Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Long-term Planning for Library Programming

My former boss (actually, like 3 bosses ago) used to make everyone who wanted to suggest a library program fill out a form. This form asked why we suggested the program, how it helped fulfil the library's mission, and more stuff like that. At the time, I thought it was the DUMBEST FORM EVER. And maybe it was, but since then I've come to appreciate the impulse that went into that form: the idea that we ought to be thinking hard about every single program we plan.

Since right now we are trying to increase overall program attendance, it's easy to approach this by trying to schedule more programs. At times, it seems like this becomes rather haphazard. People contact us, and we schedule a program. We have an idea, so we go for it.

But this approach has serious problems. Here are some of the issues that can (and do) arise when we fail to create a long-term plan:

1. Events not spread equally between branches.
Some libraries in our system are larger than others. Some have nicer facilities, some are more centrally located, and some staff express more enthusiasm. It's easy for events to develop a drift; we get in the habit of putting our large events at one or two branches, or a particular manager is always clamoring for children's events, and before you know it, some branches are slammed with events while others are ignored.

2. Seasonal ebb and flow.
Summer is a crazy-busy time for our department, because of the Summer Reading Program. So here is how our year usually goes: We are crazy-busy in May and June, getting the summer straight. We're so exhausted from that effort that we plan very little for September. But in August/September, we bring out all our new ideas, and plan TONS OF STUFF for October and November. Then we get busy publicizing that stuff, so we don't plan anything for December and January, until we get busy with the Winter Reading Program and Black History Month. Enthused from our winter break, we go NUTS with the events for April and May. WE get so caught up in our April and May stuff that we don't plan for summer as early as we should, so May and June are crazy-busy...and it all begins again.

If we had a clear map of how many events should be held each month, and a sufficiently long-term calendar, we could create a nice spread of events, with something great happening every month.

3. Competition between events.
When we all just schedule whatever we feel like, it's easy to get into a situation where each person in the office has a pet project needing to be publicized in May. Then we end up in competition for budget and advertising. What event will be the newsletter cover story? What will be the first slide in the slide show? We could plan these things in advance, and we would not only market more effectively, we would reduce office tension.

4. Haphazard or slapdash array of program topics.
This is key. What percentage of our time and budget goes to children's programming as opposed to teen programming? How many of our programs are interactive instead of lecture-style? How much money are we spending each year on musical events vs. author events?

Not only do we need to know the answers to these questions, we need to know what we WANT the answers to be. We need to know if our behavior is in line with definite goals and guidelines. In short, we need a long-term plan.

Of course, a plan for distributing efforts across months, geography and genre is only a subgoal. The true issue, the true beginning of such a plan, is the role of events in the library's mission. But that's a topic for another day.

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