Learning Together: Penfield Public Library Team and WebJunction Webinars

Jennifer Peterson /

In the years we've been hosting webinars, we've seen a wonderful evolution toward library teams sharing in what they're learning, especially when they are able to gather to view and discuss the webinar together. Some teams like to view the recording of the webinar (instead of the live event) so they can pause the session to make time for locally relevant discussion.

We know from our webinar form if registrants plan on gathering colleagues together to watch a webinar (or as we call it, hosting a cohort viewing of a webinar). We ask so that we can provide certificates to all staff or volunteers who view the webinar.

WebJunction is committed to providing opportunities for library staff to learn together, and as we explore ways to make that learning practical, meaningful and accessible, we are expanding our support for cohort learning.  

A number of years ago, we gathered reflections from a few libraries who had attended one of our online conferences as a cohort, and we recently reached out to the Penfield Public Library (Monroe County Library System), in New York. We asked the director, Bernadette Brinkman, to answer a few questions about her team's experience viewing webinars as a cohort so that we could share examples of how libraries use cohorts to learn and understand how staff at their library has benefited from attending WebJunction webinars as a group.

How did you decide to watch webinars as a cohort?  

I am usually informed about the availability of a webinar. As I'm trying to offer the maximum amount of continuing education to my staff, I then inform them of the opportunity to see if they want to take advantage. As long as I'm registering for one, we might as well make it as widely available as possible.

What do you see as the advantages of watching together?

Ease of scheduling enrichment opportunities, shared discussion, considering application of precepts learned from multiple perspectives, and the principle that the more people who view something will increase the likelihood of implementation.

Can you talk a bit about the set up? Do you watch with a projector, around a single computer or each logged in individually to your own computers?

I set up a projector connected to a laptop and speakers in an office conference room. The webinar is streamed to us via Wi-Fi.

Is the invite shared with all staff, or are specific staff invited based on their interest or relation to the topic?

It depends on the topic. I always offer every opportunity to all staff, but there have been some topics that I know will be of particular interest to an individual or on which I would like a particular staff member to become more informed. For those, my offer to view is more a suggestion to the targeted individuals than an option.

How does the cohort enhance the experience of learning together? Do you have discussions about the topics as you're viewing, or do you debrief as a group afterwards?

We do both, but we are loathe to interfere with the delivery of the information, so we more often debrief afterwards.

Do you discuss ways to apply learning? Do managers support off-desk time to apply the learning?

Our way of applying is more likely to be indirect. The attendees assimilate the information presented, are inspired to do something with that information, and end up possibly incorporating it into a new procedure. We definitely allow off-desk time for potentially productive efforts.

For staff who didn't attend, how do you share information or reflect on the experience afterwards with them?

It's probably more informal. It comes out naturally when a circumstance presents itself in which the information gained would be applicable.

What do you like best about attending the webinar as a group?

The sense of team-building that results, as well as the opportunity to hear from attendees that might not otherwise feel comfortable contributing an opinion or observation.

What do you like least?

Encountering technical difficulties; having a presenter with a style that interferes with the material being presented; when the title and synopsis of the webinar give a false impression about the material covered.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Thank you for making information available to us via webinar. There is no way we could afford to take advantage of expertise at the level presented if it weren't for webinars, and if the presenter makes him-/herself available for follow-up questions offline, the mention of having attended the presenter's webinar opens doors that might otherwise be difficult to get through.

WebJunction certainly recognizes that not every library has enough staff or space to view webinars together. But there are other ways to take advantage of learning together as a team, using webinars or their recordings.

Some libraries pick a webinar for staff and volunteers to watch separately, and then either discuss at a team meeting, or if that’s not possible, have an email discussion. And if time is your top challenge, consider dividing the webinar up into segments, and assign different people to view different segments; then bring your thoughts about your assigned segment to a live or email team discussion. We've heard from other libraries that they like the fact that everyone hears the same thing, and so can use it to adopt a common language related to a topic, and apply that shared understanding toward common goals. And other libraries are using WebJunction's Learner Guides (Here's an example) to extend their learning together, even customizing the questions to make them relevant to current library efforts.

We'd love to hear from you if you've been using webinars to learn together as a team. Please contact us at [email protected] if you'd like to share your story or if you have any other questions or suggestions about our webinars.


Photo: Staff ready for questions at Penfield Public Library. Courtesy Penfield Public Library.