Guest Blogger

Setting Program Attendance Limits?: She Said/ She Said

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


  1. Abby Johnson

    This is an interesting conversation to me because we’re grappling with this very issue lately. When I first started at my library, I found that we had very poor attendance for anything that wasn’t a registered program. I think possibly it was getting reminder calls that made the difference. But the past two summers, we had a HUGE problem with no-shows. It meant that we were turning folks away from programs that were “full” and then when people didn’t show up, we had wasted craft materials, etc. Next summer, I’m going to try eliminating registered programs and see if that suits us better.

    We do have some space limitations, though. For example, the capacity for our large meeting room is 125. We do tickets for large performers and this summer we did have to turn families away from one of our shows. For safety reasons, we can’t allow more than 125 people in the room (the fire marshall says so!). However, through the years I’m constantly tweaking our schedules to manage attendance. I might schedule a super popular performer in the evening because I know they’ll still draw a crowd, but it won’t be the overwhelming afternoon crowd. This allows working parents a chance to attend, too.

  2. Renee Perron

    When you give tickets for large performers, when do the kids/families get the tickets? I’m curious because I might want to try something like that for our library.

  3. Suz

    We do both types of program at our Library, registered and drop-in. Most of our weekly storytimes for preschoolers are drop-in but do have a maximum capacity, due to fire regulations. We’ve had a lot of false alarms in our building during some electrical work and I can say that evacuating an overcrowded room (with toddlers, babies, caregivers, strollers, etc.) is challenging.

    Most programs that involve crafts or snacks require registration. No-shows can be a big problem, but we have found that reminder phone calls help a lot. We hope our new website will have the ability to send a default reminder email to all registrants. If a program fills up and we are still receiving inquiries, we will usually schedule a second program to meet demand. We have online registration through our website, but will also register people over the phone or in person.

  4. Sarah West

    We do a combination of drop ins and registered programs. However we are struggling with no shows for programs that are registered. And the the wait list people do not get to attend. So we are going to try something new in January, we are going to have a certain amount of registered spots and a certain amount of drop ins. So if we are doing a program for 30 kids then we will do 15 or 20 registered spots and have the rest be first come first serve at the door. Not sure how it will go but we are so frustrated that we are going to try it.

  5. Lisa

    For weekly story time series, I like a manageable crowd, so I like registration. Since there are usually so many “no-shows,” I register more people than I really hope will attend. This works sometimes. Yesterday, however, I ended up with twenty-four “18-36 month-olds” – a bigger group than I expected, but they were all great.

  6. Mickie

    We go back and forth on this issue in my library too. We offer a combination and decide whether or not to ask for registration based on the specific parameters of the program. Patrons are often confused though and no-shows are a problem. I tend to prefer no registration, but it has bitten me (like when I expected 20 teens for a zombie scavenger hunt and got almost 3 times that!! you’ve never seen twinkies sliced so thin to go so far!).

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