How Libraries Get Creative with Virtual Programming

Libraries across the globe have had to invent creative and fun ideas to virtually engage with their patrons during the shutdown. Take a look at some of these programs offered by other librarians and consider using them for your own programs.

DIY Craft Videos

The Bernardsville Library in New Jersey has established its own YouTube channel where Youth Services staff members have filmed several virtual storytimes for children. They also started a “DIY Crafts” series which focuses on “hands-on activity, sometimes a craft, gardening, or cooking, and often includes a related story. Programs have included planting an egg carton herb garden, making easy ice cream, pancake art, and sock chia pets.”

Birthday Greetings
Also at the Bernardsville Library, staff are sending birthday greetings to their younger patrons to help make their celebrations in isolation special. “They pick a favorite topic and the librarian reads the book, dedicating it to the child by first name. One parent wrote in, ‘Oh my!!! This is amazing and I appreciate it so much. It has literally brought tears to my eyes and it’s such an innovative idea for making birthdays special at this really hard time. Her birthday is tomorrow and we will surprise her with this. THANK YOU SO MUCH!'”

Sharing Collections

Wendy Roque, a reference librarian of the Bryant Library in Rosalyn, New York, has launched a weekly series of Instagram videos called “For the Record,” where she sits through her expansive vinyl collection and shares the histories behind her favorite selections. 

Pet Hour

The Long Beach Library in Long Beach, New York asks patrons to share the love of their furry friends! The library staff invites them to an hour-long video chat with their own cuddly pets.

Safe at Home Reading Club

In Auburn, Indiana, the Eckhart Public Library encourages people to read 30 minutes per day. Each day that they read at least 30 minutes, they can enter a drawing for a chance to win a gift card from a local business. In addition, when the library reopens, each participant will receive a ‘Safe at Home Reading Club’ button. 

Wi-Fi hotspots and bookmobiles

For patrons without access to the internet, an extremely viral resource particularly at this time, the Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia has set up a bookmobile with Wi-Fi hotspots to travel around local “food distribution sites, grocery stores, business parking lots” around the Williamsburg community. Additionally, “the library has set up several long-term WiFi hotspot locations where users can park and access WiFi from their cars 24/7.” This allows easy access for those who do not have an internet connection at home. “We know that many people in our community depend on the library for internet access, and we want to be able to continue to offer this essential service even while the buildings are closed,” said library director Betsy Fowler.

Learn New Career Skills in Coronavirus Quarantine

Improve yourself by taking advantage of online documentaries and adult learning video courses


COVID-19 has left millions unemployed, local businesses on the verge of closing, and freelancers without the gigs that were sustaining them. Although it is a dark and difficult time, we can use the mandate of self-isolation to better ourselves for when the workforce opens up again. These films can help you learn new skills, discover different jobs to apply for, understand the economy, or even just find inspiration for returning to what seems like a bleak job market.

“The Great Courses” is a series offered on Kanopy with over 6,000 videos on a multitude of subjects such as on history, developing hobbies, learning languages, and many, many more. The abundance of knowledge available at your fingertips is overwhelming. Some useful courses to take during this time would be “Critical Business Skills,” “Money Management Skills,” or “The Art of Public Speaking.” These short educational videos are the perfect mind-boosters for jumping back in the job market.

If you are exploring new employment options, check out the documentary One Week Job about an average guy who searches for his passion by working 52 jobs in 52 weeks. He hops from employer to employer with the condition that his wages will be donated to the ONE/Make Poverty History campaign, trying everything from baking to trading stocks. This unique documentary may inspire you with the desire to seek a job in another field.

You don’t have to like sushi to appreciate this beautiful documentary. The heartwarming and taste-tantalizing Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a gorgeous ode to an artist and his craft. We witness sushi chef Jiro Ono’s exacting standards and taciturn nature that goes into crafting his morsels. His refined dedication is awe-inspiring and can be applied to any trade. Watch on Netflix, Amazon, or Vudu to admire his work ethic and apply it to your own. 

Based on the bestselling book on incentives-based thinking, Freakonomics is a mosaic of mini-documentaries that teach you the scientific and economic concepts behind human behavior. This psychological study could greatly benefit your own work as an employee or business owner, attuning you to the human side of money. The captivating documentary studies how people react to opportunities to gain wealth, exploring various situations such as sumo wrestling and a school experiment with cash incentives for struggling students. 

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5 Feel-Good Movies to Watch During Quarantine

Get rid of the social distancing blues with these cozy cinematic titles


Social distancing is certainly helping contain the spread of COVID-19, but it also has negative effects on one’s mental health. Being isolated from family, friends, and your community for this extended period of time can trigger depression and loneliness. Forget about the sadness that quarantine brings by watching these fuzzy, homey films. 


Keep the Change is a refreshingly honest and tenderhearted romantic comedy about an aspiring filmmaker (Brandon Polansky) ordered to attend a self-actualizing social program at the Jewish Community Center. He is assigned to visit the Brooklyn Bridge with the sweetly energetic Sarah (Samantha Elisofon), and they navigate a blossoming relationship, their complicated families, and various friendships. The pair have a witty charm that makes Keep the Change thoroughly delightful. This lovingly crafted film has many moments of genuine, awkward humor. Most importantly, it sheds light on cinema’s underrepresented autism community. Available on Amazon Prime.





Charlie Chaplin’s majestic masterpiece City Lights tells the heart-rending story of his infamous tramp character falling for a blind flower seller. He pretends to be a millionaire and secretly labors to pay for the restoration of her sight. The film is made of excruciatingly hilarious gags and highly emotional lump-in-your-throat moments. City Lights is a sublime tribute to selflessness and philanthropy, messages that we need to hear more than ever. Available on Criterion


It is virtually impossible not to smile during Pick of the Litter, the engrossing tale of a group of puppies-in-training to become seeing eye dogs. Who will graduate? Who will go on to something else? The film follows their fascinating two-year training process while intimately capturing all of their fluffy adorableness. You also learn about the dedicated individuals who train them for this life-changing role. Not only is Pick of the Little absolutely precious, it is very moving and emotional to witness the service the beautiful creatures provide and the lives that are better for it. This perfect family film is available on Swank



Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age dramaedy Lady Bird captures the insecurities of adolescence with sharp humor and lots of heart. Sasorise Ronan gives an impeccable performance as Lady Bird, a confused Catholic school girl looking to shape her identity and break free of her hometown after her senior year. Gerwig crafts a touching and hilarious love letter to mother/daughter relationships. The authenticity of the ensemble’s performances, featuring actors such as Laurie Metcalf, Lucas Hedges, and Timothee Chalamet, bring to life Gerwig’s nostalgic look on that precarious, tender time between being a kid and an adult. Available on Kanopy




I Wanna Hold Your Hand follows four lovesick teenagers on an obsessive quest to meet The Beatles before the legendary appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. This madcap slapstick comedy captures the legendary hysteria of Beatlemania during the early 1960s. It celebrates the once in a lifetime moment when a pop culture phenomenon emerged through the eyes of quirky, wide-eyed characters on the cusp of adulthood. The loveable ensemble makes I Wanna Hold Your Hand a cute, quirky, romp. Available on Kanopy



How to Plan Virtual Film Events for Patrons

Create engaging movie screenings and discussions online during quarantine 


The social distancing mandate may have postponed in-person events, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop hosting them. This unusual time is the perfect opportunity to try some new, out-of-the-box film programming online. One of the ways to still engage with your patrons would be to host a cinema connection program, a virtual community to study and discuss films selected by your library. Whether it be a new movie each day or several a week, encourage your patrons to watch a particular film at home on their own time and on the device of their choosing—making sure that each film is available on a popular streaming service or one provided through your library. 

After the films are selected and announced, plan to set up videos on your library’s Facebook page to introduce the film, talking about its history, background, and reception. It may be useful to collaborate with local professors who study cinema or the film’s area of interest to get involved or host the screenings; they would be able to recruit their students to interact with your content. Also, post facts and trivia about the selected films to generate excitement. Patrons can then discuss the film via Facebook comments or tag their comments on Twitter to your library’s handle. If your library has an Instagram, encourage patrons to take photos of themselves watching the film from home, or video their own reactions and thoughts! 

Extend the conversation by asking more post-film questions and examining clips, photos, and more from the film via your pages. On any of your social media, you could also share documents or a power point that features behind-the-scenes info or analysis of the film. The videos and comments will be available on the page for everyone to enjoy at their convenience

Social media is an incredible tool that can unite us during this uncertain period of isolation.  We can use it to our advantage to generate fun, interactive cinematic content that sparks thought-provoking conversations. Hosting virtual film screenings are an intriguing, unique way to continue your programming and love of movies with patrons during confinement.

Press Release 4-2-20

Video Librarian Continues Mission Online as the Premier Video Review Resource for Librarians


WARREN, NJ, (April 2, 2020): Allen Chou, President and owner of Passion River Films, a film distributor recently acquired Video Librarian, the premier video review resource for public, school, academic, and special libraries, which has transitioned into Video Librarian Online (

Continuing the focus of the recently sunsetted Video Librarian magazine, Video Librarian Online provides professional reviews that will better equip video librarians to make new acquisitions that help to inform, educate, and entertain their patrons.

According to Chou, “Libraries are incredibly important in serving the entire community, and we need to help librarians with the challenging task of discovering new films for their collections. The power of a story and the moving image is limitless.”

Video Librarian entered the market in 1986 when founder, publisher, and editor Randy Pitman introduced a 10 page-newsletter providing a unique and necessary resource for the library community. Its mission was to become a singular video resource for librarians overseeing the building of video collections.

Now retiring, Pitman says, “I am thrilled that under the leadership of Allen Chou and guidance of new editor Vanessa Bethea, Video Librarian will make a welcome transition to Video Librarian Online, which promises to be a vital online resource for librarians, continuing to offer professional reviews of documentaries, independent films, and classic movies, but on a more timely basis, thanks to the immediacy of the web.”

Written by staff, librarians, teachers, and film critics, Video Librarian Online continues the main mission of Video Librarian but with more enhanced services such as 75+ new film reviews each month, regularly updated news briefs, access to a searchable database of over 40,000 full-text video reviews, and a searchable database of nearly 1,000 video distributors.


What librarians have said about their experiences with Video Librarian:

“I have enjoyed the intelligence of Video Librarian’s reviews for many years. Some of the titles reviewed would not suit my library’s demographic, but I was glad to be aware of them. I purchased many quirkier, non-mainstream titles based on VL reviews and they have circulated well. My intent was to broaden horizons, offer different perspectives. The Video Librarian reviews are an invaluable resource for building a deeper collection.” Catherine Cooper, Lee-Whedon Memorial Library


“Thanks for the great service Video Librarian has provided for so many years!!! Specifically, we use your compiled reviews for selection and when a non-print item is challenged by a customer. Your reviews give us professional input that is valuable.” Kendal Hopkins, Carroll County Public Library


“It is the only resource that I use to develop our video collection. I have come to depend on the brief reviews, audience categories, star ratings, and more. This resource is so good that I never feel the need to look for other places that give similar information.” Frank Bridges, Mount View Middle School & High School Library


“An invaluable resource, especially to those of us from small libraries with extremely limited shelf space and budget.” Cynthia R. Exterkamp, Wilton Manors Public Library, NY


About Allen Chou

Allen Chou is an expert in maximizing digital delivery and audience engagement strategies. Since 1997 Chou has been President and owner of Passion River Films, an independent film distribution company specializing in the release of films and documentaries to theaters, VOD, digital streaming, DVD, and libraries in public and academic markets. Allen manages a diverse catalog featuring Academy Award and Emmy-winning films and directors as well as films that have been recognized at festivals such as: Sundance, Berlinale, Cannes, SXSW, Toronto, Tribeca, Hot Docs and many other prestigious events. In 2005, he established a distribution partnership with Netflix, resulting in over 200 titles released on their site. Allen has also placed titles into accounts such as: Redbox, Whole Foods, Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Walmart, Hulu, Amazon, iTunes, GooglePlay, FandangoNOW, HBO, Starz, PBS and more. In January 2020, he acquired Video Librarian. Chou was also adjunct faculty at New York University, teaching film marketing and distribution courses. He is a frequent speaker, moderator, and instructor on distribution and social media marketing at film festivals, industry conferences, and universities. Notable speaking engagements include Film Marketing in Academia at SXSW Film Festival and Professional Development sessions at the National Media Market library conference (company exhibitor & chair). Passion River Films is also a routine sponsor of VRT (Video Roundtable) and have frequently donated their films and set up events for the “Now Showing” series at the annual American Library Association conference.


Contact information:

Allen Chou, Owner 




Phone: 732-372-0300


Vanessa Bethea, Editor 



Phone: 732-372-0300