Thoughts on Library Programming for Adults

About a year and a half ago, I took over the responsibilities for adult programming at my little library. At the time, it was a mixture of a few regular monthly programs along with the occasional one night special class or presentation. I set out to offer a wide range of topics and programs; as an ongoing endeavor, I’d say I’m successful. As I’ve been wanting to write a post on the topic for awhile and got a nudge to do so from the Zen Master of Adult Programming Janie Hermann on Twitter, I’ll give it a shot.

Programming is a lot like juggling.

You have keep a multitude of objects aloft at the same time. Like the plethora of items that people juggle, each has its own needs to remain aloft and can require a certain level of care in doing so. How you catch and toss a tennis ball doesn’t matter as opposed to a bowling ball, knife, or chainsaw. Likewise, programs can be an easy booking with not much setup or a series of protracted steps to arrive at the final product you want.

Booking a program isn’t always the first step. Finding programs, free or paid, can be the first real time consuming activity that goes into this endeavor. There are plenty of free programs out there between governmental agencies and non-profit organizations. The local health board or a group like Habitat for Humanity have staff members who make presentations for the public, either as part of their public service duty or as a means to spread the word of their mission. From my own experience, I have found local residents who are subject experts who are willing to come to the library to share what they know (both paid and unpaid). It’s just a matter of knowing where to look.

It’s also a matter of being receptive to those approaching from the outside. Program proposals come in all shapes and sizes, from an in-person presentation to letters and emails to library member word of mouth. I’ve gotten some great presentations from all three sources. It’s important to verify their credentials and references (really, you don’t want some random guy babbling on about trains because he liked them when he was five), and ultimately it can be an excellent source of library programs.

Once a program is scheduled, the juggle continues on with publicity. It’s important to advertise in your own place as well as in local media outlets and relevant community spots. Flyers can take many forms from the letter sized ones that you staple to a bulletin board to quarter page handouts you give people when they check out material. The local and regional newspapers sometimes have community calendars either in print or online that people use to find out what is going on in their area. A press release is a snappy introduction to the program that you want people to attend that gives them all of the details about the program as well as the time, date, and location. If a program is geared towards a certain group (teen, seniors, kids, etc.), the ability to put publicity out in those areas is also key. This includes social media outlets and go beyond any library Facebook page or Twitter feed; some communities have their own online groups. I post regularly on my town’s Facebook group to let people know what is going on at the library.

If the program is a paid gig, this is where the fabulous payment paperwork happens. Since there are different policies in place all over the place, I’ll just say “Do it in time so the people are paid on time.” Whether that it before the program, the time, or afterward depends on your situation. Otherwise, even with an unpaid gig, you may want to consider an honorarium or gift card to compensate people for their time if they are really going all out for you.

At some relevant point between booking and the actual date of the program, be sure to find out any seating, tables, or AV requirements for the presenter. This information may need to be relayed to another who is setting up the space for the program (or in my case, me). Getting the space ready is a small but important step in the programming juggle.

As the date approaches and if the program has a registration, it is important to remind people of their attendance. Taking the time to write the email or make the call can insure that people will actually show up especially if they signed up for it more than two weeks in advance. I have never had anyone yell at me for providing them with a reminder so it’s a good practice. Also, if there is a waiting list, it can lead to last time cancellations that move people into the program.

Whether you are physically there for the program or let coworkers handle it is a very contextual situation. Certain programs really do need you there to make sure everything goes off right; most of the time it can handle itself. It really does depend on what the program is, who the presenter is, and how complicated it is.

In wrapping up the program, you can analyze it for the future. Did it get the attendance that you hoped for? Was the time and day of the week good? How was the presenter? Was it a good use of staff time and library resources? Should I arrange for this person to come back again? There are a ton of other questions that can be asked, but these are the most basic.

Even this analysis, it is a matter of wrapping up. For any program (paid or unpaid), I always make it a point to call or email the presenter to thank them. I get some feedback from them about how it went and any questions they have for me. If payment arrangements still need attending to, I make sure it’s all set.

And then, as they say, it’s on to the next.

Programming is like juggling. The more you do it, the more things you can keep going at the same time. You will drop some things, you will completely miss, and you will mishandle something. It’s just the way it goes and the lessons that you’ll get over time through practice. But once you get going, you can take any budget and make it into something amazing for the whole community. There is programming out there for everything. It’s just a matter of grabbing and getting it.

If you have tips of your own for programming, add them in the comments.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Library Programming for Adults

  1. Well, shoot, Andy, there’s not even anything in here to be curmudgeonly about. About the only tip I’d add is that it’s helpful to get input from people unlike yourself about what they want to see. I’d have a bunch of programs that middle-aged, highly educated white guys want to see — which might be the same as what others want to see, but might not. One of our programming people in the distant past believed that everyone had a range of electronics at their disposal and programmed accordingly. A disaster.

  2. Hey Andy, I think you’re on the ball with pretty much everything here, especially the paragraph that starts “In wrapping up the program…” So many times I’ve seen librarians do programs and then neglect reflecting on them at all, thereby learning nothing for the future (read: making exactly the same silly mistakes over and over).

    I actually wrote a longish post a while ago about promoting library events that has way more tips than I could post here. I think it’s worthwhile reading for new programming librarians.

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