Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What is Programming?

What is programming? For children, many people think of the children’s summer reading events and story times. And it seems that most libraries do offer these types programs. Some now offer movie screenings and craft days for the children that are tied to specific books. My own library has been offering a series of events for the children based on the American Girl book series. But what do we offer our adults? Most libraries, including my own, offer a book discussion group. With the advent of technology some libraries now offer computer training and movie showings for adults. What else is there and why is it important?

Lear (2002) discusses the history of programming in his book’s introduction and found that libraries in the United States have been doing programming of some sort since the late 1800’s. This included lectures, exhibits, art classes, games, concerts, and festivals (pp. xiii-xiv). This explains what libraries provide as programming but not necessarily what programming is? Lear also explored various definitions of library programming and determined that it was “a process by which the informational, educational, and recreational needs of patrons are met by bringing patrons into contact with the human resources best able to meet those needs” (p. xv). Robertson (2005) takes this a step farther by defining cultural programming as “programs and series of programs presented by libraries that seek to entertain, enlighten, educate, and involve adult and family audiences, primarily in the disciplines of the arts, humanities, sciences, and public policy or community issues. This type of programming is designed to elicit dialogue, discussion, and consideration of ideas and issues, as well as to further independent study” (p.3). These definitions show that programming is more involved than the monthly book discussion and should be explored in greater detail.

Lear (2002, pp. xvi –xvii) and Robertson (2005, p. 5) also discuss reasons why it is important for libraries to have programs.

· Gain visibility for the library
· Increase circulation
· Become a community center
· Reach people who might not come to the library otherwise
· Public goodwill
· Service to people who can’t afford to attend similar programs or workshops at other venues.

After reading through the available literature on adult programming I have learned that it is much more involved than leading a book discussion or even arranging a speaking event. Planning involves developing goals and objectives, determining a target audience and how best to reach them, choosing a theme, format and frequency, funding, finding the talent, marketing, and finally evaluation of the program (Lear, 2002; Robertson, 2005).

Long Overdue, a report prepared the Public Agenda based on a national telephone survey, discusses the public’s priorities. As they pertain to programming the respondents say that high priority should be placed as follows (2006, p. 24):

68% adult literacy programs
62% programs for senior citizens
51% providing job-searching assistance
43% provide meeting rooms for the use of community groups and for public activities
41% cultural programs or exhibits
30% book discussion groups
26% programs and services for business owners

Programming for adults is important and developing a calendar of events geared for your adult programs would benefit your library. Much of the literature on this subject is based on larger libraries with more staff and bigger budgets but the issue should be addressed in the small library as well.


Lear, B. W. (2002). Adult programs in the library. Chicago: American Library Association.

Public Agenda (2006). Long overdue: A Fresh look at public and leadership attitudes about libraries in the 21st century. New York: Public Agenda Foundation.

Robertson, D.A. (2005). Cultural programming for libraries: Linking libraries, communities & culture. Chicago: American Library Association.

Issues of Adult Programming

The main issues that affect a library’s ability to offer adult programming are:

Funding - Small libraries typically have small budgets. With priorities for funding programs that promote early literacy, it can be difficult to find extra funding for adult programs. One of the first steps to increasing your library’s adult programming would be to getting in on the budget. Hill (2008) found that of the four small town libraries she interviewed for her article only one had a line item in its budget for adult services programming (p. 8). Lear (2002) suggests that libraries seek additional funding from their Friends group. By documenting previously successful events the process of asking for additional funding can be made easier (pp.38-39).

Facilities – Small libraries may not have a large community room in which to have events. But a library can work a partnership with another facility in town that might have more space or invest in movable shelving that can be rearranged when a large gathering space is needed.

Participation – In small communities it can be difficult to draw the adult patrons into the library on their leisure time. Distance between home and the library building can be a factor as can busy family schedules. Hill (2008) noted that adults have “obligations that do not leave much time for anything else” and suggests that libraries be flexible “by not requiring advance registration or offering a range of program times” (p.8). When participation is limited at one event it becomes difficult to gain support for future events.

Access to resources – Much of the literature suggests finding performers through museums and colleges. In a rural area this may not be practical. Walvoord (2008, p.60) suggests tapping into non-profit organizations for volunteers that might be in your local area and that local businesses might provide a local expert for the free advertising that participating a library event would garner. On a quick exploration of the Internet, I was able to find that my state also had the Master Gardeners program that Walvoord recommends and this should certainly be an avenue available to many rural libraries. It is important for the small library to reach out to the local community for presenters. For example, in my library, we have a local resident who travels extensively. She has developed a regular following for her travelogues which she presents free of charge.

Staffing - Robertson (2005, p.5) found that only 47.1 percent of libraries believe that adult cultural programming was related to their library’s mission. This indicates that the level of commitment to programming in some libraries is still lacking. On a more basic level, a small library simply may not have the available staff time to properly develop cultural programming for adults. Hill (2008, p.8)) explains that some programs are planned four to six months ahead which leads me to wonder how a small library can afford the staff time to participate in programming.


Hill, R. (2008). Adult cultural programming in small town libraries. Indiana Libraries, 27(1), 7-9. http://vnweb.hwwilsonweb.com/hww/jumpstart.jhtml?recid=0bc05f7a67b1790e1916ca00094d315a10475c9c23db629a92280ad392a0da530f6200b3603b54c6&fmt=P

Lear, B. W. (2002). Adult programs in the library. Chicago: American Library Association.

Robertson, D.A. (2005). Cultural programming for libraries: Linking libraries, communities & culture. Chicago: American Library Association.

Walvoord, C. (2008, Summer). Go local: When planning adult and family programs. Texas Library Journal. 84(2), 60-61. http://vnweb.hwwilsonweb.com/hww/jumpstart.jhtml?recid=0bc05f7a67b1790e1916ca00094d315a10475c9c23db629aa577731b0151c2e4cd1dfda055008290&fmt=P

Can't afford an author visit? Try the Library of Congress

While I was exploring the Library of Congress recently I came across their webcast feature. They have many to choose from; there are authors http://www.read.gov/webcasts/ and other speakers and subjects http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/index.php

I could spend hours viewing these. This sparked an idea for me about using these as part of a program. If your library is lucky enough to have a projector that will hook up to a computer these webcasts could be shown to your patrons. I saw many current authors, David Baldacci, John Grisham, and Jane Goodall. These webcasts could be shown in conjunction with a discussion of the book the author is discussing in the webcast.

Another way for a small library to add something extra to its adult programming. This might be especially welcome in areas where many in the community do not have at home Internet access.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Exhibits as Programming: it can be easier than you think!

Several of the books and articles that I've been reading on Adult Programming suggest that a good opportunity for cultural programming is to have an exhibit. Your library can bolster its circulation by displaying books that correspond with the exhibit's subject matter. Robertson (2005) says to "think of an exhibition as a theme or framework for related programming" (p. 49). She also suggests sources for traveling exhibitions (p. 49) such as:

ALA Public Programs Office (http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/ppo/programming/currentpublic.cfm)

Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES); (http://www.sites.si.edu/)

One that we have used at my own library is TRACES (http://www.traces.org/mobileexhibits-new.html)

This traveling Bus-eum arrives at your doorstep ready to go. The exhibits are based on WWII history; we have had the Bus-eum visit our doorstep twice and would love to have them visit again. The patrons tour the Bus-eum which includes a talk by the tour leader/driver. We have had school classes walk over from our middle school and adults tour the exhibit between the school visits. Last year we read The Reader by Bernhard Schlink prior to the visit. Although the book did not exactly match the exhibit it did lend an opportunity to invite those patrons to the exhibit.

Does the idea of inviting a traveling exhibit intimidate you? Then think smaller.

I realized that my library has been having exhibits of a sort every year simply by displaying children's artwork during the Christmas season. The seniors in the area enjoy seeing the library decorated for the holiday and the children bring their parents in to find their art. Last summer we invited the school art teachers to provide artwork for display during the summer reading program. Again, we found that this became an event for the older adults in our community to come in and view. They really enjoyed seeing the talents of our young people on display and we also had many young families visiting the library to find their child's artwork. While we didn't tie this to a specific adult program it did provide a sense of community while they were on display. It was so well received that we will be decorating our library with children's artwork again this summer. Now I have to start thinking about how this can be developed into a program for adults. Maybe a multigenerational event with grandparents in a make-it and take-it art event.

Another way to use local talent for exhibits is to pluck some displays from the groups that are using your meeting spaces. For example, we have quilters and artist groups. A future program for us would be to pair an exhibit of quilts or local art with a workshop or two. One of the members of these groups might be willing to teach their art and this would be a program for the library involving only the cost of supplies.

See it really can be easier than we think. But it would also help to read through some of the planning guides that I have discussed in earlier posts for the fine tuning.


Robertson, D. A. (2005). Cultural programming for libraries: Linking libraries, community & culture. Chicago: American Library Association.

Adult Programming: Where to Start?

If you are like me, deciding what to do next after the book club is a major issue. Since we are talking libraries here it seems that the best place to start is with the books we have on our shelves (or can borrow from other libraries).

Some that I have found helpful are:

Why Adults Use the Public Library: A Research Perspective by Maurice P. Marchant

This is a great book to learn how adults use the library and the motivating factors behind their library usage. The findings could be used to determine avenues for future programming events or to perform a similar study of library use at one's own library.

Programming for Adults: A Guide for Small and Medium Sized Libraries by Raymond Ranier

This book takes the reader through the process of creating programs for adult patrons. It discusses designs, budgets, and marketing the programs. Types of programs discussed include educational programs, cultural programs, crafts, and book clubs.

Long Overdue: A Fresh Look at Public and Leadership Attitudes About Libraries in the 21st Century prepared by Public Agenda

The findings discussed are from a telephone survey conducted March 2006. In attempting to provide relevant adult programming events it is important to understand the public perception of the library. This report will give you some ideas on how the patrons see the library, knowing this can help you determine what you want to achieve by offering adult programming.

5-Star Programming and Services for Your 55+ Library Customers by Barbara T. Mates

As the baby boom generation ages this age group will become one of your largest participants at library programs. This book will help you understand who is in this group, what their special needs might be and how you might fashion your programs to appeal to them. Chapters include programming ideas, outreach services, marketing, and funding.

Adult Programs in the Library by Brett W. Lear

This book show that there is much more to programming than leading a book discussion or hiring a speaker. It details an in-depth process that starts with determining how programming will fit your library's mission, developing the necessary procedures, administration, and funding, before even beginning to choose a topic or audience. Then there is format, publicity, production and evaluation, oh my! This is a must read for anyone who wants to develop a serious healthy programming module for their library.

Cultural Programming for Libraries: Linking Libraries, Communities & Culture by Deborah A. Robertson

This book deals with moving beyond the generic book discussions into 'live' programming. This offers a way for local talent to showcase their arts and for the community to have new experiences. It explains how to find and present performances and exhibits while increasing your community's awareness of its library.

Monday, November 30, 2009

One issue of adult programming: How do you get them to come?

You plan an interesting adult program (at least you think it will be interesting).

You post flyers around your library; at the entrances, at the service desks, and insert them into the checked out books.

You advertise the program on the library's website and send press releases to the local newspapers.

And then the day of the program.....no one shows.

Has this ever happened to you? Is it what we all dread?

I have actually had this happen to me.

On one occasion, I had a very entertaining gentleman approach me with an offer to give a book talk about his new book. He had self-published and was anxious to share his book with others. He supplied copies of the book prior to the event. He supplied a short summary of the book for the press release and a poster of the book cover for the library display announcing the program. The local papers all ran the press releases for us (the papers not running the press releases is sometimes an issue but wasn't in this case).

And then the day of the program, the author arrived and the room was empty. I was embarrassed for both the author and the library. I think that our community missed out on an interesting program.

I have tried to determine what issues caused this.

1. The author was unknown.
2. It was a beautiful day on the lake. Timing can be an issue; this program was offered in the summer and my library is located on Lake Erie. Beautiful sunny Saturdays can be difficult for adult programming. Had this program been in March might there have been participants?
3. It was a combination author talk/reading and book signing. Does this scare away adults who think they will be pressured to buy a book? But with budgets being small, it is sometimes helpful to offer an author the booksigning opportunity in exchange for not having to pay them for speaking.

Any ideas? If I have this type of programming opportunity again I would like to have better success.

Please share your thoughts or similar experiences.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Community Wide Read

The National Endowment for the Arts has developed The Big Read program. There are many titles to choose from and the goal is to get your entire community involved in reading this one book. Libraries apply for grants that help pay for the events planned to promote the community involvement including a kickoff event, keynote event with author reading or lecture by a key biographer, discussions held at multiple locations, and other programs related to the book. For a small community the grants range from $2,500 - $7,500 and must be matched 1 to 1. This program includes educational and promotional materials. Find out more on their website http://www.neabigread.org/ Even if the matching grant requirement puts this program out of your budget exploring this site can give you ideas for ways to expand your book discussion into related programs, plus the titles approved for the program are all great reads for any book group.

Is The Big Read too big for you? Maybe you could try One Book Project. Just try to get everyone in your community to read one book and discuss it. The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress maintains a list of One Book Projects http://www.read.gov/resources/ Search for one in your state and you can contact that library for ideas on how to have one in your library.

The American Library Association has also provided “One Book – One Community: Planning Your Community-Wide Read” which is available online http://publicprograms.ala.org/orc/pdfs/onebookguide.pdf

Regardless of the size of your community, programming budget, or staff experience, your library should still be able to find some ideas here to encourage a community wide reading event.