As children’s librarians, we love to discuss weather with our young patrons. It can be reading the classic The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, or showing children how to imitate a rain cloud using shaving cream and food coloring. However, how often do we stop to think about how weather affects what we do as librarians?
We were paired as part of the ALSC mentorship program, and we have been spent the last few seasons talking about our libraries, the ups and downs, and what changes we see happen through the Fall, Winter, and start of Spring. Clare Dombrowski is the Head of Children’s Services at the Amesbury Public Library in Amesbury, Massachusetts and Haley Kral is a Youth Services Librarian at the Mountain Creek Branch Library in Dallas, Texas. The weather in our two states could not be more different during this time of the year, yet we both noticed that it has an effect on program attendance during the cold weather months.
Although it never snowed this Winter, I did notice a drop in attendance after Thanksgiving. Throughout Summer and into the start of Fall, I had a steady group of families attending storytime each week that had been coming for a very good amount of time. Suddenly, after the first cold snap, I didn’t see them anymore. Some new faces came, but my regulars weren’t there anymore. My numbers for Toddler Storytime were roughly half of what I was used to getting, sometimes less. I also noted that a few days there were heavy thunderstorms, and only one or two children would attend. Although Texas isn’t big on Winter weather, in Fall we can get very heavy rain and it seems to keep people home more than anything else will.
Around January, once the holidays passed, I expected my numbers to pick up again but I still didn’t see familiar faces returning. The weather was cold by Texas standards, but not terrible, yet my storytimes were still small. In February, our building hosted voting, which often affects storytime on its own. By then, I really began to worry that I had lost my storytime crowd. I started to look for new ways to advertise, ways to refresh what I was doing in storytime, anything that might bring in more families.
Then came March. The weather warmed suddenly, as it does in Texas, from Winter to 80 degrees and there were all my families! I’m back up to the numbers I was at before the holidays, and most are returning attendees. Many have told me winter made them want to stay home or they feared flu season. Now it’s Spring and everyone is back outside again!
Last Saturday it was 50° weather and sunny, something we haven’t seen in Massachusetts in many a month and I had only six patrons in the Children’s room all day. I knew it was going to be a very slow day the moment I walked out the door and felt warm sun. Trying to predict how many people we will have at drop-in programs is like trying to predict the weather I often say and it actually can be exactly like that!
So what does the weather have to do with it? Well, I would say a good percentage when it comes to programming and library usage. Until I really looked at weather and my programming when Haley and I were communicating, I didn’t realize how much I unconsciously worked around our seasons, not planning expensive performers in the months most likely for severe weather and slowing programing in May knowing we’d have a loss of attendance to the outside in the Spring. However, when looking at this March which involved many Nor’easters in our part of the country and lead to many program cancellations, we had record circulation of our whole collection. Our patrons evidently stock up on bread, milk, and library materials when bad weather is predicted!
This impact of the weather extends beyond the ice and snow. A few summers ago we had an incredibly rainy July and August so if our big programming events fell on a day that was bright and sunny i.e. a beach day even our usually popular programs would only have a smattering of families. In contrast, last summer it was beautiful most days and our programs were incredibility well attended all summer no matter rain or shine. We also have very little programming space in our library so I try to take advantage of our summers and have outdoor programming which is certainly a draw since there are so few months that we can be outside comfortably in New England. This most certainly encourages attendance for those who don’t want to be stuck inside.
The weather for us does more than just impact our planning, it also can take our time since we have to figure out what to do with programs, make sure the word gets out, change publicity is we need to cancel…and always causes an extra level of stress as we worry if the weather is questionable, be it for an unpredictable snow storm or the potential of a summer thunderstorm for an outdoor program.
This concept of the weather that came up throughout our year of corresponding was fascinating because we realized that different areas of the country might have different rhythms in programming purely based on what their weather is typically like. It was also amazing how similar we were in terms of patrons staying in during the “winter” season (although we also thought this could have been attributed to a year with a lot of illness across the country). Weather truly affects us and how we serve the needs of patrons. As the weather patterns are changing across the country it will be interesting to see how we as librarians adapt our services to it.
Today’s guest bloggers are Clare Dombrowski and Haley Kral.
Clare Dombrowski has been Children’s Librarian at the Amesbury Public Library for the past 11 years. She loves to continue growing as a librarian by attending conferences, workshops, and other continuing education opportunities with a particular focus on early literacy and technology. Clare has also worked in publishing, wrote a thesis on medieval children’s literature, and loves to needle felt. Clare is currently serving on the ASLC Notable Children’s Recording Committee.
Haley Kral has been a Youth Services Librarian with the Dallas Public Library for close to four years. Although she loves working with patrons of all ages, she is most at home in storytime or presenting hands-on STEAM programming. Besides her MLS, Haley has a MA in Creative Writing and is pursuing publication in adult fiction.
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.
If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager.
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group and III. Programming Skills.