Does your library limit attendance to children’s programs, requiring some sort of advance registration? Or are all programs planned with an eye toward accommodating any size group?
In a nod to Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, children’s librarians Lori Faust and Kendra Jones debate the pros and cons:
LF: Well, Kendra, I will begin with a very obvious “pro” in favor of pre-registration to a set limit: if staff knows how many people to expect at a program, it is much easier to plan, prepare and purchase supplies without over-buying and wasting those limited budgets.
KJ: True, but limiting attendance can create more work for staff as they will have to take registration, follow up, pass out tickets, etc., plus there is the unpleasant task of informing interested patrons that a program is full.
If we allow walk-ins, we are more apt to have kids attend whose parents do not want to/cannot commit ahead of time and those who do not know the great things the library has to offer until they drop in one day. To then be unable to attend a program is not great customer service.
LF: That’s a good point, Kendra, and we always want to make sure we have some programs that are open to all. I’ve worked at libraries that run things both ways. One did not like us to limit attendance; we had fabulous turn-outs, but because we always had to expect 100+ kids (on a very small budget), we could only offer inexpensive programs that accommodated huge groups. And I found that kind of limiting creatively.
In response to your point that turning people away isn’t good customer service, I’d argue that for some libraries, with limited space perhaps, keeping the crowd to a manageable size can make the experience better for those in attendance. I’ve had complaints from patrons when programs have been very crowded, too!
KJ: I understand how that can be challenging, however, there are other options for programming for large crowds of people. Identical programs can be held back to back, for example. Only one program has to be planned and is then repeated. Not only does this offer patrons more choice in time but allows more patrons to partake in a library program.
LF: That would be a great option, IF…Well, there are several “ifs” depending on an individual library’s situation – can the youth services staff book the space for double the time? Is there enough staff to cover the department and run multiple programs? Is there enough money to cover twice the program? I want to mention, too, that requiring registration for programs doesn’t necessarily mean that patrons get turned away. Often, a program doesn’t “fill up,” but having a good idea of how many kids will attend helps the staff prepare for (and sometimes tweak) the program.
KJ: So true, Lori, that some libraries do not have the resources to do a double header. However, if a program is not getting filled up, perhaps registration is acting as a barrier to one of our most prized resources.
When I worked in a system where registration was required, even with reminder phone calls, patrons did not come for the program. And since they were under the impression that registration was required, there were no drop-in patrons to attend the program, meaning supplies went unused and the program was smaller than intended. Which may not bode well with statistics loving stakeholders who often provide funding for youth programs.
Now we have had our say, but we know there is so much more to this issue! It is your turn to make some arguments for, or against, program attendance limits. Add your thoughts in the comments.
Our guest bloggers today are Lori Faust and Kendra Jones, who wrote this piece as members of the Managing Children’s Services Committee.
If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.