My StoryPrescott Public Library, a small town public library in Arizona, is a bustling library. We do programming several days a week for toddlers, school age children and teens. One program idea was to bring in authors to speak to teens, but we quickly discovered that hosting even a moderately known author would cost thousands of dollars. Our budget couldn’t accommodate such an expense. One day while doing an email interview with award-winning author K.L. Going, I suddenly decided to just ask her if she’d like to Skype with teens at my library. It wouldn’t hurt to ask.
To my delight and amazement she said yes! After checking with the library director to make sure our technology would support such an endeavor, we planned for Going to visit with the teens during Banned Books Week. I deliberately chose to host her visit then so we could discuss her award-winning and frequently challenged book Fat Kid Rules the World. (For more about the book, see my review of Fat Kid Rules the World.)
K.L. Going was a success! From a cozy chair in New York, while looking into her computer screen, she chatted with our teens and answered their individual questions. The teens were unafraid to ask questions such as, “Tell us about the time you met Lloyd Alexander”; “What’s your favorite ice cream”; “Why do all your books have male protagonists” and “How did you feel when you first heard your book was banned?” Charismatic, kind, and genuinely interested in what the teens had to say, Going held her audience captive for more than an hour.
After the event, several teens expressed amazement that we could bring an author to our small town library. Building on the success of that first author Skype, our library has since organized a Teen Author Skype Series during which we will be hosting one author a month throughout the school year. What was a simple request to try out a new technology has turned into an anticipated and highly successful program that is bringing authors and teens together in a personal and entertaining format.
- Understanding Skype
First of all, “What is Skype technology?” Skype is an Internet telephony service and software application that allows you to connect with others by video, telephone, or voice messaging. Setting up an account is easy, and utilizing basic services such as video calls is free when placed to other Skype users. When creating a Skype account you will also create a Skype name.
- What Technology Support and Equipment Do I Need to Skype?
It’s so simple. Download Skype software to your class or library computer. The computer should have a built-in camera or you can purchase a webcam with a wide screen. Check with a computer technician to remove any firewalls or blocks that would inhibit a clear connection. Video can be projected on either a large plasma screen or via an LCD projector and large screen.
- Begin Your Skype Author Search
Author Kate Messner is an advocate for Skyping with authors and her Authors Who Skype lists authors who are willing to Skype with classes or book clubs for free or for a small fee. She also organizes authors by their targeted writing audience: middle school (8-12), teens and adults. Messner hyperlinks to each author‘s website and advises teachers and librarians to initiate direct contact via email before making any plans.
Another helpful website for teachers and librarians looking for authors is the Skype an Author Network. The purpose of this website is to promote collaboration between authors and teachers to bring the virtual experience to the classroom. A free membership is required to access the database.
Author contacts can be made through Skype-organized websites such as the ones listed above or authors can be contacted directly through their professional websites. When contacting an author, be sure to identity yourself, your position and your organization. After the author responds to your initial request for a Skype visit, you can begin a correspondence to negotiate dates, times, format of visit, and fees.
Be aware that some authors might donate their Skype visits for free, others may freely chat for the first half hour, and others will have a set hourly charge. For budget reasons and to have a better chance of scheduling your author visit, try to plan one year in advance.
- Publicity, Publicity, Publicity!
Talk up your Skype event. Encourage teens to read the author’s books and provide a booklist. Distribute fliers announcing the event, and if possible, invite local teen book clubs to participate. For many public libraries Skype events will require advance registration. Our library gave a free copy of the author’s book to each teen who registered early. In addition, drawings for extra books took place before and after the event.
- Plan a Trial Run
Make sure to exchange Skype names with the author and ask him or her to do a trial run prior to the event. Ask the author to connect via Skype the day before or early on the day of the event. Authors will usually comply to help ensure that there are no technical difficulties. Also, this is a good time to clarify any concerns about time zone differences.
- Event Format
Before participants arrive, set up your equipment. Make sure the computer is set up in a position that will not hinder the author's or audience’s view. You are the moderator for this virtual visit. Plan to introduce the author and explain the format for questioning. Prepare questions for the author ahead of time on small note cards. Although many teens will have questions, it’s best to be prepared for a lull or for those teens who aren’t sure what to ask. Teens can come up one at a time to talk with the author directly. Wrap up the event with final comments and a thank you to the author.