Reflections on library programming

Excited dog.

Photo by Flickr user edanley

When I first started working at my current place of employment, I tried to go for a healthy mix of fitting in with and challenging the conventions and practices in place there. Mostly I fit in, but I’d heard and read enough about new librarians bringing fresh perspectives that I felt it was my duty to examine the way things were done and, if the methods seemed strange or unnecessary or inefficient, ask if there was a better way to accomplish the same goals.

Most of my ideas were not so much changes as additions. The library was fairly light on adult programming when I started, and I sort of took it upon myself to become the programming librarian. I did this for a few reasons. First, I saw that there was more we could be doing with adult programs, and I knew I wanted to be the one to do it. Second, I loved coming up with new program ideas, and my managers seemed to like most of them. I loved (and still love) organizing everything; making promotions; writing press releases, blog posts and social media posts; and learning more about my new community by partnering with various speakers and authors to bring everything together. Finally, I was good at it. My managers liked my ideas, I was getting good attendance, and I’d carved a niche for myself in my new workplace. Whenever a phone call or email came in from someone who wanted to present, everyone knew to transfer or forward it to me.

Lately, the library has fallen into a programming rut. We’ve had exceptionally low attendance, and the device drop-in sessions that our digital services coordinator planned haven’t been popular, despite the fact that we get questions about tablets and eReaders pretty frequently at the reference desk. Part of it may be the weather — snow has closed the library four days this year, it was below zero for more than eight days in January (http://www.noaa.gov/), and even when the weather wasn’t bad the roads often still were. (It still amazes me at how poorly this region handles snow, given the amount that we get. So many roads simply don’t get plowed.) But I’m sensing a trend, and I’d like to curb it.

I’ve graduated from the honeymoon stage of my time as the programming librarian. It’s not all new and easy and fun all the time. I’m working on bigger, more involved programs — a series of Appy Hours whose roll-out was as disappointing as that of healthcare.gov (too soon?), the Adult Summer Reading Program, and (this is still in the development stage) a community read possibly culminating in an author visit. And as exciting as these big projects are, I worry that my co-workers and I may be the only ones who are excited about them.

So what’s the solution? We’ve tried handing out evaluation cards at programs, asking what people would like to see from programs. The response is always vague and unhelpful, if we get a response at all. We could post surveys or polls on our blog and social media pages, but I think those surveys will only reach a fraction of the community. And they’ll reach the fraction we’re already reaching, not the people we’re trying to reach.

Focus group.

Photo by Flickr user Scott Maxwell

After a six-hour college fair that saw three prospective students, my assistant manager and I had an impromptu brainstorming session. I threw out the idea of having a community focus group meet to discuss library programming and services. We would reach out to representatives from local schools, colleges, hospitals, restaurants, and churches; from the YMCA, the police, the local casino, the local gaming store, the local employment center, local banks, and the local government — just to name a few. We would ask all of them what they and the people they work with would like to see from the library — and how we can make it happen.

This is all still in its earliest planning stage, and we’d have to get the right community leaders on board, but I plan to take this idea to my manager and, if she likes it, the Programming Team. I think getting the community more actively involved in library programming could be more effective than just having a group of librarians try to figure out what will and won’t work.

What has your experience with programming and community feedback been?

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