Pivot! or Adventures in Planning a Community Event

You can take the librarian out of the youth services department but you can never take the youth services out of the librarian.

A couple years ago, I took a position as the manager at a small library branch in our mid-sized system. While no longer a youth services assistant manager, I supervise and guide the children’s librarian at my location, and still use the significant programming and outreach experience I honed over my 16 ½ years as a youth librarian. I’m enthusiastic about offering a variety of programming and services for all ages, though it was my time in the YS trenches that I learned the most valuable skill– and the importance of being flexible and pivoting when roadblocks and other inconveniences arise.

Which is why I’m sitting here asking myself for the millionth time since January what I’ve gotten myself into.

It all started with the idea of having a touch-a-truck in our parking lot. The lot isn’t overly large, so we would have a significant amount of parking spaces blocked. The children’s librarian and I were discussing how to situate vehicles; most importantly how to have a fire truck so it can easily and quickly leave if needed for a call. That morphed into my contacting one of our township trustees and asking if we can close part of the road for such an event. It further morphed into a community block party, going from one end of the street – where the library is located – all the way up to our town center. Hence my constant questioning my sanity in planning a large community event.

My branch’s community is small, with about 8,500 residents (as reported in the 2020 Census). For many years the township had a weekend long event called Summerfest, organized by a church located in our town center. This was before my time in the community, so I had never experienced the fun. Since COVID, they haven’t been able to reinstate the annual event. From what I’ve heard in my time as branch manager, many people have been missing Summerfest. While not as large of an event, the block party will hopefully successfully fill the hole in our community’s offerings.

It has been a process.

I reached out to representatives at community organizations and spoke at our monthly township trustees meeting, emphasizing the children and family aspect of the event. I also talked with our branch’s Friends group, asking them for financial support. Everyone I spoke with were happily on board. Next, we put together a small planning committee and laid out what we hoped the event would be, thinking BIG and narrowing it down to what’s manageable this year. We also spoke with other departments in our system, asking them to participate as well. Due to that, we are represented throughout the event: the library branch at one end, the bookmobile in the middle as part of the touch-a-truck, and our Community Engagement department as one of the organizations at the other end.

We knew we wanted two performers/presenters at the library. Despite it being over six months away, many of those we had hoped for were already booked (thanks to Summer Reading) or post-COVID policies put us just outside of their presentation area. We found a local bird rescue who was available – and inexpensive! Animal programs bring people in, so we were excited. But then, a few weeks later – while I was attending PLA – they canceled due to the increase in avian flu. We pivoted back to square one, emailing and texting back and forth trying to find someone to fill the slot who we could afford with our summer budget. After many messages and much fretting, we found a magician who has performed throughout our library system many times over the years. Not only does he put on a great show, but he’s relatively inexpensive compared to some of the others we contacted. Our second performer is a local vocal studio whose students will perform a variety of songs from movies and musical theater. While not as popular as animal programs, this type of program usually brings in the performer’s entourage (family, friends), so is a built-in audience.

Meanwhile, the children’s librarian and I contacted several businesses in the community asking if they have a vehicle they’d like to put in the touch-a-truck, many of whom enthusiastically said yes. We spoke to the school district’s superintendent to see if we can have school bus (especially since it’s literally across the street). We talked with the police and fire chiefs, both for vehicles and about the road closure and possible traffic issues. Other committee members organized a car cruise, a DJ, community organizations, and local restaurants and food trucks. The church who originally put on Summerfest moved their summer craft and vendor show up a month and their monthly food pantry distribution back a week.

We worked on plans for children’s crafts and actives – inside and out – and snacks for those who visit the library. Right now, we are thankful we decided on bottled water and freeze pops to go along with the popcorn. It’s supposed to hit mid-90s all week long! I’m not as excited about my crawling on the ground, chalk in hand, to make a sidewalk chalk obstacle course. (It’s for the children. It’ll be fun. They’re going to love it.) We’ve also picked up the pace, with a lot of assistance from other branch staff, in weeding our collections so items can be added to an event-only booksale in our community room.

With less than a week to go, we have had little fires to put out. One of our touch-a-truck vehicles backed out. Another – a sprinter race car – had a little fire during a race this weekend, so may also be out. The 1950s restored military JEEP broke down in the middle of a major intersection, and may not be repaired in time. But those fires are dampened by two companies each bringing two large vehicles and the fire department bringing four. We are in the middle of a heatwave so we have bought more water and freeze pops. Other things may pop up before and during the event; however, as all youth librarians – both current and former – know, we are able to do one thing well: Pivot!

Side Note: It’s June, which means – amongst many other things – it is Audiobook Appreciation Month. The past couple of years I have written a blog post about the awesomeness of audiobooks. I planned to continue the trend this year, but ultimately decided not to (Pivot!). Instead, I’ll just tell you that audiobook reading is real reading. Audiobooks are awesome. Everyone should try at least one. And, I’m always happy to give recommendations (though these days my tastes skew more adult romance than anything appropriate for younger ears).

Today’s blog post was written by Amanda L. S. Murphy, Branch Manager at Warren, Trumbull County Public Library in Ohio, on behalf of the ALSC Managing Children’s Services Committee. She can be reached at murphya@wtcpl.org. This post addresses core competencies: Outreach and Advocacy 6 and Administrative and Managements Skills 1, 2, and 8.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *