Administrative and Management Skills

Difficult Decision Making: When to Allow In-Person Programming

As a Youth and Family Services Manager, I make decisions all the time. But to be honest, the most difficult decision I have ever made was deciding to cancel all of our summer in person programming. As many of you who program for families know, the summer is our busiest season. It’s truly the time for public libraries to shine, to showcase their offerings, to provide something special and hook new users, and to engage with the community. So, it’s incredibly difficult to make the decision to not offer in-person programming during that time.

Then came an even more difficult decision… At what point do we reintroduce in-person programming? When will it be safe to have close to 100 people together, in close proximity to one another, touching the same items (scissors, glue sticks, crayons, toys, etc) without immediately cleaning them off. When can we trust kids to be around other kids? Because, seriously, have you tried telling a two year old to stay away from other people?!? It’s nearly impossible… (come to think of it, it’s impossible for my seven year old too!).

I, personally, do not like making decisions without having information available, and right now, we are simply living in a time of ambiguity in which nobody has any answers. Nobody knows what’s going to happen next, and ambiguity is not a comfortable place to live (at least for me). If you function like I do, just know you aren’t alone! I started to think of some of the indicators that I would look for, in order  to help determine when we could make the switch to some in person programming. So if you are looking for guidance, I’m going to share my process, and maybe it will help you as well. Feel free to use these if it helps you, or as a jumping off point for creating your own indicators. These are by no means comprehensive.

I bet you are wondering what my answer to my original question was: When do we start offering in person programming? The simple answer…. It’s probably not going to be for a long time. And for our large events? Not until a vaccine is created, which will be about 18-24 months.

We needed to be able to define our new reality and come to terms with the fact that this new reality was going to stick around for a while, because once we know what our obstacles and constraints are, we can then creatively think around them in order to achieve our goals of engagement and interaction with our community. A lot of the literature on genius and creativity states that true genius comes from situations that are particularly challenging, there are a lot of obstacles, and a lot of hurdles to overcome. Well guess what guys?!? Our time is now! We have no idea what we are capable of until we try to overcome those hurdles. I’m excited to see what our field is capable of in the upcoming months and years.

Read on to see what I looked for to help with this decision.

Virtual Programming with Kits:


Programming that occurs online, either asynchronous, recorded or live, synchronous, face to face programming. Virtual programming may continue to be part of the regular programming lineup, even when we are able to have groups of people in the building, in an effort to continue social distancing and provide opportunities for participants to engage who choose not to participate in activities that have large crowds, virtual planning will continue.


  • Building is closed to the public with curbside pick up capabilities (most severe)
  • Building is open to the public, but limited number of people are allowed in the building at any given time
  • Lingering is not encouraged
  • Services are at a minimum
  • No meeting room reservations
  • CDC and health department recommendations include 10 or less people in a gathering. Physical distance is at 6 feet or more

Low Contact Programming


Provide programming live and in person with small groups. Programs in which there is a speaker or learning activity that does not require participants to touch a large number of supplies, especially non-consumables that would require extensive cleaning. Participants can be in the same room, but spread out with space in between them. Low interaction between participants. Programming may also take place outside, where it is easier to spread out. Registration will be required and will limit the number of participants in any given program based on the available space and ability to facilitate social distancing. This will more than likely begin with adult programs, as they have smaller crowds, and programming needs are different.


  • The building is open to the public and the city has given approval for having small crowds (10+ people) gather inside or outside of city buildings
  • CDC and health department recommendations include 10+ people in a gathering. Physical distancing can stay at 6 feet if programming is held outside, since participants can spread out. For indoor programming, physical distancing recommendations are less than 6 feet.

Small Group Programming


Programming that allows more people to gather in a physical space and to interact with one another. Physical distancing has been decreased and individuals will have the ability to interact in a closer physical space to one another. The fear of utilizing non-consumable objects that others have touched has decreased. This is the point in which we can begin offering more kid-friendly and family programming since it is difficult to monitor the actions and activities of children. Registration will still be required in an effort to limit the number of people congregating in smaller spaces.


  • Guidance from the city, CDC, or health department indicates an increase in the number of people who can gather in a space and a decrease in physical distance recommendation
  • When schools and childcare facilities are able to function at normal capacity.

Large Group Programming


Programming that tends to draw large crowds of 35+ participants such as Homeschool Hub, Storytimes, Adaptive Programming, etc. Registration may still be required in order to limit the size of crowds, or may provide first come first serve opportunities and may be required to turn participants away once the limited number is reached.


  • Guidance from the city, CDC, or health department in regards to the number of people that can congregate as well as a decrease in the physical distance suggested by authorities
  • Groups of 35+ individuals are able to be together in a large room

Large Event Programming


Programming and events that draw a large crowd (500-1000+) that are difficult to control the physical space between participants.


  • Vaccine has been created and large scale efforts to administer the vaccine have been implemented

What are some other things that you would look for when making this decision? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

Stay Safe! Stay Healthy! Stay Awesome!

Headshot of guest blogger, Jennifer Brown, author of post about making decisions about In-Person Programming
Photo courtesy of guest blogger

Today’s guest blogger is Jennifer Brown. Jennifer is the Youth and Family Services Manager for Suffolk Public Library and has worked in youth and family services since 2013. She is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor for Old Dominion University and has taught various classes on information literacy and library science since 2012. Jennifer earned her MSLIS in Library and Information Science from Syracuse University in 2010 and her Ph.D. in Instructional Design and Technology from Old Dominion University in 2017. She is a member of the American Library Association, Public Library Association, Association for Library Service to Children, Virginia Library Association, and Association for Educational Communications and Technology and serves as Secretary for the Technology Integrated Learning Division. She earned the Alan Mandell Endowed Award for Instructional Design and Technology in 2017 and Donna G. Cote Librarian of the Year in 2019.​

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

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This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: Administrative & Management Skills and Programming Skills.

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