Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What They Didn't Teach in Library School: Promotion & Programming

'What They Didn't Teach In Library School' is a series of guest-authored posts, written by YA Librarians from around the country, highlighting situations or skills that were never addressed in formal Library School, but that are integral to librarianship.
Promotion & Programming by Nick Madsen

How do we keep this crazy ball rolling?
For those that have been paying attention to these guest posts, you might have noticed that mine came out a little bit late. Ironically, I got caught in the tidal wave of programs this week, and completely spaced that I was the guest blogger. My bad!

Now before I start giving my ideas, please know that I have absolutely no answers for you. I click on pretty much anything that has promotion and programming ideas in the title or tags. But, even though I get some ideas from these posts, it still doesn't solve the quintessential problem; how do I ensure that my programs are vibrant, engaging, and growing?

Short Answer: I believe that each library, each librarian, and each program will have a very different answer to that quintessential problem, so just keep working on that perfect combination, and then keep mixing so it stays awesome.

Sometimes I’m overwhelmed with the sheer number of programs that I have to plan, as well as the diversity programming needs of the teens I serve.  What I've found when it comes to program ideas and planning that the trick is to narrow it down!  Don't let yourself get overwhelmed. Keep Calm and Plan a Program.

"There is no time for cut-and-dried monotony."
When trying to reach as many teens as possible, try a rotating schedule with varying types of programs. For older elementary and middle school students my rotation has consisted of the following programs: Games (video & board), Science Experiments, Cooking, and Crafts.  Our high school teens have different wants and needs, so their programs have bounced from Next-Gen Advisory Team (our Teen Advisory Board) to TeenBookWorms (our book group), movie nights, and special events like a Zombie Prom or Hunger Games Party.

"Commandeer. We're going to commandeer that ship."
Coming up with new program ideas can be difficult, so here are some things to try to get that ol' imagination flowing:

  • Ask yourself 'what did I like as a kid?'.
  • Would something "old school" work for your group?
  • Which video games or apps are popular right now? Notice that Angry Birds is huge? Try a Life-Size, Live-Action Angry Birds game.
  • Ask your peeps
  • Notice that you have absolutely no ideas? Commandeer ideas from Pinterest boards, blogs or craft sites and adapt them for your students.*

It’s completely true that most people don’t know what they want until they see it. But, asking for input and letting your participants choose from a couple different options has worked for me. If they’re excited about it, they’re more than likely to come, right?

Program Promotion - Don’t Be Discouraged

Working with teens often feels like herding cats.  Sometimes you've planned a really great program, promoted it from the rooftops and no one shows.  Or even worse, only one or two teen show.  So, what’s the trick to getting them to show up? I think it is about building relationships with your teens and  doing your job to the utmost.  Don't be so concerned with the outcomes or the statistics. There are bosses and boards that want amazing programs, high program attendance, and consistency. But consistency and teen programming do not go hand-in-hand.  Don't worry about the numbers, focus on relationships with your teens and the statistics will work themselves out.

Blast It All Over
Everyone tells us that about 10% of the people you tell about a program will actually show up.  It is likely that the percentage is even lower for teens.  If that’s the case, you need to reach as many people as possible. Get your program information onto social media, school newsletters, school newspapers, school video announcements, home school newsletters, email lists, text alerts, Foursquare, local business windows and bulletin boards, and obviously all over your library.

But, while you’re doing all of that, don’t forget about connecting with people one on one. I can’t count the times that a program is saved from obscurity because one teacher got excited about it.  So, if you’re a school librarian talk to your public librarian, and if you’re a public librarian talk to your school librarian. Visit the PTAs at the schools.  Say "YES" when a school asks you to read The Lorax at their next assembly. Visit that classroom with your science experiments and keep following up with the after school group that likes you. Talk to that friend that has a son or daughter that could be coming to your fabulous program. See if a Youth Group will let you mention your programs during their game night.

You are the brand!  It all boils down to one thing, your programs are awesome because you are awesome. You are the brand that makes these programs work! So keep working, keep trying, and keep connecting.

About Nick Madsen
Nick Madsen is the Young Adult Librarian at the Community Library Network at Hayden. When he isn’t filling-in for a storytime, blowing things up, working on his MLIS (hopefully finishing this fall) or chatting about everything or nothing after a program, you will most likely find him hanging out with family and friends, playing ultimate frisbee or basketball, ballroom dancing, or helping at his church. You can find him on Facebook as Nick Madsen or at Next-Gen Adults of the Community Library Network, on Twitter as @CLN4NextGen, or his library blog at

Want more posts on issues not covered in Library School?
Check out Teen Librarian Toolbox's series Behind the Scenes @ the Library.