Blogger Managing Children's Services Committee

Winter Fun for All

“It’s never too early to plan for next year!”

It’s a phrase often said in libraries, and while some of us cringe at the thought of “next year,” the holiday season is a great time to reflect.

For nine years, we held a blow-out Christmas event. It drew 1,500 patrons to the library on a chilly night in December for trolley rides, letters to Santa, and even Santa himself. It was an event that families looked forward to every year; something that became a holiday tradition alongside cookie making and caroling. So we kept it going, right? An annual event for 1,500 people! If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But the problem was, it was broken.

Cracks begin to show: Resource management

After a few years, local businesses tired of donating 1,000 cookies. Managers at stores would change annually and it would take extra time each year to explain the event and why we needed donations. There was exactly one trolley company in the state and it took begging, pleading, and bribing (ok, not bribing) to convince them that we were the worthiest place to have trolleys during the precious few holiday weekends of the season. We had to beg, plead, and bribe (yes, bribe) staff to work that night as it took a small army to maintain a full building. In short, the stress of planning the event became drudgery.

We’re all a little broken: Burnout.

Librarians – especially youth librarians – can fall into a success trap. If something goes well, you’re definitely in it for the long haul. This program was no different. People loved it? Don’t change one thing. People can’t wait for next year? Make sure you make it bigger. You’re tired and bored? But think of the children. You want to quit? Think. Of. The. Children. In a career where we are trained to assess and reassess, it’s strange that we still get pigeonholed into providing rote entertainment at all costs. Everyone, and I mean everyone, whether they worked or attended the event or not, had feedback on this program. “You have to do the cookies, kids will be upset if they can’t decorate a cookie!” “You can’t get rid of the package transport game, it’s so much fun for the kids!” “No matter what you do, don’t ever stop getting the trolleys to come! It’s so magical.”

The big break: Who is this for?

The most important issue was that we were spending a not insignificant amount of money on one specific holiday. A holiday that a large number of our patrons celebrated, sure, but we were throwing all of our literal and metaphorical weight behind a holiday that was not a given or a priority for everyone in our service area. This was the impetus for rethinking our holiday game. How can we be inclusive without sacrificing traditions and magic?

The Fix

Enter Library After Hours, a January event that welcomed 600 patrons in its first year, and provided hot cocoa, cookies, games, live music, and all the glow that we could muster in those frenzied months after the pandemic abated. That program has now grown into Winter Wonder Library, a January event that celebrates everything there is to love about Midwest winters, lights, snow (please let it snow), cocoa, games, crafts, and a cozy atmosphere. In some ways, Winter Wonder Library is a carbon copy of our old Christmas event – although Christmas-centric motifs have been replaced with something everyone can relate to in Michigan, snow – but most importantly, it has something for everyone. Second most importantly, this program is planned by a committee of interdepartmental staff, not just youth services.

But my program isn’t broken.

You’ve probably heard a lot of arguments for and against Christmas-themed events at libraries, and a lot of them have merit. I’m not telling you you’re bad for having one – you know more about your community than I do – but I am asking you to step back and have a long think about the necessity. Do you want to pour resources into just one (of many!) winter celebrations, or do you want to do what you do best: work hard to make the library a place for all?

Libraries are supposed to evolve and change to meet the needs of an evolving and changing public. Programming is no exception. Do I cringe at the fact that we did a Christmas-only program for so long? Yep. Do I beat myself up about it? Nope. The only thing to regret is not reflecting; not making the change when you could. 

Will there be patron pushback if you change? You bet. Will this be the first time you’ve experienced patron pushback? Not a chance.

This is where you put on your big-kid cardigan and speak up. You have the most experience with this, yes? You are the one actually doing this, yes? You are the one making the calls, managing volunteers, and listening to the most bizarre complaints about the finiteness of the number of seats on a trolley, yes? Then you are the expert. 

The most valuable advice I ever received in my career was this: you only have to explain it, you don’t have to convince them to like it. That’s it. It is not your job to tell someone, “No, don’t worry, this will be so much better, you’ll love it!” All you need to do is stick to the facts. For us, they looked like this:

  • December is a busy month for families, and not everyone was able to make the event a priority.
  • Since space was limited on the trolleys, we had to require registration, so not everyone was allowed to attend.
  • We wanted to make the event even bigger so we moved it to a month that didn’t have a lot going on. 

And voila, changes become problems solved. Every single point was true. And yes, people were still bummed, but the good news is that they can be bummed, and still come to a brand new, inclusive, wintry, wonderful event.

You can do it, too. I know you can. Tell me how you’ve done it in the comments below.

Today’s blog post was written by Betsy Raczkowski, Head of Communications and Engagement at Rochester Hills Public Library in Rochester, Michigan on behalf of the ALSC Managing Children’s Services
Committee. She] can be reached at betsy.raczkowski@rhpl.org


This blog relates to ALSC Core Competencies of: I. Commitment to Client Group; III. Programming Skills; V. Outreach and Advocacy; VI. Administrative and Management Skills.

One comment

  1. Chelsey Roos

    I am so delighted to read this. It is always a little isolating to be a non-Christmas family, and I really appreciate your framing of, sure this event is great, but do we want to be putting this much of our resources into something that can’t serve everyone? Thank you for sharing!

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