30 Jun 2021

Reflecting on Kildare Library Service's Online Events in 2020

Photo courtesy of authors
Guest Post by Amye Quigley, Bridgette Rowland and Shona Thoma of Kildare Library Service

Amye Quigley is an Executive Librarian with Kildare Library Service. She coordinates Kildare Readers’ Festival as part of her role as the Kildare Right to Read coordinator.

Bridgette Rowland is an acting Executive Librarian with Kildare Library Service and helps coordinate the STEAM programme for primary schools as part of her role.

Shona Thoma is an Executive Librarian with Kildare Library Service, coordinating events for children and young people, including the annual Children's Book Festival 

In April 2020 it became apparent that the pandemic would curtail library events for a long time to come, even if we couldn’t have predicted how long the lockdowns and restrictions would last. 

At Kildare Library Service, programming across all areas from children’s activities to age friendly, and from local history to Grow it Forward are now delivering successful online events. In this blog post, we offer reflections from three perspectives on how we made the transition from being entirely location based, to developing a range of virtual events for all ages. 

Shona Thoma, coordinator of the Children’s Book Festival, reflects on the challenges of delivering a festival programme with limited resources. Bridgette Rowland, coordinator of the STEAM programme, highlights new potential when working with schools. Amye Quigley, coordinator of the Kildare Readers Festival, outlines the process which led to the first online programme for the festival, and what that means for the future. 

Kildare Young Readers Festival and Children’s Book Festival

Children's literacy and creativity are supported and celebrated by Kildare Libraries events throughout the year. Two festival periods, the Young Readers Festival in May and Children's Book Festival in October, bring a particular focus to author events and workshops, giving children the opportunity to meet writers and illustrators, and explore their creative abilities. In May 2020, amid pandemic disruptions and significant time constraints, all events were provided online, with 20 events scheduled from 16th to 22nd May. 

In March and April, many library staff had been redeployed to work on the Community Call helpline, and IT restrictions prevented most staff from accessing emails at home. Organisation of events and managing bookings was very challenging without the library team and access to branch emails. Despite this, we felt that the Young Readers Festival should still take place in some way, offering fun activities to children stuck at home, and continuing to work with artists at a very difficult time for live performers. 

Pre-recorded video content was commissioned from two artists: storyteller Niall de Búrca, and illustrator Tarsila Krüse. Working with existing suppliers reduced the need for paperwork which would have been particularly difficult to arrange amidst so many of the unknowns in the early days of the pandemic. Six live events took place online, requiring registration, and providing much valued interactive sessions with children and their parents, these included storytelling, Yo-Yo-Yoga, and craft workshops. The safety and privacy of attendees was a key consideration, with great care taken to gather parental consent and ensure their supervision, and again working with existing suppliers with valid Garda Vetting in place. 

Photo Courtesy of Authors

With schools closed, all events were available for open booking, quite a departure for the May festival, but something that worked out very well. Schools delivery has been crucial in the past to reaching a wider audience of children than regular library users. Without the ability to publicise events through library branches, we promoted the festival via our recently launched blog, social media and eNewsletter. 

Feedback showed excellent satisfaction and that these events reached a different audience than when taking place in libraries or schools, many parents attending library events with their children for the first time. 

“It engaged him and allowed him to interact with kids his age and made him feel part of something outside this house and that means a lot to our kids right now.” —Parent feedback, Young Readers Festival May 2020

In October 2020, a further 34 online workshops and author visits were scheduled for the Children’s Book Festival. These comprised of live and interactive online events taking place via videolink to classrooms throughout the county, and 10 events held during the mid-term for children and parents to enjoy at home together.

The opportunities and challenges that we have faced by providing online programming will be familiar to anyone operating in this environment, we have highlighted some of the most significant when working with children and schools in the list below. 

STEAM Programme

Overview of the Programme

The Kildare Libraries’ STEAM programme supports the primary school curriculum across the county through workshops and talks in the subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths. Popular workshops have included planetarium visits, Lego engineering workshops, CSI forensics workshops and robotics workshops, with the emphasis on a hands-on model making the children active participants in the learning. The programme is planned a year in advance and aligns with the main national STEAM festivals throughout the year, starting with Engineers’ Week in February and concluding with Science Week in November.

Adaptation Following Covid

In March 2020, when Ireland first entered a lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, just nineteen workshops out of a total of 154 planned for the year had taken place and, with libraries and schools all closed, we found ourselves with neither a venue nor an audience. What we did have, however, was pre-booked facilitators many of whom were more tech savvy than average due to the subject of the workshops and who were keen to adapt and innovate. In addition, with the schools closed and both teachers and parents scrambling to navigate the home-schooling environment, we recognised that the STEAM programme could fulfil a need for high-quality educational supports.

Some facilitators chose to create pre-recorded content that we could use on our social media channels and which could be viewed at any time whilst others adapted their workshops for live delivery through Zoom and both deliveries had their advantages. For example, environmental scientist Nikita Coulter filmed a series of beautifully illustrated biodiversity videos talking children through the meaning of biodiversity and Ireland’s ecosystems. While Tech Create delivered live coding, digital design and 3D printing workshops to children using open-source software which the children could access for free.

When the schools reopened in September, the STEAM programme was reimagined again for online delivery to schools. With children no longer taking part from home on individual devices we had to work with facilitators on a format that would be suitable for whole-class delivery and, where possible, would still include a practical, hands-on element. This had to be balanced with ensuring the delivery was in line with Covid health and safety protocols in schools. To this end, many of our facilitators supplied resource packs to accompany the workshops, with a minimum of one pack per class pod, which allowed children to carry out activities in real time with the facilitator. 

The 2021 STEAM Programme and Beyond

With the pandemic and restrictions ongoing, the decision was made to retain the online delivery model for the STEAM 2021 programme. However, we have been able to capitalise this year on some of the key opportunities the online medium allows – chief amongst them being the potential for bigger events and for access to a larger variety of speakers. In March 2021 we held a hugely popular talk for families by Professor Luke O’Neill entitled ‘Vaccines, Viruses, and the Immune System: The Real Science Behind Covid-19’. In June, we also held a panel discussion with a range of speakers from STEAM backgrounds in partnership with Maynooth University. The convenience of the online model and the potential for larger audiences makes booking high-profile speakers more viable and schools get to engage directly with leading STEAM figures.

Opportunities and Challenges

The online delivery of children’s programmes at Kildare Libraries presented various opportunities and challenges:


  • Increased engagement – we had many schools engage with the programme for the first time based on the convenience of not needing to arrange costly transport into the library or permission slips from parents.
  • Increased accessibility – we received feedback from parents and teachers that for children with particular additional needs the online delivery removed some of the anxieties they may have faced around visiting a new venue.
  • Potential for larger events – we were no longer bound by limited capacities within libraries and could have multiple classes attend an online event.
  • Increased choice of facilitators/speakers – we can potentially engage speakers from anywhere in Ireland or indeed abroad.


  • Potential weakening of the library’s role – With the workshops no longer taking place within libraries, there was a risk of the visibility of the library’s role and our wider supports being diminished. To counteract this, we encouraged staff to introduce the workshops and to promote our other library supports and use the workshop as an opportunity to build their relationship with their local schools.
  • Wi-Fi/technical problems – while this could not always be anticipated our staff and facilitators offered to do technical trial runs if a teacher was unsure of the technology or their internet connection.
  • Adapting workshops for delivery online – not all of our 2021 facilitators were able to adapt their workshops and some have been postponed until such time as they can delivered in person again.
  • Risk of school closures due to Covid – All of our facilitators offered a plan B where, in the event of a school closure, the workshop could still be delivered remotely to the children at home with the support of the class teacher.
  • No shows – with the schools not having to travel to a venue, and despite frequent reminders, we have had the occasional incident of a school forgetting to log in on the day.

Kildare Readers Festival

Kildare Readers Festival has been held in Co. Kildare every year in October since 2010. It is programmed by a committee of Kildare library staff. The audience has a mixed age bracket with an unknown level of technical skills. It runs for a fortnight with events hosted in the seven main library branches, culminating in a weekend of events held in the Riverbank Arts Centre.  

Planning for the Kildare Readers Festival starts in January every year. When Ireland went into lockdown in March 2020 the committee put all planning for the festival on pause. As the pandemic restrictions extended, many other literary festivals were postponing, rescheduling, or cancelling their 2020 programmes. The decision was made in June 2020 that we would have to move the festival to an online platform if it was to go ahead. We started to plan for a reduced number of events over the festival weekend only, up to a maximum of six events. For contrast, in 2019 we held 27 events over a fortnight. 

The committee had no experience of bringing events online. We attended as many events as possible held by festivals that were going ahead to get an idea of what other organisations were producing. There was plenty to consider; how to hold the events, live, pre-recorded, on what software platform, would IT give us access to that platform, would we be able to manage it all ourselves, would we have to get outside expertise, how much would this cost, would technology let us down, would anyone attend, etc. We chose to go with pre-recorded content. 

We planned to record the events in our usual theatre venue. However, between the county specific lockdown for Kildare, Laois and Offaly, and availability of the Arts Centre, we had to quickly reassess, and plan to record events over Zoom. Staff did not have the software to do post-production on the videos recorded so this had to be outsourced to a production company. 

We then had to decide on what platform we wanted to present the festival. There were discussions around Facebook or YouTube, and whether events should be ticketed, or open to all. We decided to upload the events to Kildare Library’s recently launched Vimeo channel. They were password protected and “released” to the public on a scheduled date and time, to make it feel more like an event to be viewed together. Despite our initial plan to only hold six events over the weekend of the festival, we hosted 13 events over a week with just over 1,600 views of the events. 

What did an online festival allow us to do? 

It provided us with access to authors we would not have otherwise been able to invite to the festival due to budgetary constraints. We should have taken greater advantage of this in hindsight, but it allowed us to invite a poet and an author living in the US. 

It freed up budgets from transportation and accommodation costs, but this was counteracted by higher production and post-production costs so that the recorded events had the same look and feel to the branding. 

What would we do differently?

While we provided a set of guidelines to our authors/guests around ensuring their sound and cameras were clear, checking their internet connections, etc., more rigorous pre-checks would have helped deliver higher quality. We should have been clearer about the use of technology required, as a couple of recordings were made on phones and tablets which were being held by hand. We should have been more confident in our abilities as a committee, as we soon found that we managed live events with great success. 

The festival committee subsequently programmed our events for the national Ireland Reads Campaign in February 2021. We held eleven live online author events for various age groups using Zoom. We are now also using Eventbrite to manage the bookings. 

Based on the feedback received, being able to catch up on the events later was appreciated. Being able to attend from locations further afield than Kildare and its surrounding counties was a bonus for some. A hybrid approach of online and live events is planned for 2021, which will be dependent on Government guidelines closer to the time, frustrating the planning process once again this year. We realise that events that would normally be held in our libraries will more than likely have to be online again in 2021. We are looking at the possibility of using the Zoom webinar function instead of meetings, which is being tested with other library events this summer. Due to the availability of some guests we would like to invite to the festival this year, some events may have to be pre-recorded, but feel this blended approach will be successful. Bigger literary festivals than Kildare Readers Festival have gone with this model of live and recorded events in 2021. 

No going back! 

All events, but particularly those for adults, such as Kildare’s Parenting Programme and Toys, Technology and Training series have reached record numbers by being hosted online. The improved accessibility afforded by online events is the aspect most commented on now by the programming team in Kildare, with the knowledge that we won’t go backwards in this regard. We have developed the interactive element of our online events, which is important for giving a sense of occasion and sustaining community around our activities. Looking forward, post Covid, we hope to adopt a hybrid approach, with in-person workshops forming the core of programming but being complimented by online talks from international guests, and the broadcasting of in-person, in-Kildare, events to wider audiences. 


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