Reflections on Program Planning

In exploring the module on Planning for Particpatory Services, I couldn’t help but compare the advice that our esteemed professor gave in his lecture and in the readings with how I’m currently approaching programming in my position as an Adult Services Librarian.

In the world of library staff, I am the quesstential freshman, having just started my position in April. Prior to that, I had just been sitting on the sidelines, absorbing what classmates at SJSU and friends were doing in their professions and observing the newest trends in libraries and programming by reading articles and stalking library websites and social media profiles.

I came into my new position with plans to “change the world” and bring new ideas and innovations to my rural (and somewhat conservative) western Colorado library. After all, if it had been done at other libraries–even if they were bigger, with more substantial budgets, in more progressive cities–surely it could be done in mine. I guess you could say that I was caught up in “library lust”. Not only technolust as described and defined by our professor but in the act of seeing and comparing my library to those around it or even those that I’d only seen through the limited online lens. I wanted to accomplish big things, to make a real impressive mark on my library and department, to bring services and programs into the 21st century. Be gone outdated shelf labeling, hello modern shelf wraps. I wanted to do a plethora of cutting-edge and captivating programming such as online trivia contests, cooking demonstrations, and book talks. In short, I wanted my library to be a part of the latest and greatest.

Reality hit me in the face, partially thanks to COVID-19 restrictions and also in the form of budgetary limitations and established policy and parameters. Not wanting to push the envelope too much too soon, I had to turn down the dial a bit and work within the framework that was available to me. That’s not to say that my superiors weren’t supportive of some of my ideas. An online trivia contest was attempted, and bombed, miserably with only one patron expressing interest. My idea for cooking demonstrations was echoed by a colleague who has since had a very popular set of live cooking events featuring local chefs. Other ideas just weren’t possible given technological constraints and just overall incompatibility with the library’s programming goals and perceived needs of the community.

I have had to embrace my library’s program planning checklist which aims to get one to think about all the steps that go into successful program implementation–from considering time and resources to how best to promote the program. Sadly, even after careful planning and consideration, many of the programs I was super excited to implement have either not come to fruition or have been canceled due to a lack of interest. I came up with the idea to try an online movie club that utilized an online streaming platform, Kanopy, that our library already offered to patrons. My justification for offering this program was that usage of Kanopy had sky-rocketed recently due to COVID closures and users wanting access to movies from home. Seeing the increase led me to believe that there might be an interest in communal watching and discussing movies. My idea was that members of the Kanopy Klub would meet to pick a theme and vote on a movie to watch, everyone would watch the movie on their own and then come together via Zoom to discuss the movie and share a sense of community with others. Great concept, right? And maybe, in a different setting, it would’ve been successful, but in my library’s community, it just didn’t take off. Perhaps it was too much tech for a majority of our patrons (too much too fast) since we librarians spend a good deal of our time helping patrons troubleshoot how to download and use various platforms like Kanopy, Libby & Overdrive and for some, logging into an email from one of our public access computers is almost a foreign concept. Perhaps the thought of meeting online using an unfamiliar platform scared some away. Maybe the event was not advertised well, even if it was advertised across all the usual channels (Facebook, Twitter, library website, event calendar, in-house kiosks, and flyers)–maybe the right populations were not targeted successfully. Not only do we have to try to anticipate the needs and trends in library service and programming, but we also have to be sure that while we aim to introduce the latest and greatest, we don’t lose sight of our users and where they are. The latest and greatest might not be where we’re at, and that’s okay. We can redefine technology and innovations so that they match the community we serve. Not ready for AI? Cool, maybe we can introduce wireless printing, 3D printing, or a makerspace concept. Pacing is super important so that we don’t leave our users behind in our technolust dust. As pointed out by Dr. Stephens, technology doesn’t automatically make a library cool, as much as it might be super cool to witness. Any and all technology embraced by a library should be appropriate, have a mission, a defined purpose, and a goal to enhance the library’s offerings.

I attempted to not to fall into some of the traps of programming by not overthinking my programming idea but instead developing a solid plan and going forward. In not embracing technology “just because” but in tying it to an existing service, I figured I was golden. Embracing not only using Kanopy but also Zoom, I figured it was an opportune time for the library and its users to combine a couple of very popular and widely used technologies.

Even with the best of intentions, the most well laid out plans, doing our best to anticipate needs and trends, things will inevitably backfire or bomb. Still, one has to keep trying, keep embracing the chaos, remain flexible, keep seeking and investigating options for being new and engaging programs to users. Gambling on what will attract users will always be just that…a gamble. We’ll win some, we’ll lose some. As Chris Anderson wisely said, “A future-proof library makes no assumptions about the information landscape of tomorrow”.

So, in summary, go forth…plan, embrace, and adopt technology and introduce some amazing participatory programming ideas. Just be sure to take a breath and evaluate where your community is at and ensure the programming matches where they are or maybe pushes the envelope, just a bit. We want our patrons to continue to think of the library as keeping up with the trends, to offering next-level programs and services and to, to an extent, be in awe of what we’re doing…but, we also want them to “get” what what we’re offering and where we’re going. There has to be a balance…one that is carefully calculated.

2 thoughts on “Reflections on Program Planning

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience as a new librarian. I also have been taking classes and sitting on the sidelines with no actual library job to try and implement what I have been learning. I just got a new job at our local elementary school so now I am ready to jump in and save the world! Thank you for the reminder that even the most enthusiastic and engaged librarian runs into real life constraints around budgets, culture, and user needs. I am just starting my new position this week and I need to remind myself to take it slow. Bravo for trying out new programming and responding to your community – we don’t know until we try. Wonderful reflection. 🙂

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