NELA 2014: Programming for Millennials

Cross-posted at the NELA conference blog.

Mixing It Up for Millennials: Library Programming for 20- and 30-Somethings  (11am)

In this panel presentation, three librarians shared their experiences creating library programs to attract that elusive 20s-30s age group. Carol Luers Eyman from the Nashua Public Library (NH) presented “A Night Out for 20-Somethings,” an after-hours event at the library where 20-somethings could meet each other and see what the city’s community groups and organizations had to offer. The event was from 6:30-8:30pm on a Friday night (after work, but “before the real parties started”). There was no alcohol, but library staff made the space look less “institutional” with tablecloths, (fake) candles, couches and chairs, a piano player, and refreshments. To promote the event, they went above and beyond the usual press release, contacting new teachers, young journalists, personal acquaintances, young library employees, older library employees’ kids, etc.; they also extracted patron e-mail addresses in the 20-29 age range and sent one e-mail notification. The “Night Out” attracted 62 attendees (not including the 39 who just wanted to get into the library, not there for the event).

“Make programming social.”

getlit_haverhillSarah Moser is in charge of programming for adults at the Haverhill Public Library (MA), and she said, “You never really know what is going to attract this group.” Art and music programs have done well; a Scrabble tournament and a community writers program flopped. The most successful regular program is the monthly book club, Get Lit. The library established a partnership with a local restaurant, the Barking Dog Ale House, where the group meets one Thursday evening each month. Holding the library program outside the library removes preconceptions about the library, and creates a looser social environment. Moser has had success in reaching out to authors on Twitter, where they are happy to re-tweet about book club events, and the group regularly attracts 10-15 people.

Kelley Rae Unger (Peabody Institute Library, MA), a former YA librarian, brought the concept of the Teen Advisory Board (TAB) to the realm of adult programming; she organized a 15-person focus group and created an Adult Programming Advisory Board, which meets 3-4 times a year; there is a mix of ages, interests, and genders. There was less enthusiasm for one-time or one-shot events, and more interest in multi-week or repeating events. Everyone on staff at Peabody runs some programming, in line with their interests (“teach what you know”), which include coffee roasting and beer brewing; volunteers from the community run programs also. They are active grant writers, and have funded many programs through grants. They have offered book clubs, programs about budget travel, a film discussion group, and cooking classes; in their Creativity Lab makerspace, they have offered silk screening, 3D printing, computer programming, Arduino, and woodworking. People register for events online, and events are promoted through a Constant Contact newsletter and the facebook page. Instruction is always free, though attendees may need to provide their own materials.

“If you own this story, you get to write the ending.” -Brene Brown

Not every program intended to attract people in their 20s and 30s will do so, but that doesn’t mean libraries should give up on this demographic. Involve community members in brainstorming, planning, and teaching; reach out and form partnerships with organizations and businesses in the community; and advertise creatively.

What cool library programs have you had? Share ideas in the comments.

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