Guest Blogger

Programming: It’s not (always) about the numbers

As a children’s librarian, my mantra has always been, it’s not about the numbers, it’s about the program. I have held book clubs with one child for weeks.  

But sometimes we forget our own mantra, and it’s not a bad thing to promote your program. (I ended the book group with one child after 6 weeks.) Somehow I imagine the Dragnet music playing while I say that this is one story from the annals of Library Science and Marketing Math.  

It all started in the summer of 2022, when I met Josh Reynolds, the program director of Project Create, after an event my library, the Anacostia Neighborhood Library, a branch of the DC Public Library. A program for teens at Anacostia netted 1 student at 1 session (4 sessions) and that was because I nearly dragged a teen down to the program room. Josh was interested in more programing, and I was intrigued. We exchanged business cards. 

As I learned more about Project Create, I decided that their style of arts and SEL (social/emotional learning) was something I’d like to try with the kids at our branch. Josh and I met in July and talked about a Women’s History program with an art component. I suggested we feature the work of Alma Thomas, a Black female artist important in the Washington Color School, whose art was on display at the Obama White House and at DC Public Library’s main location, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library. There were two recent picture books out about Ms. Thomas, Alma’s Art by Roda Ahmed, and Ablaze with Color by Jeanne Walker Harvey, and I thought we might hand out books as a literacy portion of the art program.  

As I planned the program, dates were moved so that the program would start at the end of March (still Women’s History Month) but be mostly in April, to coincide with our next Beyond the Book offering, Alma’s Art. I expressed concern about attendance, and I worked with our Communications and Social Media departments. My program (my baby) was featured in our Women’s History program information on the website and in paper brochures AND in our Beyond the Book program information. I was impressed when all 15 slots for participants were filled a week before the event. I sighed a sigh of relief and thought, this is all set. I could picture the room filled with children. I could smell the paint. I was a part of a program that would go down in DCPL history, or at least Anacostia’s annals.  

On a drop cloth: papers with colored pieces of construction paper pasted on them. A stack of multicolored triangles cut from construction paper. A copy of a closed red book with the words “Alma Thomas” on the cover along with an Alma Thomas painting. Orange Post-It Notes mark pages of the book.

Photo courtesy Suzi Wackerbarth

We had 8 kids and several adults come to the first program. A good start, I thought. Our fearless presenter sang songs and did art lessons with the children, explaining complicated things like perspective in easy terms for the kids to understand. After the first session, our attendance dwindled to three children, all from the same school. I heard my mantra, but I knew we needed a more diverse group. After the third session, I doubled down on promotion, after learning that I would only have 2 children at the fourth session due to spring break travel plans. I rescinded registration and contacted every teacher I knew, promising a book for their classroom if a child came under their recommendation. I contacted all the children’s librarians in my system; they contacted their list-servs. I handed out flyers all day, every day, up until the fourth Thursday. All that work netted 5 additional children. This wasn’t bad, but I felt in my heart that I should have produced more kids.  

Attendance was not as large as I had hoped, but the kids learned about all types of art methods, from mosaic and collage, to perspective and even silhouette art. And I calmed down after I got an email from our Reading Coordinator that just one child was important. My mantra! How had I forgotten that?  

Today’s guest blogger is Suzi Wackerbarth. Suzi is a children’s librarian for DC Public Libraries. She is also a former Bechtel Scholar (an ALSC sponsored fellowship) and has been a librarian since 2002.  

“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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