Blogger Abby Johnson

Filled to the Brim

We’re dealing with a fantastic “problem” at my library right now. We opened registration for December programs last week and within two days a couple of our programs were full. I love that people are excited about our programs* (Gingerbread House Workshop and a Pinkalicious Party in particular), but now we’re faced with the issue of turning people away for an entire month. We always do waitlists for our programs that fill up, but I’ve found that no matter how much we explain it, some people come away with the idea that they’ve registered and are guaranteed a spot. And other people don’t want to bother with a waitlist.

We had to figure something out.

I got my people together to brainstorm and we realized we could have overflow seating for the Gingerbread House Workshop in our small meeting room, thus enabling us to open up some more spots for each session. For Pinkalicious, we redesigned the program a little bit to have activities at different stations that families can visit, rather than needing spaces for everyone to sit down and do the activities at the same time.

If you’re faced with this wonderful problem sometimes, too, here are some ideas that have worked for us:

– Offer multiple sessions. Depending on the program, we may be able to add an additional session if our program fills up. When planning for summer, we’ve learned to offer multiple sessions, especially for the early elementary school programs.

– Restructure. You’ve imagined your program a certain way, yes, but if you’ve got an unexpectedly large crowd that wants to come, can you restructure your program to allow for a larger group? Instead of having the kids sit at tables and do the same activities together, think about setting up different stations around the room and have kids or families direct themselves to the activities they want to do.

– Recruit volunteers. Having some capable volunteers can make a large program more manageable. We get a lot of teens needing to do volunteer work for school or wanting to volunteer in the library. We keep records of who’s showing up and who does a nice job for us and we’ll give them a call when we have a fun program that we might need some help with. Our teens love to help set up and decorate rooms, take photos for us, and help with craft tables.

If you’re in the planning stages and your programs have been filling up lately, here are some things to consider to avoid the “problem”:

– Narrow the age range. If you’re still in planning mode, this might work for some programs and it allows you to better customize the activities for the kids who are coming. Sometimes we’ll offer a session for younger elementary and a session for older elementary. Of course, if kids have older or younger siblings or friends or if the time offered for their age doesn’t work, we try to be as flexible as possible.

– Offer some drop-in programs in addition to your registered programs. We’ve offered movies, performers, storytimes, and open art studios in order to ensure that there is something for families to come to during the summer or over winter break (even if they’ve waited until the last minute).

Every community is different with regards to how people respond to registered programs. We’ve found that our attendance sometimes dips for drop-in programs and my theory is that the reminder calls we do for registered programs really helps ensure attendance. But I hate to turn people away if I can help it at all.

So, what do you do when this happens to you? Anyone have other suggestions for dealing with massive crowds at programs?

* And, for the record, NOT all of our programs have turnouts like this. It’s always a learning process, trying to figure out which programs people will respond to and when is the best time to offer them…

— Abby Johnson, Children’s Manager
New Albany-Floyd County Public Library
New Albany, IN


  1. Sarah

    I have used the stations set-up with great success before. It also gives those attendees who want to just breeze through the program that opportunity or for others, take a more leisurely time through the crafts or viewing stations, whatever they are.

    I also keep a “waiting list” of people who want to sign up that I’ll call when spots open up because I find there are always at least three to five cancellations.

    I do like the idea of offering the program at a different time and day of the week, to maximize how many people can attend. I haven’t had to use that idea yet because my programs really haven’t reached max potential, even for kids. The last youth librarian was very… lax on programming unless it was summer so most of my families don’t even expect year round programming. But they will soon!

  2. Sarah

    Also, what will you be doing for your Pinkalicious party? That sounds like something my little kids would love!)

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