Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Open Sesame!

At the recent Alberta Library Conference, I attended a session entitled "Open Sesame: Taking Programming Outside of the Program Room" by Donna Bedry and Jeri Maitland from Calgary Public Library.  Donna and Jeri introduced the group to the concept of "open space" programming which takes library programming outside of the program room and into open spaces - either within the library or outside.  By moving programs out into the open, CPL has found that more people attend their sessions and they are able to draw in a mixed and unexpected audience.  Open space programs are much more relaxed, enabling people to stop in for the whole program or for 5 minutes as they are passing through.  They get people to the program who may have missed it in the program guide or people who simply happen to come across it while they are picking up holds or browsing the collection.

Since these programs allow people to come and go as they please it is a bit more difficult to gather stats on program attendance.  However, Donna and Jeri advised libraries to simply wait until a peak moment in the program and then count the number of people participating.  They also suggested focussing less on the number of people attending and more on outcomes - the stories that patrons share about the program experience.

Think you want to try NOT using your program room?
Here are a few tips from Donna and Jeri:
1. Encourage staff to invite people to participate.
2. Leave enough space around the program area for people to leave if they choose.
3. If you expect 30 people, only put up about 15 chairs and add more as you go.  Making it look busy draws more people in.
4. Put up a "Please Join Us!" sign.  Some patrons may not feel comfortable joining a program in progress unless they are invited to do so.
5. Plan open space programs at predictable times - CPL holds them on Wednesdays from 12 - 1 PM, but you may want to choose a time when you are busiest.  Just be sure to schedule the programming consistently - your patrons will get used to it and anticipate when things will be happening.  The idea is to instill in your patrons that "something's always going on at the library!" and that the library isn't always a "quiet place."

They did point out that there may be a few times when open space programming isn't the best option:
1. For programs that involve babies - those little ones need to be corralled!
2. For presenters who are too quiet or programs that require quiet.
3. For "private" topics.
4. For programs that involve food.  

Donna and Jeri not only shared tips on carrying out open space programming, but they also shared some of the great sessions that they have done:

  • Spring Plant Exchange - they advertised this program weeks in advance, but they still had people rushing home to dig up plants to share after seeing the exchange happening.
  • Ecopalooza - they brought in local environmental groups to showcase new stuff like a blender powered by a bicycle!  This program also involved a walking hawk display - a hawk handler actually wandered the library with a hawk on his arm!
  • Aldermanic Meet and Greet - patrons had the chance to ask questions and even people passing by could hear the answers
  • Music in March - local musicians played near the circulation desk every Wednesday in March during the lunch hour
  • Fibre Arts Fair - patrons could not only admire all of the quilts and other fibre creations, but they could also learn to knit, weave, hook, etc.
  • Lego Tournament - prizes for winners sponsored by the local Lego store
  • Teen Takeover - teens take over the library for a day
  • On the Go story times - unscheduled story times for anyone who cares to take part
  • Bike workshop - local bike repair expert brought in to help tune up patron's bikes
  • Coffee & Conversation - this program was especially favoured by CPL's immigrant population
  • Antiques Appraisal Day - used an estate appraiser to do their own version of "Antiques Road Show"
  • Single in the Suburbs - a great chance for like-minded singles to meet and mingle
All of these programs sounded great and could easily be adapted for use in your libraries.  If you would like more details on a specific program, let me know and I can contact Donna or Jeri.  

So, the next time you plan a program, consider taking it outside of your program room and out into the library!  Open sesame!

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