Zen and the Art of Library Programming

Well, as usual, I find that I get so busy at work that I have little time or motivation to keep up this blog. A whole bunch of stuff has kept me busy, but one thing has kept me busy more than others: Library programming.

Programming is the joy and bane of many a librarian, and I am no different. Going above and beyond to offer that next level of service for our patrons is important, but the stress of planning a program can be overwhelming. How will I decide what will draw a crowd? How do I get a speaker to share their knowledge, hopefully for free? Will anyone show up? Will someone complain to the director that my program sucked and they plan to never come to the library again because of it? (I’ve had an actual nightmare about that one!)

And yet, when a program is successful, it feels amazing. And really, as long as one person gets one thing out of a program, it’s a success? Right? There are many ways to rate a program, so many in fact that the topic warrants its own blog post (or many). Thinking about how to define “failure” in terms of programs can be problematic, but worse is refusing to have a program because you are afraid of the many ways a program can be deemed a failure.

According to a chapter in the Library Innovation Toolkit: Ideas, Strategies, and Programs that aims to incorporate Zen teaching into library program planning:

“Nonattachment helps us to try out new ideas even if we may fail, to freely share and collaborate, and to move on when necessary.” p. 9

If you don’t define your identity by your ideas for a program, then it isn’t a huge hit if your program isn’t a success. Why is this important? For me, I find planning programs to be a bit paralyzing. I immediately become a hundred percent committed to and excited about each program idea, often causing me to think of all the possible ways it can (or in my mind, will) fail. I don’t want to see something like that fail, so I sometimes just give up and don’t plan the program at all, choosing instead to stay in the safety net of the tried and true programs that previous colleagues have found successful here.

But this sort of thinking severely limits innovation. Our lives are built around the idea that through failure, we learn. So programming is all about learning to face the fear and being okay with failing. With that in mind, I’ve planned two programs, one in August and one in October. One features local authors and one educates patrons about the importance of bat populations (Get it? Halloween? Bats? Never mind). One or both may fail, but the important thing is to try. Strike that. The important thing is to do:

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3 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Library Programming

  1. I’m going to let you in on something I’ve learned over the last 14 months, just because only a few people show up, doesn’t mean it bombed, and vice versa. I have to have two teen and two tween programs a month, and I over see weekly storytime and elementary age programs, so that’s a lot of planning going on between myself and my assistant. Yet, some programs are hit and miss. I thought for sure I’d have a TON of kids at a Star Wars party I did in May right after May the Fourth (we were closed on that day so I did it on our next scheduled program day), but guess what? I didn’t. Yet, the kids had a blast! They loved playing with my old blaster and lightsaber props over the games and activities I had. The things I get a lot of kids for are recent movie adaptations of YA books and gaming stuff. I’m figuring out that’s my market. It might take you a while, but you’ll find out what works at your library eventually. You just have to try a mix of old and new school stuff. I’ve also found that my more successful programs are also ones that draw in my small group of regulars, they participate, talk about school or what they are reading, and have fun. To some, that might not be a success because it’s a small group of kids, but success isn’t always quantifiable in numbers, even if we try to make it be. You also have to remember to do what you like or would have liked at the age your are planning for, if you have a passion for it, the kids will usually enjoy it more because your enthusiasm will rub off on them.

    By the way, do you do adult or youth programing?

    Good luck in all your programing.

  2. I do adult programming, although I also do book-talks and information literacy presentations to local high schoolers. I’m just not entirely sure what would appeal to the majority of my target audience, but I guess the important thing is to just start offering events. I just want a robust set of programs so that everyone has a reason to love the library like I do!

    And thank you for your words of wisdom!

  3. Pingback: Authors, Bats, and Space: Library programming lessons for (and from) a beginner | Beta Librarian

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