Today many school and public libraries are dealing with budget cuts. Unfortunately, hiring outside performers is often the first thing to go. With a little ingenuity, there are many ways to bring a wide variety of performers to your library for little or no money.
Your local and regional parks departments can be a wonderful resource. Look to surrounding communities as well as your immediate town or city, because they are often eager to visit. In my county the different departments offer everything from traveling animal ambassadors to naturalists, and from storytellers to historical interpreters.
I’ve booked programs on local wildlife for elementary age children, and ambassadors from the petting zoo for the preschoolers.
Another get resource are local and regional museums. For example, my county has a mobile exhibit housed in a converted bus. The museum waives the customary fee since we are a fellow governmental agency. Further afield, museums in surrounding counties offer outreach educators who will conduct specialized programs, often for free as well.
Your county Extension Office is another place to look for speakers. Master Gardeners usually have a speakers bureau; there are youth educators who offer programs for kids and parents.
High schools are teeming with talent. We’ve utilized our high school DJ Club to run dance parties (the teens come with a complete light and sound system!). In the winter months the Madrigal choir performs, and twice a year we have a concert we call Rock the Mike, featuring bands and solo performances by students from the high school. Some schools will send out cast members to offer previews of upcoming theater productions.
Don’t forget about your friends, family, and acquaintances. I recently asked a beauty consultant friend to lead a tween spa day program.
If you can’t afford to book an author visit, don’t surrender the idea. The author may be willing to Skype an interview for free.
Arts grants, while not as plentiful as they once were, are still available in some places. These grants defray the majority of a performer’s fee. Some major retailers offer local grants, you just need to apply.
Finally, it doesn’t hurt to negotiate with performers. Often, they are quite willing to reduce their standard fees. Occasionally (and it has happened to me) they will waive their fee entirely.
Try to think outside of the box and you can find an entire new avenue for offering outside performers at your library.