Get It on Your Calendar: How to Personalize Your Digital Date Book
by Jessamyn West
A few issues ago, I wrote about curating community content and how to find interesting activities for the winter months. Now, I’d like to talk about the flip side of that—maintaining a community calendar highlighting events of interest to your community and using your own calendars more effectively. In pre-COVID times, a community calendar would have listed mostly local events. However, nowadays, with much more content online from many different locations, both curation and communication become key.
|What glues this all together is the fact that most major calendars use standardized data, meaning that an item posted to a Google Calendar can be shared with someone who uses Apple Calendar or Outlook 365.
We have, at long last, created a single events page for the Vermont Library Association (VLA) website. We’d always kept a calendar for basic things such as VLA board meetings and our monthly membership get-togethers. Now we’re also encouraging libraries statewide to share their programming that is open to people outside their communities. This is a method to get more people attending library programs and also a good way to highlight the different kinds of things libraries are doing to stay connected to their patrons. Smaller libraries can offer more options, and larger libraries can “share the wealth” of what they are able to offer.
What glues this all together is the fact that most major calendars use standardized data, meaning that an item posted to a Google Calendar can be shared with someone who uses Apple Calendar or Outlook 365. This is due to the Internet Calendaring and Scheduling Core Object Specification—iCalendar for short. It’s been a standard since 1998. Without getting too into the weeds, basic information about an event (organizer, date, time, geographic coordinates, date of creation), as well as a few other pieces of information (Has the event been canceled? Should there be an alarm set for an event?) can be transmitted in various ways to achieve various ends. Historically, I’ve pointed to web-based calendar systems that would provide an RSS feed, which allows the calendar data feed to be imported and used in another calendar. This issue, I’ll talk about ways to interact with calendars that offer more granularity.
Your Own Calendar
A confession: I used a year-at-a-time paper calendar as a backup for my online calendar up until 2020. This was mostly so I could see what I had coming up at a glance, since the calendar view on my desktop was set to monthly. In a year of no travel, I’ve eschewed the paper calendar, and it’s made me more enthusiastic about what I can do digitally. At my first public library job early this century, we paid money to a tiny software company that made a very specific kind of room-scheduling software. Now, that kind of option—special rooms that can be scheduled independently, with different features and facilities—is built right into tools such as Google Workplace (formerly, G Suite) and can be added to the calendar just like any other program or schedule.
Many libraries that I know locally—mostly smaller ones—often use multiple calendars. They’ll use one for staff schedules, one for room reservations, and another for a public-facing list of events. My suggestion is to try to combine these and work with different calendar “views” that will allow one calendar to serve multiple purposes. In larger libraries, this may be less practical because scheduling may tie into systems such as payroll and others that need to not be accidentally made public. However, if this is not a concern, having fewer interfaces for staffers and patrons to interact with provides a better user experience. When I look at larger libraries that are doing online events programming well—such as the Free Library of Philadelphia or Boston Public Library—I always look for ways to do smaller-scale versions of the same thing.
The VLA’s calendar is a WordPress plugin called The Events Calendar, and it’s been very easy to work with. We can use tags for different events to indicate which Vermont county they are happening in (we’ve only got 14), and this allows all counties to get a feed of events from our statewide calendar, which can be easily imported into their own calendar systems. Being able to filter is essential for calendars serving a library community or system of any size. Calendars can get easily overwhelmed with regular events; I looked at one urban system’s calendar for this article, and it had “COVID testing” listed as an event every day. Good news for the community, but it made the calendar’s default view quite busy.
Facebook used to have a better way of automating the importing of its events, en masse, to different calendar systems. Now it’s got a slightly fussy mechanism that involves locating your upcoming events section and then clicking the big blue “add to calendar” button, importing all of the events you have to a desktop calendar. But it requires a re-upload of the .ics file if you are adding it to Google.
As I always tell my drop-in time students, computers were designed to be interoperable, but then Google, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft all claimed territories and tried to make them less interoperable. Figuring out how to make these systems work together is one of the challenges facing modern-day librarians and their modern-day vendors. Relatedly, if you are trying to mess around with calendars, check IFTTT, which has many reusable scripts that can help connect things that don’t otherwise combine. So, for instance, you could log your Fitbit sleep logs to your Google Calendar or take events from your calendar and save them to a Google Sheet. Obviously, all of these aren’t practical for work, but some of them may have surprising applications. For example, you can have the CDC’s COVID updates posted to a calendar or update your calendar with the ACLU’s latest privacy news.
My favorite part about all of this is using my calendar to learn things. Sometimes, this is simple and kind of basic, such as friends’ birthdays that I exported from Facebook using a Chrome plugin. Other times, it can be aspirational, like the sports season that I am hoping will be starting up again. Google Calendar has an option to “browse calendars of interest.” You can add not just religious holidays and moon phases, but also sports teams’ schedules and other nations’ holidays. If you don’t use Google Calendar, there are still ways to subscribe to other calendars. Kayapo is a software company that also maintains a list of National Public Holidays, including state-specific holiday lists that you can easily import. I checked the one for Vermont, and it’s legit, containing not only the Bennington Battle Day, but also Town Meeting Day.
There are also some crowdsourced calendar lists of varying quality, but I enjoyed browsing the list of options at WebCal.fi (transitioning to WebCal-.Guru as of this writing). Some of these calendars tell you when “golden hour” is at your latitude and longitude for optimal photography or can give you 500-plus “awareness days” that are suitable for planning library programming or social media posts. iCalShare seems to have as much spam as it does calendars, but if I were looking for a place to locate a list of anime characters’ birthdays, that would be it. At the extreme outer edge of this is Forekast, a crowdsourced “calendar of the internet,” which adds a Reddit-like upvoting system to a crowdsourced international calendar. A lot of it is nonsense, but it can give you a browsable place to see what movies are coming out soon, as well as more internet-only holidays, such as Unplug Day.
I know that people’s calendars—especially their work calendars—can seem devoid of joy. Finding ways to learn about the world around us, helping educate our patrons about local and distant events, and discovering new methods of connecting “this” calendar tool to “that” set of time-and-date information can sometimes raise the fun level, at least a little bit. Enjoy.