Blogger Early Childhood Programs and Services committee

Passive Programming Builds Community

Winter and spring breaks are coming up, which means our libraries might be more crowded than usual! This is a great time to engage library users, but can also be a bit stressful when trying to manage many age groups simultaneously. Your regularly scheduled toddler storytime now might include older siblings attending, and your children’s section might be filled much earlier than usual. So, how do you balance all of your patrons’ needs simultaneously? Passive programming! But, passive programming is so much more than a tool to help you multitask; it helps build community.

With the influx of new family engagement strategies, and creating the most intentional brain-building programs possible, passive programming, especially for the birth to five and their caregivers crowd, is often overlooked and underrated. However, passive programming for littles can be an extremely powerful tool for creating learning moments and building community within your library. And, it can help keep you sane when your library is packed with people!

One of my favorite programs is “Babies and Brew” (brew like coffee, not beer!), a family engagement program for babies and their caregivers. This program takes place at the Tottenville branch library in Staten Island, NY. Their children’s librarian invites babies and their caregivers to an open play based session complete with baby appropriate toys, and coffee and breakfast snacks for the caregivers to snack on while chatting with each other and playing with their children. One of the many great things about this program is how adaptable it is.

  • You can offer this program for multiple age groups, not just babies!
  • You can offer this program immediately following a more formal program, like a storytime.
  • You can stay and model developmentally appropriate play for the caregivers, if you have the time.
  • You can arrange stations with easy directions (in multiple languages) that give caregivers ideas on how to interact with their children in brain and language building ways.
  • You can use this time to invite outside partners to table during this time, or meet with the families in small groups or one-on-one to learn about different services in their community.
  • You can use this time to chat with families about their needs, and develop a deeper relationship with them, if time allows.

I believe the most important aspect of this program is the community it creates among the caregivers. By offering this time and safe space consistently, you are creating a community that says we welcome babies and everything that comes with them – crying, breastfeeding, and spit-up included. Additionally, you are creating a social outlet for caregivers to build relationships with each other. Who knows, this may be the only regular interaction they have with other grown-ups who are experiencing similar things. In “Babies and Brew” and similar programs I’ve observed over the years, I’ve witnessed participants create play dates for outside the library, and mothers open up about their postpartum depression with each other, offering to help connect their new friends with therapists and social workers who can help. This is a beautiful community to create.

Passive programming is intentional and powerful.

What types of powerful passive programs do you offer at your library? Please share them in the comments!


This post was written by Kristen Rocha Aldrich, a member of the Early Childhood Programs and Services Committee and Co-Chair of the Quicklists Consulting Committee. You can reach her at

One comment

  1. Lea Ann McDonald

    I do scavenger hunts.
    These engage children and families to look for hidden pictures within the collection.
    I get to interact with them and it gives them a fun experience and opportunity to focus.
    Many times children who don’t even know each other start to interact very naturally helping each other and encouraging each other to find the hidden objects. This also gives me a chance to invite children and families to programs and to invite them to get library cards and utilize the collection.

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