Reflection is an important piece of programming. All programs, whether a massive hit or somewhat less so, can hold opportunities to learn. If any library worker tries to tell you that they’ve had a 100% success rate with their programs, they are either delusional or lying. No one pulls off perfect programs every time! Sometimes, programs don’t go as planned because of…
The first full summer at my current library, I scheduled a two-day “mini-camp” in early August. I thought the timing was perfect – after my evening storytime went on break, but before Summer Reading ended. But as soon as the calendar flipped to August, everyone started getting ready for school and program attendance dropped off a cliff.
On a cold January Saturday, we lost power and had to close the branch hours before a Slime Science program – interest was predictably high and registration was full (pretty unusual for my branch!). I reached out to registrants to offer a slime recipe, but it wasn’t the program I had envisioned.
An argument between two older siblings over who was supposed to stay with their younger brother completely derailed a storytime, despite my best efforts to redirect. Finally, I gave up trying to get the group back on track, stopped the storytime portion, and directed everyone to the tables to start the activity. Sometimes you cut your losses.
I’ve had programs that have gotten off track due to miscues (i.e. the directions I gave made sense to me and… no one else), I have overstuffed my programs with too many activities (before I realized I could edit in real-time – no one else knows what I plan), or I’ve rushed through the material (a sense of timing is hard to learn without experience). Sometimes experiments that worked perfectly when I practiced beforehand inexplicably didn’t work as soon as I had an audience. Or there’s always that kid who manages to drop paint precisely where the drop cloth ends. It happens. And if it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will!
I strongly believe that library programs are not performances. They’re experiences that you and your patrons share. And honestly, unexpected problems provide a wonderful opportunity to model flexibility, adaptability, and resilience for kids. Building those skills is essential for kids to thrive and grow.
You can learn valuable lessons about expectations, timing, crowd control, etc. from some “failures” that will make your programs better in the future. Sometimes, it’s just one of those things to laugh about. Your value as a library employee is not diminished by a program that doesn’t work.
Keeping a kind and positive attitude, no matter what happens, is what people will remember. Kids want an adult who’s genuinely interested and trying their best. Parents and caregivers understand that sometimes things fall apart or go in unexpected directions. You are likely your own worst critic.
Do you have an example of a program that didn’t quite work out the way you intended? What did you learn from the experience?
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competency: III. Programming Skills.
Kyra Nay is the Children’s Librarian Supervisor at the Maple Heights Branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library. When her nose isn’t in a book (usually nonfiction), she enjoys tabletop board games, hiking, and exploring the Cleveland arts scene. She is a member of the School Age Programs and Service Committee.