Case Study

The Library of Congress' National Book Festival Pivoted to a Fully Virtual Event Experience

Problem

In response to COVID-19, The National Book Festival needed to transform into a fully virtual event without sacrificing the interactivity, thought leadership and author engagement of its in-person experience. The team needed a platform that could handle 50,000 attendees with live Q&A, gamification, 12 stages and more.

Solution

The 20th annual Library of Congress National Book Festival celebrated “American Ingenuity” with a three-day "virtual festival" -- a virtual conference that hosted more than 120 of the nation’s most gifted authors.

Results

The National Book Festival became one of the most popular virtual events of 2020, drawing more than 100,000 guests over three days. It also welcomed several award-winning authors and leading speakers, including Chelsea Clinton and Sandra Cisneros.

The oldest cultural institution in America, The Library of Congress is the research library that officially serves the United States Congress—and the de facto national library of the United States. Each year, the Library's National Book Festival (NBF) hosts thousands of literary enthusiasts in Washington, D.C.

Created by then First Lady Laura Bush, the first National Book Festival took place on September 8, 2001 at the Library of Congress and on the east lawn of the U.S. Capitol. The first event attracted 25,000 to 30,000 attendees, along with more than 60 award-winning authors, illustrators and storytellers from across the country.

In its 20-year history, the event has grown into a three-day celebration of literary excellence, bringing 200,000 people to Washington D.C. for panels and keynote speeches by the nation’s most renowned authors.

With book-signings, musical performances, storytelling, panel discussions, demonstrations of illustration and new technologies, The National Book Festival spotlights the best of American literary culture.

The Library was prepared to host a special edition of the National Book Festival in 2020, celebrating the festival's 20th birthday. But then the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything.

The Challenge

The National Book Festival needed to transform into a fully virtual event, without sacrificing the interactivity, thought leadership and author engagement characteristic of its in-person experience.

The National Book Festival also needed a platform that could absorb 50,000+ attendees and 60+ speakers, and was flexible enough to host Q&As, gamification challenges, 12+ stages and more.

In response to the times, the 20th annual Library of Congress National Book Festival celebrated “American Ingenuity” with a three-day virtual festival that hosted more than 120 of the nation’s most gifted authors.

Solution

The Library of Congress built a comprehensive festival experience including: 12 themed stages, each modeled after a unique literary genre, A “Roadmap to Reading” hub where attendees could attend live Q&As with authors from their home state, a “Meet the Authors” area to learn more about each speaker, an “Explore the Library” media hub, searchable by age level and topic, that featured on-demand videos and timely interest pieces from speakers—including Chelsea Clinton and Dan Brown, and a sponsor hall with gamification to encourage visits and interactions with virtual event partners.

Virtual stages provided virtual event guests on-demand videos, live author chats and discussions, and options to personalize their own journeys through the festival with particular themes.

"You would never be able to see these authors sitting in their office, where they wrote their amazing works. Or sitting in front of their bookcases, where you can see what they’re reading. It’s been a very intimate experience talking with these amazing individuals and collecting their narratives."

Jarrod MacNeil
Director, National Book Festival

Results

The National Book Festival became one of the most popular virtual events of 2020, drawing more than 100,000 guests over its three day runtime. It also welcomed several award-winning authors and leading speakers, including Chelsea Clinton and Sandra Cisneros.

Notable speakers included: Madeleine Albright, Former US Secretary of State; Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Anti-Racist; Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street; Amy Tan, author of the Joy Luck Club; Chelsea Clinton, author, global health advocate and Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation; John Grisham, author of A Time to Kill and The Rainmaker; Gene Luen Yang, cartoonist and author of American Born Chinese.

"We’ve created something that embraces the spirit and feel of what the festival has been in a physical capacity… It’s an opportunity for more people to fall in love with the National Book Festival."

Jarrod MacNeil
Director, National Book Festival

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