Authors, Bats, and Space: Library programming lessons for (and from) a beginner

As I mentioned back in early August, I’ve been trying to relaunch my library’s adult programming. Since then I’ve held two programs, set up a third, and sketched out ideas for 15 or so more. I’ll probably learn so much more as time goes on, but I thought I would record some of the lessons I’ve learned so far. Remember, I’m a beginner, so don’t laugh when it comes to my relative ignorance. I will say that I had nightmares about both thanks to all the stress. This has made it really difficult to get excited about planning events, but really I just have to learn to stop putting so much pressure on myself. As Woody Allen says, “80 percent of success is showing up.” Just by having programs, I am calling our programming at least an 80% success, especially since we had roughly zero last year. While it is up to me to get that number as high as I can, it’s nice to rely on at least some measure of success just by having an event for people to show up to. Now I only have 20 more percent to go to reach my lofty goals for myself, so wish me luck!Woody-Allen1

Programs

  • In August, I held a Local Authors Garden, which was a showcase of 12 local authors. Why call it a garden, you ask? Have you ever been to a garden? I, myself, have spent a ton of time at our local botanical gardens. While I visit certain sections every time, I sometimes ignore others or explore a section for the first time. I have no plan when I go, though. I simply explore what’s there, often stumbling over a new area when I had really just intended to spend most of my time reading a book in the zen garden. I wanted to capture that feeling, except having a diverse mix of authors and their books being the attractions. I hoped this would get exposure for authors, but also introduce patrons to unexpected gems.
  • Just last week, I held a Celebrate Bats! event. The event focused on providing basic facts about bats, while also providing a way for every person to help support the local bat populations, namely through bat houses. I invited the owner of a Wild Birds Unlimited store, which sells bat houses, to speak. Luckily for me, the owner has built up a lot of knowledge about bats over the years and was able to share a lot of that with patrons.  We had fewer than 20 attend, but everyone loved it and each person got to chat with the owner without anyone feeling rushed. The next day, our director got an email from a patron encouraging us to have more programs like that. I’m hoping to make that happen.
  • Finally, a member of NASA’s Lunar Orbiter Project and Viking Project recently wrote a book about those key early space missions. He will be coming in December to share stories from his book, A Bunch of Plumbers: The Unsung Heroes of the American Space Program, as well as sell and sign copies. He was actually one of our local authors from the August event and I found him particularly fascinating when I stopped by his table to talk. Space is a hot topic around here, thanks to NASA facilities and labs located in our area, so I am hoping he will draw a good crowd.

Lessons

  • When it comes to attendance, marketing is everything. If patrons don’t know about the event, no one will come. If people don’t understand what exactly will be offered, a good number won’t come or won’t stay when they realize that they didn’t know what the event was. Which leads me to my next lesson.
  • Understand and convey what the event is and who it is for. You need to be able to convey this to patrons, as well as coworkers, so that you don’t end up with a ton of kids at an adult event, for example. It didn’t end up being a huge problem for the Celebrate Bats! event, because when people asked, we clarified that it was meant for adults. But more targeted marketing could have gone a long way in keeping patrons from being confused.
  • Make connections. One thing I didn’t quite expect is that event programming breeds more event programming. My next program was a direct result of my previous author program. And encouragement from the community after the bat event got my mind buzzing with ideas for similar programs. In fact, I’m cooking up a Snakes in Virginia program for next spring that will have similar education and preservation themes as the Celebrate Bats! event. I’m on a mission to rescue misunderstood animals from all the haters!
  • Numbers matter, but not a much as you would think. I can’t claim that lesson for myself. Mina from The Ramblings of a Jedi Librarian shared it with me on a different post. But she was totally right. While both events had fewer numbers than I would have hoped, attendees and presenters raved about the events and actively encouraged me to plan more. While the library director was initially disappointed in the numbers, supportive and encouraging comments from those involved have swayed his opinion of programming being just about numbers. At least, I hope so!

I’ve got more to learn, of course, and I look forward to it. And don’t worry. I’ll keep posting programming updates as I go!

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