, Doctors Without Borders, and the American Red Cross. NAHSL members generously donated a total of $1,165. The Massachusetts Health Sciences Library Network gave an additional $500 to the campaign. Including the match, NAHSL and its members contributed a total of $2,665 to the 3 recipients.
Some challenges of using Whova included minor technical difficulties with chat and Zoom rooms. Additionally, members were not able to visit all poster and breakout sessions, each of which were held concurrently. The VPC shared their feedback, suggestions for improvement, and challenges in using the tool with Whova. As of this writing, the annual post-conference survey is still active. However, we have received generally positive anecdotal feedback from members, with special attention given to the programming and the heavily discounted price.