We're forecasting producing 88 events in the Smith Learning Theater this year, and some of those events will be multi-day (even week-long) events. That's a result of our current staffing, and our experience of producing 2 events on average per week.* Why not more? I'm glad you asked.
Malik is currently our only full-time staff member with a majority of his time on producing theater events. "Production" in this case is a mix of communication with our event partners, setting up the theater for their event, and managing the theater AVLIT** infrastructure during their event. Other production help comes in the form of support and leadership from part time staff (Ruta) and full time staff (Kim and me).
Specialized environmental support comes from our Design and Video teams. Usually executed in advance of an event, design elements include customized printing (e.g., signs), objects (e.g., props), and exhibits (e.g., interactive media). Often executed during or after an event, video elements include broadcast solutions (e.g., camera and sound for Zoom sessions), participant interviews, and event storytelling. Notably, staff members in these areas primarily work on other library projects, including exhibitions for Russell Hall and media for ongoing library projects. We currently have one full-time designer (Zoe) and two full-time multimedia specialists (Andrew and Jackie), and they work with the amazing Janne, Carlie, and Trisha who are with us part time.
The library also documents all activities in the theater for the purpose of providing educational resources to our community and anyone else with an interest in our work in designing, producing, and executing new immersive learning. experiences. Cinthia is currently leading this effort as part of her work on the library's user experience team.
If you're paying close attention, you may have noticed that a single learning theater event could involve nearly half of all library staff members. This actually happens quite often!
So, with our current team, maybe the best question isn't "how do we host more events" but rather, "how do we turn every event into an opportunity to experiment, innovate, and make good on the ambitious purpose of the learning theater?"
In our experience, some events lend themselves to this goal. XMA uses their time in the theater to experiment with the design of their whole program. The Hollingworth team pushes us to be inventive and creative. The ELDA Research Group takes full advantage of the theater's research infrastructure. And there are many other great examples!
But to others, the theater is just a pretty face/place.
Our first strategy to inspire the community to produce great events was to use our event application to start a conversation around the learning goals of an event.
A new strategy we've been developing is to deploy a "theater exhibit" in events whenever possible—an exhibit meant to inspire visitors to think bigger. So far this includes elements such as the "LT sizzle reel," photo slideshows of recent events, and the LT Yearbook. It should also grow to include research efforts, ideally in a highly engaging way. But what else could we include, and what should the exhibit experience be like? (Should we highlight aspects of our event application process? Should we do more to feature specific past events?)
A strategy we initiated last fall is to begin all of our partnership meetings by using our learning theater model to share ideas (image below). It allows us to try out and visual ideas more ideas faster than in the actual theater. (note: I love this, but I'm also a model-hog—the first one to move the pieces around and the last one to stop touching them.) Surprisingly, using the model seems to be a disappointment to our first-time partners who often express the goal of "seeing" the theater, but in our experience wandering around a random floor plan is not a good use of an hour of everyone's time. The model helps us get to a more productive "walkthrough" or "sandbox" meeting in the theater later on.
Starting in January, we could begin every meeting by gifting our newest event partner(s) a Learning Theater Sourcebook (aka the "2017-2018 Yearbook"). We haven't consistently done this, but perhaps we should!
What else could we do to make every event a better learning event? Do you have any favorite meeting strategies for temporary teams?
*Why isn't that 100 events? Good question. We currently hold eight weeks for TC Board of Trustee events.
**Audio, Video, Lighting, Information Technology. "IT" is often used to describe computers and networks, but it this case it notably includes other systems, including rack-mounted hardware that "powers" the theater (literally a million dollars' worth) and relevant software applications.