talk given by Tom Peters and Lori Bell of OPAL

OPAL stands for Online Programming for All Libraries. Lori used to be the head of the Illinois Talking Book Center. Hard to get people with limited mobility together for a book discussion, so they were looking for a way to do this online. Tom Peters was using software with VOIP, co-browsing and and chat to do book talks. Got 30 libraries of all types using OPAL to do programming online for free.

Some examples of what they’ve done:

  • Talks for librarians/professional development
  • Virtual tours of special collections (Library of Congress, Lincoln Presidential Library)
  • Book discussions
  • Information literacy programs
  • health information programs
  • One-day virtual conferences

The programs are recorded and then are offered online for anyone to download and listen to at a later date. They recently started podcasting the audio, but they also make the text chat and the slides available as well.

OPAL’s chat rooms can be as cheap as $500/year for any library to use. And the programs are usually free for anyone to attend.

Tom Peters took us through a screencast tour of OPAL. All one has to do to participate in OPAL is to download a little plugin. People can use text chat or if they have a microphone or headset, they can use Voice over IP (VoIP). Tom uses a ridiculously cheap microphone and it works really well.

This is the only group that is doing online public programming for libraries that is free.

This is a tremendous resource for professional development. It is used primarily for that and it gets the largest audience.

Their Web conferencing appeals to a wide range of users with the audio and visual elements. VoIP is great because people on dial-up can use it.

The software – Talking Communities
the CEO of the company was blind and the software was developed for accessibility. It was important that the software works for a variety of browsers, O/S’s and connection speeds. They were able to get the software for a low price.

They also use Illuminate, but it’s expensive and they only have a 10 seat license.

They use iVocalize as a backup software.

They hope in the future to have streaming video, whiteboard, desktop sharing.

Web conferencing is usually really expensive so it is often out of the reach of libraries.

OPAL as an organization.

  • OPAL is a loose collaborative that involves libraries of all types and sizes (Library of Congress, small public, state libraries, etc.).
  • They are not an actual organization so they work through the Alliance Library System..
  • Funding is provided primarily through membership dues and support from the groups that founded OPAL.
  • Members must provide at least two public programs.

Programming on the Internet allows anyone to attend.

There is a certain energy and unpredictability to a live event. But the great thing about OPAL is that the programs are recorded and made available to anyone in the world at any time. They had almost 20 times as many listeners to a recording of a book talk about My Antonia than

Alliance Library System is HUGE and has a lot of rural member libraries. This is a great way to provide continuing education programming that all members can attend.

Other groups doing this sort of stuff: ACRL, SirsiDynix, Learning Times, Library Journal.

What have they learned?

  • There is no ideal time to start a global online live event.
  • It doesn’t require much tech know-how to make this happen
  • Online events can be much like in-person events. Why not have in-person conferences with online elements?

Tom thinks we haven’t really scratched the surface of what we can do with online programming.

OPAL groups can have private rooms where people can login with a specific password.

Afterwards I asked Tom Peters why he thinks organizations (like ALA and whatnot) are not offering free programming online? And he was pretty much as perplexed as I am. The cost of their software is very low, certainly something a large organization could handle.