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Expect the Unexpected at Library Programs

by on December 31, 2018

After three decades as a librarian, I’ve learned that the unexpected is to be expected during most library programs. Like libraries across the country, the Miami-Dade Public Library System caters to all ages. Any topic can be a potential program. Success can be anything from impacting a few grateful ESOL students at a Conversation Circle to a full-on children’s festival for thousands. However, our best intentions about a dream program can emerge into a difficult to predict reality. Thus, my staff has learned “on the fly” to be flexible for whatever comes. Here are a few examples:

For many years, the sweet spot of Children’s Programming at my branch had been our weekly “Toddler Times.” This loud, boisterous, popular program is geared for presenters who can show big enthusiasm, work well with microphones, and understand crowd mentality while having consideration for individual’s needs. Noting the disability, a simple direct conversation cuts through to what a patron expects and how we can accommodate. The mom who wanted to be involved in Baby Storytime told staff, “I am new in town, and this is how I met a circle of friends after my first child was born. Participating on the floor is an equalizer. Hold my baby when I get up and down. That is all.”

Being open to negative feedback makes us self-assess and strive for betterment. After expanding our Wednesday program to create a Friday Bi-Lingual Storytime… boom! In came a crowd of 90 ready to sing a song, dance, learn from a flannel board, and hear stories. Quickly we realized that this program should be doubled-up to slice the crowd in half and allay interruptions. Secondly, this program differed because it appealed to grandparents and other relatives who used this time as a meet-up. To establish the focus, reduce chatter and reset the tone, presenters randomly stop to tell everyone, “Time to hug your child!” It is practically impossible for a disengaged parent to ignore this instruction.

Unlike children’s entertainment, Toddler Time is meant to teach caregivers to replicate literacy skills. Unfortunately some parents attend because they are seeking a bit of down-time away from their child. So ground rules that set guidelines are part of our script. This works well, except with patrons who show up midway and miss the introductions. Programming prep includes the logistics of props, signage, and staff scheduling. To overcome distractions, two different sound systems have been life savers. All children’s performers use headset microphones for story times. With our Basic Computer Classes for Seniors, a group wireless radio system puts the focus on the instructor and reduces side conversations. Stroller parking signs are posted in the hallway outside of the meeting room. Books being used at programs are doubled up so two staffers can show them from various angles in the room.

So as issues arise, we brainstorm. Welcoming guests when a program is more than half way completed shows professional flexibility and strength. We try never to deny entry after a program begins so most children’s programs require two staffers. One ensures that the area around the entry is kept open for latecomers to seamlessly merge with the crowd. When multiple patrons show up late repeatedly, we need feedback. When the program finishes, staff start the conversation by highlighting the best parts. Missing out on fun is a good future deterrent. We find out about fixable causes such as traffic, parkin,g or even an issues with conflicting naptimes. The goal is attendance, so problem solving these issues is in our best interest. No program is static and we try to accommodate.

People congregate where they are listened to and engaged. If you view risks as challenges, and are open to compliments AND complaints, your library will be a magnet. Your programs will be infused with vitality.