Library Programs for Adults

One of my favorite things about librarianship is the culture of sharing. Libraries “do a lot with a little,” and we can’t afford to be reinventing the wheel all the time. If a librarian creates a display you admire, makes a useful handout, or runs a successful program, chances are she’ll be happy to help you duplicate or modify it for your library. So when some of us in the Adult Services department got a question from our former co-worker, an amazing all-around librarian who is now working in Adult Services, we were happy to help.

“The main part of my job is going to be programming.  I am trying to strike a balance between providing what the community has embraced in the past (book groups, movies, etc.) with new and innovative ideas.  Our director is new too and comes from an Adult Services background and is really invested in us trying out some new things.”

  • If there are ongoing programs (movie night, book club) that are already working, by all means keep those going.
  • You don’t want to try to do too much (or add too many new programs) at once and burn yourself out. Keep a list of all the good ideas you come up with or collect, and then you can refer to it when you want to try something new.
  • Do you have a programming budget? Will other library staff be helping you, or are you on your own?
  • Try to get ideas from the community – can you do a survey?
  • Can you partner with community organizations? What programs are already available elsewhere (at the senior center, etc.). Try to collaborate wherever possible, instead of competing/overlapping.
  • Go ahead and do something you’re interested in. Enthusiasm can be contagious!
  • Food programs tend to be popular. Even if you can’t cook in the library, can you assemble ingredients, or have a potluck, or discuss cookbooks or cooking tips?
  • Sign up for newsletters from libraries of a similar size so you can see what programs they are running and how you might adapt those (or use guest presenters). The Library Journal column “Programs That Pop” is a good source of ideas too, though some of those require a lot of staff hours.
  • Speaking of guest presenters, are there people in the community who would volunteer to run/teach a program? How can you support them?
  • Develop an evaluation form so that people who come to programs can let you know what they liked about it, what they didn’t like, how they heard about it, and ideas for other programs they’d like to see.
  • If a book club is too much commitment, try a book chat, where people can come talk about any books they’ve read, instead of one particular book. Plus, everyone gets lots of suggestions this way.
  • Be realistic. If you are expected to run multiple programs a month on your own, then create a schedule you know you can handle. Movies, book chats, a knitting group, or a discussion group on your favorite topic are things that shouldn’t take a lot of prep time but can be very popular. Mix in an author program, someone discussing bee keeping, or any interesting presenter you can find to round out the schedule.
  • Don’t feel bad about giving up on a failing program, even if people tell you how much they enjoy it! There is a big difference between people liking an idea for a program and programs people will drive to the library to attend. Unfortunately you don’t always know the difference until you try it.

Now it’s your turn, librarians who are reading this. What’s your best tip for programs? Where do you get your ideas? General advice, specific tips, and links to your favorite programming resources are all welcome. Please comment!

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