Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Armchair Travel

This is not a new idea for a library activity, but we're pretty proud about how our series of "Armchair Travel" sessions went in our small community.

The idea is simple - ask some community members who have travelled somewhere interesting or who have connections with another country to share thier experiences. Sorta like an old fashioned slide night. Finding them is easy - so many of our borrowers are just busting to tell library staff about their trip. So much great stuff to share, but in our modern impersonal society they can't exactly invite 50 strangers over to their house to look at their holiday snaps - so the library "facilitates" the sharing in a safe and neutral environment.

Some of our presenters went to extraordinary lengths to prepare their Powerpoint presentations with heaps of photos, info and travel tips - if they didn't have those technical skills library staff scanned and captioned their photos. Add food especially prepared for each event (library staff again excelled themselves in the out of hours effort they contributed in cooking and preparing) and in some cases music and dancing and we had a magic library event.

We value added by issuing "passports" which were stamped with a special rubber stamp prepared for each country, which was then given to the presenter as a gift. We also had an Armchair Traveller newsletter that expanded on topics covered in the formal presentations, and that went out to participants each month for the 6 months of the program (it's great when you have a journalist on staff).

The program had 360 attendances in total over 6 evenings, of which 36 were "regular" travellers. In response to our evaluation questionnaire, 100% of respondents "enjoyed" the program, 90% of respondents made additional community connections (ie they met other people!); 100% gained knowledge; and 97% rated the program as value for (Council) money. (Although the event was free to participants, in staff time and materials each event cost around $400 to stage. I let the participants know this so that they could make some judgment about cost/benefit of library $).

We visited Vanuatu (complete with dancers, singers and traditional food), Italy (with a couple, one of whom is an Italian chef who demonstrated how to cook real pizza)- they had heaps of excellent travel tips; China with a young couple who just spent 6 months teaching English there; India with a lady who spent 20 years in ashrams and is a practicing Hindu nun; South Africa with a family of expats who had just recently made a return visit; and Galapagos with fantastic wildlife shots from recent travellers. Every presenter spoke with passion about their experiences and unique perspectives.

Here are some of the comments from attendees (only the good ones of course!):

- "Great to meet people from different countries, wonderful way to enhance views/understanding of other peoples/ways of life. Also wonderful that free activity..."

- "I look forward to the continuation of this event and will use the information when planning my overseas itinerary, much better than the recommendations given by even the best travel agent..."

- "Best PR out to involve community in library activities"

- "What a wonderful way to showcase the knowledge, experience and brilliance of members of our community."

And of course the ones we really like:

- "The library staff did a great job."

In a way we are also doing our bit for international understanding. Branding it as a "travel" experience rather than a "multiculturalism" experience perhaps drew in conservative people who would shy away from events that they perceive as preaching a certain point of view.

All in all a great result. Will we do it again? Yes, but after a breather which is needed for the staff and also to keep the program fresh. People tend to take an ongoing program for granted, but if they know there is a finite number in the series, say 6 evenings over 6 months, they may think that they'd better make the effort to come or they miss out. I wonder where we'll being going next time...


  • What a wonderful idea! Wished you had pictures posted :)

    Nice to have you post again. Busy with the teens library, I suppose.

    By Blogger Ivan Chew, at 4:43 AM  

  • I'm working on pictures.

    Yes the Youth Library is consuming a lot of time these days. Lots of grunt work like setting up loan policies and cataloging bulk Playstation games. Hope to blog soon when name is finally chosen...

    By Blogger Deb, at 5:59 PM  

  • Hi, your blog is fantastic! Well done!

    I have a corporate travel site/blog. It pretty much covers corporate travel related stuff.

    Come and check it out if you get time :-)

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