Artwork by John LeMasney, lemasney.com
Today I’m participating in Show me the Awesome: 30 Days of Self-Promotion, co-hosted by Kelly, Sophie, and Liz. All this month, librarians are showing us what makes them awesome. Thank you for this wonderful series–I’ve gotten a lot out of reading the posts so far. If you are interested in seeing posts from some awesome librarians, I’ve linked to Kelly and Sophie’s intro posts above.
I work in the Youth Services Department in my library, which means interacting with babies, kids, tweens, and teens on a daily basis. To avoid saying “babies/kids/tweens/teens” in this post, I’ve chosen the term “young patrons” which includes anyone from birth to 18.
I believe that patrons are the future of libraries. Sure, someday we might go completely digital and the shelves will be empty, but that doesn’t mean the library will be. Programs are one of the most exciting parts of library life because they provide the opportunity for people to get together, make connections, and learn. So, what’s the best way to promote your awesome programs to your community? (because, after all, it might be the most awesome plan in the world, but if no one shows up, it won’t matter).
1. Listen to their opinions and try to incorporate them as much as possible
Some of their ideas will be inspired and fantastic—ideas you never would have come up with on your own. Other ideas will be crazy (and, in most cases, not feasible for the library setting). If the ideas are doable, by all means, try to implement them! This will give your young patrons a greater sense of involvement and even a sense of ownership for the program. If the idea is way out there (reading on the roof of the library comes to mind), applaud the creativity of the idea and explain why it isn’t feasible at this time (or ever). Sometimes crazy ideas have a good idea at the center, so if you can remove the more outlandish aspects, there might be something great there. So, maybe reading on the roof is out, but reading on the front lawn might be an excellent plan.
2. Be flexible
What do you do if you’ve planned a book club meeting and hardly anyone has actually read the book? Don’t despair! I think that it’s important to be prepared for a program, but flexible enough to throw that plan out the window and talk about a book that everyone has read, or ask everyone for one reading recommendation. It may not have taken the turn you had expected, but it’s still a great book club meeting, because the group is sharing a love of reading and discussing books. Go with it.
3. Don’t have a specific outcome in mind at the beginning
This goes along with #2. I always try to have more activities than I need in case something doesn’t work. I bring an agenda to most programs, mostly to keep myself organized and to make sure that I don’t forget to share important announcements with the group. Lately, I’ve noticed that I usually have an activity or two left over due to a later start time or an activity early on that captures their interest (and our time) more than I expected it would. Instead of being disappointed that we didn’t get through everything on “my plan”, I take it as a compliment that the kids were so absorbed in what they were doing, we didn’t have time for everything. There will be a program in the future where you can use leftover ideas (or repeat activities that were a big hit the first time around)
4. Give your patrons control
Young people are busy. They have soccer practice, piano lessons, drama club, and a million other things to fill their schedules (not to mention homework). So, why would they want to take time out of their lives to come to a library program? They’re not going to get in trouble if they don’t go. It’s not required. And that’s exactly what gives a library program the advantage. There are no requirements.
Here’s an example from my library:
When the 5th grade book club members moved up to 6th grade last year, they grew out of the age bracket for the book club (which spans grades 3-5). They needed something different, and not necessarily an older version of book club. So, I lobbied for an undefined middle school group that would meet once a month. With the support of management, we had our first meeting. The program was new and unformed, and even though I had many ideas that I would like to explore (Graphic novel club! Short story discussions! Read-a-thon!) I held back and asked the kids what they wanted from the group. I tried to leave as many of the decisions as I could up to them. What should we name the group? What is our purpose? What would we like to accomplish?
I found out that a couple of them wanted to read a book each month to discuss, but the majority was not interested or did not have time for this. The group included amazing artists, filmmakers, musicians, and scientists. All of them were avid readers. The group was named (after much debate) The Bibliophile Read-a-force.
We are still finding our way and trying to decide where we want to go. This month, we will be participating in a 6 hour Read-a-thon fundraiser, which will benefit the group. When we start up meetings again in the fall, we’ll have our own budget to make movies, draw comics, or do whatever else strikes our fancy.
I still suggest ideas, but I’m careful to judge their reactions and let my idea serve as the jumping off point. For example, the Read-a-thon idea was mine, but I thought they would want to do a 2-3 hour session. Boy, was I wrong! They convinced me that 6 hours was much better, and we went with their decision.
It may not be realistic to completely hand over program planning to young patrons, but they will love the chance to have a say in what goes on whenever possible. Letting them name the group, create a logo and slogan for it and give their opinions about activities is like saying “I want to hear what you think.” Giving them a chance to participate will make them understand that the library belongs to the community. It’s also a good way to ensure attendance. After all, how can you miss a program that you helped create?
5. Remind yourself of the program’s purpose:
-to have fun
-to learn (without adhering to learning results)
-to foster a sense of community
-to give patrons a chance to actively participate.
Making sure to keep all of these points in mind will ensure that:
Patrons will promote programs they enjoy
It can be challenging to promote library programs, especially when there isn’t much of a budget for it. Using the library’s website and facebook page with the occasional radio or TV ad is a good place to start, but I’ve found that patrons will promote programs they enjoy to friends and family. Pretty soon, a small group of kids has grown to include their friends and siblings (plus others who have heard about the program through other means). When thinking about program promotion, never underestimate the power of word of mouth.