Tag Archives: programming

What happens when you let teens take ownership of a program

Kendamas.A few of of my regular teens are really into Kendama. After school, there’s almost always at least one person practicing Kendama in the Teen Room. A few months ago, one of the teens on the advisory board asked if we could hold a Kendama tournament.

I had no idea how to run a Kendama tournament, but luckily, he did. One we picked a date for the program, he came up with the trick lists for the beginner, intermediate, and advanced competitions, and helped me get in touch with someone in our community who’d run a tournament last year. He gave me ideas for mini-games to play in between each division competition. He volunteered as a judge, and helped me find other volunteers to judge.

The tournament was awesome. The best part wasn’t the competition itself, though; it was watching all these teens who were passionate about something come together, give each other tips, cheer each other on, and build off of one another. Their enthusiasm was infectious. And it was awesome to see all these amazingly talented teens showing off their skills.

Another cool thing about the tournament: about two-thirds of the competitors were teens I’d never seen before. The teens who helped plan this event were the ones who spread the word and brought new people to the library. Will all of them become regulars at teen programs? No. But maybe a few will start coming to other teen events, or hanging out in the Teen Room practicing Kendama after school.

So, if you have teens who are interested in programs around something you don’t know a lot about, see if they’d like to plan an event. You know your teens; if they can handle the responsibility, it can be truly amazing to see what they do when given the chance. And you might just learn a thing or two about their passion; I bought myself a Kendama because it looked so fun, and I plan to be able to get through the entire beginner’s trick list by the time we hold our next tournament!

Have you let your teens plan any programs at your library? How did it go?


Organizing a prom dress giveaway

Project Fairy Godmother Prom Dress Giveaway.This month I organized the First Annual Project Fairy Godmother Prom Dress Giveaway at my library. I was overwhelmed and humbled by the positive community response — when we put out a call for donations, over 300 dresses came in, and the event was shared both in person and on Facebook and Twitter many, many times! This was truly a group effort, and I could not have done it without the help of many people. If you think an event like this would be good for your community, and have questions for me, please don’t hesitate to get in touch! And if you want another perspective, check out this blog post by the extraordinary Regina Townsend that gave me the idea for this program.


I started planning for our mid-March event in November. The first thing I had to do was make sure we had a place to store donated dresses. Thankfully, we have a lot of storage space in our basement, and were able to lay down plastic sheets so the dresses (stored in garment bags) would not get dusty. I also reached out to co-workers and community members to see if anyone had clothing racks we could borrow to store donations and display them the day of the event. Thankfully, word of the program spread to someone who suggested we talk to Community Hospital, who let us borrow some clothing racks that they use for their Coats for Caring program in the fall.


We began collecting donations just after New Years’ and continued up until the day before the event. Next year, I plan to give myself at least a week between accepting the last donations and holding the program. I was fortunate that Circulation and Maintenance staff were extremely helpful in collecting and storing donations. We collected dresses and prom-related accessories, including shoes, purses, jewelry, and shawls.

I also reached out to local businesses that provided prom-related services, to ask if they would be willing to donate anything. One local salon offered discount coupons, and another donated gift baskets to be raffled off. A local jewelry salesperson also donated a few pairs of earrings and rings. Finally, a staff member’s wife who does alterations volunteered to do free alterations at the event.


Promotion, promotion, promotion! I continued collecting donations, and advertised the event everywhere I could think of. In addition to the library’s social media, I sent flyers to my contacts at the local high schools, and our Marketing Coordinator promoted the program on the local radio station. The local paper contacted me and ran a front-page article about the event, which really helped spread the word. I’m also fortunate to have the student body president of the public high school on our Teen Advisory Board. He reads the announcements every day, and talked up the program in the weeks leading up to it.

I also started getting dresses cleaned in February. A local dry cleaner offered us a significant discount on cleanings, and was even kind enough to drop off clean dresses and pick up the next round of gowns at the library. They expressed interest in partnering with us again next year, and I look forward to working with them!

Finally, I arranged for a mix of staff and volunteers to help with the event.


I continued to promote the program and collect donations. Our Maintenance manager helped come up with a setup for the program room and built temporary changing rooms in the most impressive transformation of a storage room I’ve ever seen.

The day before, a volunteer and I spent the whole day sorting dresses by size, then by color within each size. I would not have finished on time without this volunteer’s help. As it is, we started at noon on a Saturday, and even with the help of two volunteers we were still getting things ready at 11:58. Next year, I’ll give myself an extra day to set up.

On the day of the event, I had volunteers working the “checkout” (all we asked was to see a high school ID), tracking how many dresses were given away (30 total) and what schools the shoppers came from; returning dresses that didn’t fit to their racks; helping girls as “personal shoppers”; and staffing the accessory tables.

We also had a red carpet and a photo booth just outside the program room. I’m debating whether to have these again next year or not; if I do, I think I’ll try to get the photo booth inside the program room, because no one really took pictures in their dresses. We also had giant thank you cards for our local partners for shoppers to sign as they left.

In all, this program was a lot of fun, and I consider it a big success for our first year. Working in a community where seventy percent of our students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, my goal with this event was to help our teens have a memorable prom without their having to stress over how to afford a dress. I look forward to hosting this event for many years to come.

Got questions about the Project Fairy Godmother Prom Dress Giveaway? Thinking of hosting your own giveaway? Let me know in the comments!

Can I get a library robot?

Sphero SPRK. I’ve been looking into possible STEM and STEAM programs recently, and I’d really like to lead some introductory coding programs for teens and tweens. There are plenty of free places to start, such as Scratch, Code.org, Code Academy, and Khan Academy. If you’re unfamiliar with these platforms, and are thinking about hosting a coding program, I recommend checking them out on your own. I had a lot of fun making Angry Birds blow up pigs in a Code.org hour of code and making cats dance with Scratch. All you’d need to use any of these for a program is a computer for every student.

However, I’d really like to bring robotics into a coding program, which brings me to Sphero. If you’re unfamiliar with Sphero, check out this video. There are several free apps for Sphero — the one I have my eye on is the Tickle app, which lets you write code for Sphero using blocks similar to Scratch. One of the things I like most about Sphero is that it can be used in programs for any age — younger kids can drive the robot without needing to write any code, kids can team up with peers or parents and learn to code together, teens can program the robot to navigate obstacle courses (and race to see who figures it out the fastest). I have so many things I’d love to try with Sphero, like a Maze Runner movie tie-in program, a challenge to create the most difficult obstacle course (and the code to navigate it), or a family game night with robot races. Seeing their code come to life in 3D, and not just on a screen, will be more engaging and encouraging for young coders.

And who doesn’t want a library robot?

I don’t have any first-hand experience with Sphero, but I hope to change that soon. Have any of you used Sphero before? What did you think of it? What other tech would you recommend for coding/robotics programs?

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?

What to do when no one comes


Photo by Flickr user VancityAllie

Last week I had my first zero-attendance program at the library. I’ve had low attendance before, but this was the first time that nobody showed up. It was a little disheartening; this was supposed to be the first in a series of Appy Hour programs where librarians and attendees share their favorite free and inexpensive apps related to a designated theme. My manager was really excited about the idea, and many people in the department thought it would be a great program.

So what happened?

It’s impossible to know the exact reasons why the first Appy Hour failed. It could have been the theme — I thought health and fitness apps would be great for tracking New Year’s resolutions, but maybe this community isn’t interested in that. It could have been the day I chose, which I realized only a week beforehand was the same day as several TV series’ season premiers. But I think the biggest reason was a failure to get the word out to the right people.

The library is not a field of dreams; building a program doesn’t mean they will come. What made advertising Appy Hours even harder is that the series was designed to draw people who don’t normally come to the library, or who don’t interact much with the library. Most of the marketing for Appy Hour reached those who already use the library. We posted on our blog, website, social media pages, and electronic signs throughout the building. I strategically placed fliers on tables where people use their laptops or tablets for work, and in the stacks near books related to mobile technology. I even wrote two press releases — one announcing the series and one with details about last week’s kickoff.

But the people who would theoretically come to Appy Hours likely never saw the fliers or signs in the library. If they visited our website, they probably clicked past the banner without even looking at it to get to our catalog or the database they wanted. They may not subscribe to the library’s blog, or like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter. And who reads the local paper anymore? Most of the target demographic for Appy Hours gets their news online, via links posted on social media, or through parodies like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

So what now? Do we write the series off and move on? It’s possible that there’s simply no interest in this type of program in this community, but I’m not ready to give up just yet, and neither is my manager. We’re adjusting the way we tackle publicity for February’s Appy Hour, and hopefully the theme (date night) will be a bigger draw than health and fitness, too. I’m still going to advertise in all the places that I advertised the first Appy Hour, but I’m also going out into the community. I made a list of all the places where I’d like to advertise, and I’m going to take an afternoon driving around town, asking business owners if I can leave handouts there or post something on their bulletin board. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  • Panera
  • Starbucks
  • Local university’s student center
  • Local university’s library
  • Orange Leaf (a yogurt place)
  • Local chocolate shop (since the theme is date night)
  • Payless
  • Meijer
  • Walmart
  • Target

Can you think of any other places to promote a program like this? What has your experience been with reaching this demographic?