Good program gone bad

08 Apr

Today a program failed. I had all the elements: a recently released movie that should appeal to tweens and teens, marketing AND a raffle of a copy of the movie and the book it was based on, and snacks. The combination worked well last summer, and it was fine in the fall programming line-up too, but today it was a bust. After a half hour watching the movie in a big meeting room by myself I decided to pack it in and do something more useful, so I’m rewriting (again) this long overdue YASF blogpost.

Panic Button to summon an army of magical teen volunteers

All in all, despite some minor hardship and expense in getting the raffle items for today I consider this kind of failure to be almost a success. No presenters were harmed in the making of this program, no teens either. There are a lot of ways for a program to fail:

    • Fifteen minutes before your program starts and your star presenter is an hour away, stuck in traffic.
    • The presenter showed but your meeting room equipment is failing and they can’t project their multimedia presentation.
    • The presenter showed on time and everything works; but, for some reason the hundred teens you estimated turns into only four actual teens who show. Mostly likely half of those that showed are the volunteers who helped with set-up and are only staying to tear down.
    • What if too many kids show? Word of mouth got around and now anime or manga club gatherings need a staff of ten just to keep the peace, but there’s still just the one teen librarian to manage it.
    • You lost (misplaced, forgot to order, or didn’t get the right amount for) the honorarium check and now the presenter is refusing to present and is, in fact, storming out angrily.
    • Insert your horror stories in the comments, I know you’ve got at least one.

These are the times when it would be nice to have a panic button that would deploy a regiment teen volunteers that are trained and ready to turn your failing program into a success. But, as great as teen volunteers are (and they are really great) they aren’t magical. Maybe this is why I like planning programs like today’s movie. I also sigh with relief every time I schedule a crafting, video game, or book club program. These programs still require time, some expense, and effort on my part, of course; but for the most part, (barring the unforeseen failure of a free movie in the battle of free movie vs. a very nice day outside.) they are safe and reliable and we know what and who to expect. Best of all, I rarely or never need to bring in someone from outside the library to do these programs. Too bad they can’t all be craft programs. (No, they really can’t all be craft programs.) When they fail, they do so quietly and without fuss. The only damage done is to my ego. But the “safe” programs are just not enough. To let my programs thrive, I must bring in outside presenters.

If the solution to “Programmers Anxiety” is not to stick to the safe programs, what is it? Well, the first action is going to be a no-brainer; gain the experience all while expecting things to go wrong. Stress out about it if you must (I must.) Don’t be afraid to plan programs that are going to stress you out. The first author visit that I ever tried planning was a dismal failure compared to the second and so on. Experience also allows for that holy grail of programming: knowing your audience. I know that my audience is very big on writing workshop programs; so, my second author visit was a combo. One program was a standard author visit and then after about an hour break the author did a writing workshop. Many kids came to both, some came to just one or the other, but either way both programs went swimmingly.

Knowing my audience much better now means I have a better grasp on the kinds of programs that really do require sign-up, and what works better as a drop-in. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, I know. Our Children’s Department only does sign-up because they are expecting too many people, as do our adult computer programs. For my programs though, it is frequently the opposite. For some reason, if teens must sign up at my library, then they will come. This also allows me to cancel or reschedule programs where I’m not getting any interest.

Speaking of getting their interest; marketing is something we talk about at conferences and on blogs, but there is only so much advice that gets tossed around, and even less of that is applicable to any particular library setting. Using “word of mouth” is one of those things we get told a lot that is a mixed bag of usefulness. If the kids think to tell their friends and want them to come then word of mouth can be a great tool, but it doesn’t always work that way. Other advice is “take advantage of every marketing resource you have.” But, I don’t pull out the big guns of marketing on all my programs. I know the Anime Club is going to be well attended; I just have to let them know when it will be. But when I have a program I really want to do well then I push it on our website, social media sites, brochures, newsletter, electronic sign, and at every program I have leading up to the one I’m worried about, I’ll mention it. What do you do to ensure (as much as possible) successful (by whatever measure you deem success) programs?

1 Comment

Posted by on April 8, 2011 in Programming


One response to “Good program gone bad

  1. jennifer324

    May 10, 2011 at 11:49 am

    Thank you for posting this, Sarah! 🙂 We have ALL been there. Having that failed program experience only makes us stronger.

    I always think that if you try, for example, ten programs, and only half of them are a hit, then you have five great programs! But… if you play it safe and try only one program that you really think will work, and then it fails, you’ll always be starting from the drawing board.


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