TEWKSBURY — With conventions across the world cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tewksbury Public Library decided to get creative with a Virtual Library-Con that was held June 22-27.
The event, named the Merrimack Valley Library Con, was hosted by the Merrimack Valley Library Con Roundtable, which is made up of teen librarians from across the Merrimack Valley including Emily Leggat, who is the Tewksbury Teen Librarian and the Chair of the MVLC.
Leggat was kind enough to answer a few questions about the convention and planning behind it.
When asked what inspired her to create the online convention, she explained:
“During the quarantine, as the chair of the MVLC Teen Librarian's Roundtable, I reached out to the other teen librarians in the group to check in on how they were doing. During our discussion, one thing was the same for everyone; they were all disappointed in having to cancel events they worked so hard to create.
“Rachel, the Teen Librarian in Haverhill, always hosts an amazing, large-scale Comic Con event in May. As people were discussing how sad it was that the event couldn't happen, I thought, ‘Why can't it still happen? Granted it's a lot to do with one person, but we could do it together.’
“I brought it up to the Roundtable and we began work on it. The perk to this being virtual meant that our patrons didn't have to drive from library to library. It was accessible to anyone, anywhere with an internet connection.
The Merrimack Valley Library Con (MVLibCon) team was made up of Nicole Monk (Burlington Public Library), Michelle Paquin (Billerica Public Library), Brittany Tuttle (Wilmington Public Library), Rachel Gagnon (Haverhill Public Library), Kathryn Wuerker (Ipswich Public Library), Margie Walker (Amesbury Public Library), Deborah Dawson (Groton Public Library), Amy Popoloski (Stevens Memorial Library - North Andover), Anna Gooding-Call (Merrimack Valley Library Consortium), and myself.”
Some goals Leggat explained were:
“Conventions everywhere were cancelled. Our main goal was to provide a convention that everyone could attend at no cost. We made a convention that had programs for all ages, at multiple times, and showcased artists, as well as cosplayers.”
Events held were a Virtual Escape Room, Anime Trivia, Creating Comics with Cathy G. Johnson, Cosplay 101 with Mink the Satyr, Mario Kart Tournament, SFX Makeup with Maggie, Cosplay Hacks with Mink the Satyr, Become a Board Game Designer, Captain America Story time, Comic Book Bingo, Dungeons & Dragons (one session for children, one session for teens and adults), and Caricaturist Don Landgren held two drawing sessions.
Much like panels at conventional Comic-Cons, the Library Con had speakers, listed as Christopher Golden (award winning author) in conversation with Cat Scully, Brian Gordon (author/artist of Fowl Language Comics), Jami O'Brien (Executive Producer of NOS4A2) interviewed by Cat Scully, and DC writer/artist .
When asked about attendance, Leggat said, “MVLibCon had over 300 attendees of all ages.”
Leggat also delved into the reception from attendees, which was positive, as she explained, “We had a very positive reaction from attendees. They were excited about the speakers and learned from them. Those who attended events enjoyed those as well. Many people asked when we were doing this again.”
At comic conventions, there typically are individuals who walk around in costumes of their favorite characters, affectionately nicknamed as “cosplayers,” and the Merrimack Valley Library Con had cosplayers, as well!
Leggat said, “Yes, we had six fantastic cosplayers! They were all great, and all from different series”
While most Comic-Cons cost pretty pennies to attend, Library-Con was free!
“Each librarian on the team reported what they would be able to contribute. Some could offer funding (provided by their Friends of the Library groups) for events, some could offer graphic design work, and some could run our social media pages. We worked together as a team to combine our talents and make the Con a reality! There was no admission cost and it was not a fundraiser. I am adamant about programs that I offer being free and accessible to our patrons.”
But the con wasn’t without its challenges, as Leggat explained:
“Getting the word out about the con was a bit of a hurdle. We shared it everywhere on social media, but social media can become static noise with its frequent use. By not being able to talk to people in person at our libraries, we were limited on our reach at first. To make up for this, we reached out and shared the information in new ways! For example, some libraries had special newsletters sent out or had their librarians mention it during Zoom programs to drum up more interest.”
Was the Con a success?
According to Leggat, she said, “Absolutely! We've had so many people ask when we're doing this again, and heard great feedback on the programs that we had offered.”
And, there may be a future for this convention, as Leggat said, “Ideally, I would love to (hold a future convention) but there's a lot to discuss with the team first. Visit www.tewksburypl.org to sign up for our newsletter or follow us on instagram at @TPLTeen for more information about future events like this.”
It is inspiring to see a group of librarians find a way to come together and unite communities in a unique, and socially distant, way.