Guest Blogger

Program Documentation: Pro Tips

The perfect program. It’s an elusive library goal. Sometimes we get pretty darn close. But time, turnover, and transitions often mean losing details for those wonderful programs. How can we save and share our wins? Using our Family Place initiatives, I’m going to share the program documentation decisions that built our success.

Why Family Place?

I’ve been my library’s Family Place Coordinator for eight years. First, we documented for grant funding. Next, we documented for recertification. Now, we document for day-to-day changes. I have vast institutional knowledge from running the program, but had formally captured very little. I wanted to document those details before losing them, and pandemic work-from-home shifts offered a great opportunity.

Step 1: Identify Who Has Knowledge

The first step of program documentation is knowing who has information. What other staff (if any) invest in your program? For our Family Place initiatives, I’m the point person. However, I also collected feedback and useful ideas from participating staff. Later, those staff also reviewed documents for clarity and created additional resources. Think about staff who develop programs, people who provide training resources or supplemental content, those who regularly present or assist, and even library leadership with context on larger initiatives.

Step 2: Decide What to Share

Program documentation is complex. First, decide what to share. I wanted to document everything about a successful playgroup, but also our community partners, play spaces, and other program elements. Because we have two Family Place locations, I needed to capture not only best practices, but also building-specific information. Documentation needed to be applicable to both.

Three pages of program curriculum documentation showing background information, supplies, and activities

Your program documentation should capture key themes. Program logistics should be front of mind, from set up to activities to clean up. Are there any training requirements? How do you set up or prepare? How do you structure and deliver activities? Also note supplies, especially if you need to purchase or request them. In addition, try to capture hands-on experiences and expertise. Are there any helpful tips for welcoming families or introducing topics? We often share best practice tips verbally but miss them in final write ups.

Step 3: Determine Your Approach

An outline of topics for Family Place programming

While brainstorming, I quickly realized it is overwhelming for staff to consider everything Family Place at once. Even more, not all staff need the same information. I identified key topics with direct staff engagement points. Then, I divided sections into subtopics and resources. For example, documentation for playgroup sessions includes sections for caregiver resources, exploration activities, reminders, rhymes, and toys. Each section includes a similar outline, lending consistency. Now, staff easily locate information. Further, I found the project less overwhelming taking one piece at a time.

For some programs, separating information doesn’t make sense. For instance, my technology classes include both in person and virtual teaching notes. One document is more convenient and versatile. Think about both the context needed and the intended audience.

Step 4: Choose Your Format

You’ll next need to choose how to document. I wanted something consistent, accessible, and easily updated that aligned with existing program documentation. So, I adapted our existing curriculum outline to reflect overview Family Place information, then added specific content resources. I then copied these outlines to our collaborative SharePoint.

When selecting your format, think about who accesses information (and where) and how often it needs updates. Also, consider useful external resources. I downloaded copies of some forms. However, the Family Place member libraries portal also houses relevant information, so I included access information for those resources. How often does the information change? Save static information, but consider linking dynamic content.

Next Steps

Documenting our Family Place initiatives is a work in progress. I’ve updated existing documents to reflect changes, while other sections I haven’t started yet. Still, continuing to document and share information makes our programs more accessible. Plus, our patrons have more consistent experiences.

Of course, program documentation alone isn’t enough for continued success. I’ll also be writing about data collection and evaluation, plus tweaking your program design for maximum impact. In the meantime, if you have questions about my process, please reach out! I’m always happy to share more.

What are your go-to tips for program documentation?

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC. All images are provided courtesy of the author.

Today’s guest contributor is Jaime Eastman (she/her). Jaime is a senior Public Services Librarian and Family Place Coordinator at the Harrington Library, one of the Plano (Texas) Public Library locations. She’s currently serving as a member of the ALSC Board of Directors. Jaime is also working on at least two ambitious cross stitch projects, dreaming of future travel plans, and reading far too many books at once. As a child, she wanted to grow up to be an author. Writing for the blog and publishing with Children and Libraries feel like a good start, and she regrets nothing about her adult decision to be a librarian doing storytimes who didn’t have to grow up too much.


  1. Eric Christians

    Wonderful Article and a Great Read. Wondering if we could get a copy of the PPL Program Curriculum as a pdf to be able to see and understand a bit more of Jaime’s Article. The pictures in the article were too fuzzy to be able to tell.

    1. Jaime Eastman

      Hi Eric! Thank you for your interest. I’ll email you a copy of our program curriculum, as well as one that I’ve filled out as an example. I encourage you to customize it to your own needs, and of course, reach out if you have more questions!

  2. Starla Villalba

    Hello! I am new to programming, would you be willing to share a copy of your outline? I am looking to implement something similar and just starting the process, any tips are very helpful!

    1. Jaime Eastman

      Hi Starla! Welcome to the wonderful world of programming – I hope it turns out to be a great adventure for you. I’ll email you a copy of the outline that we need, as well as one that I’ve filled out as an example. The most important thing is to find what works for you. It’s often easiest to start by documenting a program that you know well, and then building out from there. If you want to talk more specific tips for your library, let me know.

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