I knew what type of librarian I wanted to be when I entered library school- absolutely, positively a public youth services librarian. No, I didn’t want school librarianship, nor reference or databases or tech, even though it was recommended to me at various times. I took every class I could related to youth and teen services that my school offered, including ones on the doctoral level. Yet none of them ever dealt with that tricky area youth service librarians deal with EVERY SINGLE SUMMER: the outside performer.
You have this money, and you want to spend it wisely, because this outside performer is going to represent the library and your department, and you want to make such a good impression. And you want the audience to have such a wonderful time that they’ll be asking when the next one is. Yet, at times, it’s a crap shoot to what you’ll get. I’ve learned over the years that there are some things you can do to help yourself out when booking performers, when dealing with performers, and when they (knock on wood don’t show up).
Do Your Homework
It sounds like a no-brainer, but I have heard horror stories from some librarians who have said, oh this performer was so AWFUL! and when I ask about what steps they took to learn about them before booking them, there weren’t any- they just fit the price. *bangs head* First step is to take a look at the performers website; see if the website is current, and see what reviews they have. Remember that they aren’t going to post any negative ones, but you can scan and see if there are any from libraries around you. If the website isn’t current, or if the reviews are sparse or from certain locations over and over (churches or small libraries when you’re a huge library with a large crowd) they may not be the performer for you.
Phone a Friend (or Three)
Call around to your network of librarians, and ask specifically about the performer. Have they had them, what did they charge, how did they go over with the crowd? Where they on time, where there any issues? If you don’t know anyone (fix this right away if that is the case) get on one of the local or national discussion lists and ask for local librarians who have had this performer to contact you off-list.
Attend Performer Showcases
In my area (and I bet in other areas as well), there are numerous performer showcases presented in the fall and spring. Think of it like conference exhibits for performers in your area. Those that choose to have a booth, and can also perform during exhibition session. Librarians are invited to attend and talk to performers, gather information, sign up for emails, and can get discounts if you book shows during the showcase.
Making a List, and Checking It Twice
It may sound silly, but just as I keep notes of what programs do well and what don’t in my library, I keep track of what performers do well and don’t do well at my library. I keep a copy of the contract in there, so I know historically what we’ve paid for the performer and what their terms were, including set-up requirements, so I know if something changes drastically from year to year. If someone was a HUGE hit with my kids, I make notes so that we can be sure to book them again. If they were iffy, then that goes in there as well. If they were rude to staff, or unprofessional, that goes in there as well. I don’t share my notes on their websites- they’re all internal- but I do use them to pick and choose who to have back year after year.