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Program FAILS: Another thing I didn’t learn about in library school.

It was a Friday afternoon – my day off – and I was in a panic.  I had to set up for my big summer program, an open mic night, and things were falling apart, starting with the fact that I had no key with which to let myself in to the library for this after hours event.  I made a few calls to coworkers who live nearby, but no one answered.  I thought fast.  An outdoor open mic wouldn’t be so bad, right?

Actually, on a nice summer night it could be perfect.  I dug around in the basement and found some folding chairs, a rug for the amp and mic stand, and a whole lot of extension cords.  I packed this, along with a crate full of old sheets and blankets for seating, the amp, mic stand, mic, music stand… and my two kids (gosh, I thought my husband would be home by now!) into my hatchback and headed to work.   On the way, I got a call from my boss who was a)home and b)willing to lend me his key.  Yay!  I doubled back (oh shoot, now I’ve got a sleeping kid in the backseat), grabbed the key and made it to the library with plenty of time to freak the heck out of the janitor, who didn’t know I was coming, and set up.

It was all coming together.  My kids found a few dinosaur books and did the mic check for me, I put signs on the doors, my husband arrived to take the kids home, and I waited.  And waited.  And waited… 
And then I admitted defeat, gave up, took down the mic, mic stand, music stand, amp, pushed the chairs back into their normal spots, loaded up my car, changed the sign on the door, turned off the lights, and closed up shop.  Not a single soul had showed.
It was pretty disappointing. 
But not as disappointing as the time I hosted Exam Cram, only to find that the group that had taken up residence in the room with the snacks and the nice big table — the Board room — had decided to have a food fight to rival Animal House while I checked on other groups and was getting more snacks and sodas to refill.  I’ve never been so angry at teens in my library.  The blatant disrespect, the mess I was left to clean up, the waste… Well, you can imagine, right?
It’s not all sunshine and roses.  
But even when it all goes south, there can be positive take-aways.  My exam cram experience showed me that dancing on the right side of the line between trust and supervision is important, and that it wasn’t right to let one group monopolize a resource.  I’ve changed the structure and organization of my twice yearly exam cram now and haven’t had a single comparable incident since.

My open mic night – at the peak of summer on a beautiful night – didn’t hold a candle to the ballgames, ice cream shops, and outdoor movies that had drawn my teens away from the library and into summertime activities.  My marketing for the event also left something to be desired, and I realized that while the newsletter is great for promoting events to parents who will sign their younger teens up for activities, it’s dismal at promoting to more autonomous older teens – the kind that would take the initiative to come to an open mic.  I’m persevering and will try again with some different strategies in place.

We can learn from what worked, but also from what didn’t work.  
So, spill.

Out your worst program fails and let’s all groan at them together, then let’s troubleshoot ways to fix these flops and do better next time.  

Comments

  1. Created & advertised an early evening program for parents & students on social-networking safety tips (2-3 years ago) & not 1 person showed up. I still have all the pamphlets I ordered. Will let them go soon I think :). Also did a Winter Reading Challenge this year – with prizes & had only 1 form turned in. Students had 2 weeks after start of spring semester to turn in forms, but only 1 came through.

  2. Those are extra disappointing because they must've taken so much time and effort to plan! I think the safety tips program is a good example of the divide between what is popular and what we sometimes get pressure from the higher ups to offer.

  3. I once put together a program with the local SANE coordinator on recognizing the signs of dating violence and discussing healthy relationships. 1 teen girl and her mom showed up. That was all. On the whole I have found that educational programs have the lowest attendance.

    I have also tried doing book discussion groups several times in a variety of ways and have never had success. I read about others having success and sigh. I love to talk about books.

  4. I've had success with a couple book discussion groups, but only when it offered something different and special. Galleys, a chance to get to the BFYA session, etc. Regular book discussions have flopped for me too. Too much like school maybe?

  5. As an author, I was invited to speak at an evening event at a library and no one showed up. The librarian in charge of the teen/children's program got on the phone and called some of her most loyal patrons. Which I thought was really above and beyond. But still no one came. I gave my presentation to the three or four librarians/staff and we had a discussion/sharing and it was a lovely evening.

  6. Collaborated with two other libraries to have a ya author come. She was amazing…but only 12 people showed up, and only 2 of those were actual teens. I have never had a successful teen book club. Ever. The teens who, while I wasn't watching, made “legalize drugs” t-shirts when I graciously let them join in Middle School Madness b/c only 2 middle schoolers had shown up…I'd probably have more, but I rarely do teen programming, it's not a priority at our library.

  7. I'm in my very first library job and I'm the teen services coordinator. When told “Hey, you should do a summer reading program for teens!” I planned out eight weeks worth of programs (one program a week, three or four different activities per program–no one has pinned like I have pinned). We put it in the newspaper, on television, on the radio. I designed and printed out pamphlets and bookmarks to hand out to teens coming in and I had a ton of interest from parents and teens. I ordered prizes and got local businesses to donate things for a big prize at the end of the program.

    My grand total of attendance: 1.

    One person came to one program.

    Thanks so much for posting this! I don't feel like such a failure.

  8. I'm in my very first library job and I'm the teen services coordinator. When told “Hey, you should do a summer reading program for teens!” I planned out eight weeks worth of programs (one program a week, three or four different activities per program–no one has pinned like I have pinned). We put it in the newspaper, on television, on the radio. I designed and printed out pamphlets and bookmarks to hand out to teens coming in and I had a ton of interest from parents and teens. I ordered prizes and got local businesses to donate things for a big prize at the end of the program.

    My grand total of attendance: 1.

    One person came to one program.

    Thanks so much for posting this! I don't feel like such a failure.

  9. I've recently got my very first library job, where I am the YA services coordinator. When told “Hey, you should put together a summer reading program!” I got all excited. I spent months pinning and saving ideas. No one has pinned like I have pinned. I put together eight weeks worth of programs, with three or four activities for reach program. We advertised it in the newspaper, on tv, on the radio. I designed and printed out pamphlets and bookmarks and put signs up all over the teen section. I actually had a lot of interest from parents and teens. I ordered prizes for reading books and got local businesses to donate gift cards and movie tickets so that I could hand out a bigger prize at the end for whoever read the most.

    My total attendance: 1

    One person came to one program.

    Thanks for posting this! I feel like less of a failure now.

  10. Michelle says:

    Last week, I hosted a Crime Scene Investigation program that was supposed to be presented by a detective from the local sheriff's department (which is literally across the street from the library). No one showed up, including the speaker.

  11. My husband (who works for a local bank), agree to put on a “Money Sense for Teens” program, put together a presentation and brought a huge box full of promotional items for giveaways. One kid showed up for the program, but he enjoyed the fact that my husband gave him all the tshirts, keyrings, mouse pads, etc!

    No-show programs are a major bummer! We've noticed that the programs we plan on our own (without our Teen Library Council's input) are more likely to have low numbers, though that may have to do with teen buy-in…

  12. Holiday party last year. My Teen Advisory Council BEGGED AND BEGGED for an Ugly Sweater party. Maybe a dozen teens showed up, ZERO from the TAC. For that type of event, for my library, that's a total flop. On the other hand, a few weeks ago I thought I'd get about 20-30 for my costume ball and I got over 60. Trial and error!

  13. I've kind of been thrown into the role of teen librarian (among several others, which I was hired on for). I work in a library that has never had teen program of any kind. I started the month before our Summer reading program was slated to start and a few supplies had been purchased, but not a whole lot. Nonetheless, I planned 9 programs. The first program had a 3-teen turn out (with some young adult add-ons) and we had a great time playing board games. Second program (crafts) had 8 teens. Third (games) had 2. Fourth (crafts) had 6. Fifth-Eighth had none. My final program this morning had 3 teens with a few kids joining in.
    It's a crushing feeling when you've got everything planned and no one shows. I just have to remind myself that this is the first time they've ever had programs with teens, so it'll get better. Especially if I can get a Teen Advisory Group going on.

  14. I had a program on letterboxing (sort of like geocashing…super fun!) yesterday, and no one came. 🙁 I could have advertised better, but I was out sick the whole start of the week, so that didn't help. Also for two years running now I have tried to have a weekly arts and crafts program for teens during summer reading and attendance has been almost nothing. Sigh…maybe it's time to give it up. I had such visions of a nice big group of artsy teens making amazing art in the library…not to be, I guess.

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