Baby, it’s cold outside (at least it is in Indiana), but we’ve got summer on our minds.
If you, too, are thinking about your Summer Reading Club, make sure that you hop on over to Marge Loch-Waters’s blog Tiny Tips for Library Fun and check out her series on shaking up your Summer Library Program.
The question that’s been on my mind as we’ve started planning our summer programs is whether we need to have registration for programs. I’ve been back and forth and back and forth.
When I first started at this library six years ago, I found that asking folks to register in advance really helped our attendance. We were able to do reminder calls and I think that really helped bring people in.
For the past two summers, our program registration has been a disaster. I’m not sure what switch has flipped, but what we’ve found for the past two summers is that our programs filled up really quickly. We were turning folks away for days or weeks before our programs and then on the day of the program (even with reminder calls AND emails), less than half of the registered attendees would show up. This left us with small groups, leftover supplies, and sometimes dozens of people we had turned away, believing the program would be full.
So this year, I challenged my staff to come up with programs that could be done as drop-in programs. Not only will this be easier on my staff (no program registration!), I’m hoping it will improve attendance and our relationship with our patrons (no having to turn people away!).
What does that mean for our programming?
- We’re moving more towards “unprogramming” and focusing on creative and experiential programs instead of crafts with lots of prepared pieces. Please read Amy Koester’s and Marge Loch-Waters’s series on Unprogramming for a complete guide.
- Instead of crafts, we might play a game or do an activity or do an open-ended art project.
- We’re going easy on theme this summer. We always do. I’d rather have excellent, fun programs that staff are REALLY EXCITED about than “meh” programs that fit a certain theme.
- We’re actually going easy on programming this summer, too. We’ll have all our regular weekly programs and we’ll have several large performers, but we’ve been so very active in our outreach to schools this year that I don’t want to overdo it over the summer. (Guess what? It’s going to be fine!)
I’m hoping that this is going to make a big difference this summer, for both our patrons and our staff.
What are you revamping or rethinking about your summer programs?
— Abby Johnson, Children’s Services Manager
New Albany-Floyd County Public Library
New Albany, IN
We’ve decided to drop the registration this summer as well! Our experience sort of parallels yours, but we had figured out how to free up more room with the registration. Last year was the first time that we had openings after the session had begun. But then people weren’t showing up in greater numbers. So we’re using the CSLP’s theme with a superhero “bamming” registration. The only registration we’ll ask for is the booklets (since we need a general idea of how many to print/put together). We’re all very excited about this prospect, and hope that it injects life into the programming.
Oh – I did want to mention that we have a VERY small space, so we’re having to make a note that if we go past our occupancy limit, then the storytime will need to move outside under our “Reading Tree,” so parents should be prepared with anything the kids might need outdoors (sunscreen, bug spray, etc.).
That is a really good point about occupancy limits. We will still give out tickets for our large performers so I can make sure we don’t exceed the limit for our large meeting room. Last year I had one large performer “sell out”, so I’ve tried to offer our super popular ones twice or in the evenings (when we typically do not have as big a crowd) to manage attendance.
We dropped registration for summer programming last year for all of the reasons cited above, and I prefer it the new way. I really disliked turning people away from programs, only to have people sign up and not show. Our attendance was higher, and it felt much more welcoming for families.
We’re registering far less overall, summer and rest-of-the-year, for exactly the reasons you describe. It’s depressing as heck to turn away more than twice as many people as you can hold, and then get five actually show up. We’re learning to run more flexible, less supply-based programs, and it’s making everyone happier!
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