A week ago today, I attended a webinar on adult library programing (“Adult’s Just Want to Have Fun: Adult Library Programming;” I’ll add a link when the archive is available). The presenter, Audrey Barbakoff from Bainbridge Island Library of the Kitsap Regional Library system, brought up several good points and her thoughts got me to thinking. Thus, this will be the first post of several over the next few months where I’m going to address programming issues.*
Barbakoff’s focus was on younger adults (twenty- to forty-somethings) as a problem she noted within her library was that this age group did not frequent the library unless they had children. Thus she believed this population was undeserved and made it her goal to draw them into the library.
One of her main points was that this age group preferred hands-on activities with a social element included over lectures, something my past research on children’s and senior services also discovered (yes, that will be addressed more in future posts). She found that activities one would not do at home, often due to lack of space or sheer scale, were most popular. For example, crafts are not just for kids. Adults like to make things too. She found the maker movement to be a great place to begin for this activities, as one could make a plethora of items from jewelry to spa products to cleaning products. She also harkened back to this core idea for creating science experiment programs.
Another of Barbakoff’s main points was that a librarian should not be afraid to adapt activities meant for one age group to another. During the webinar, she mentioned how there was a children’s activity the adults asked to have adapted to them. I can’t off-hand recall what it was, be she did adapt it to great success. Her other example was that she once planned a murder mystery event (I’ve planned one of these in the past for my undergraduate honors program) for the adults and the teens asked for one too. Her response was the create family friendly version that catered to all age groups.
Barbakoff also discussed two traditional programming methods: book discussion lists and battle of the books. I’ve personally seen both done before, including outside of a library setting (my undergraduate political philosophy club, for example, read and discussed treatises and other political works). Per the former, lists of books are created and everyone gathers together at a set time to discuss the books. I’ve also seen this done online in groups via Goodreads’ Groups and it could be adapted to other online methods (see post on video conferencing). On the latter, usually a book that is turned into a movie is picked and the two versions are compared and contrasted.
Lastly, Barbakoff introduced the idea of taking programming outside the library. She has successfully done this by hosting a book group on a local ferry once a week. While given time I could probably think up and/or research enough other ideas for programming outside the library, off-hand hosting programs at assisted living and skilled care facilities come to mind. So does a librarian hosting a program at a school that lacks its own library, a sad fate some rural schools face. Conducting programming in this manner helps to introduce library resources to those that otherwise might miss out and may lead them to enter the library at a future point.
Now let us compare these ideas to the traditional library programming. Most story times and crafting events are targeted towards children and teens. The most popular activity solely for adults seems to be lectures or other speaker events, often led by popular authors, celebrities, local professors, or community leaders. Classes and workshops have been frequently offered to older children, teens, and adults. Popular topics include computer use, specific computer programs, other technology tools (ex. digital cameras or e-readers), genealogy tips, and job searching assistance. Other periodic programming might include book sales and trivia nights to raise money for the library. Notice the difference? These are more passive activities that require listening more than anything. Adding in programming that is hands-on and social adds a fun, new element to the library.
With so many saying the library is in the decline, why not show the library is more than books? It’s the truth. Maybe before the advent of the digital era, one could say that was true. Now, the library is place where the community gathers. It is the place one goes for reference and research help when the internet will not suffice or the individual lacks an internet connection or computer (again, stressing rural America here). It is the place where children can go to safely learn after school or during the summer. It is a place where adults of all ages can gather to share ideas and gain knowledge. Librarians themselves are more than keepers of the books; they mange the electronic resources (yes, to those who may not realize it, the databases and OverDrive you use cost thousands or tens of thousands dollars to license) and are there to assist the patrons they serve.
And keep in mind, programming is not just limited to public libraries; academic and special libraries also offer programs. For example, my undergraduate university has sponsored a weekly speaker series for the last six+ years. The library where I served as a graduate assistant brought in both lecturers and musicians on a regular basis. The archive where I volunteered offers speaker events (on- and off-site) and behind-the-scenes tours related to what was currently on exhibit and conducted outreach programs to local schools and universities.
If you work in a library, what kind of programs does your library sponsor? What do the patrons think of these? If you are a frequent library patron, what activities does your library sponsor that you or a family member enjoy? To all, do you have any ideas for a great library program?
*While I have yet to be in a position to do much library programming–just a few workshops–, I have conducted extensive programming for student organizations throughout my undergraduate and graduate years I can draw ideas and tips from.