Thursday, October 23, 2014

What Does a Balanced Program Calendar Look Like?

File this under "Things I'm Thinking About Because I Just Started at a New Job, But That All YS Folks Should Consider at Least Annually."

One of my responsibilities in my new position is coordinating programs. Right now, we're on a quarterly program calendar; we're always planning programs in three-month chunks. I coordinate programs led by youth staff; digital media specialists; our experiential learning librarian; our special needs lead; and featured/hired performers. Since we're a standalone library, all programming happens at our one location. Which means there's a lot of coordinating that goes into finalizing any quarterly program calendar.

So what does a blanked program calendar look like? When you're combining so many contributions, so many spinning gears, how do you make sure you're hitting all the right spots, and how do you identify what you may be overlooking? Let me say that I make no claims to have perfected a balanced program calendar--especially at a library I'm still getting to know. But I have been thinking about it a lot, and I think that a balanced program calendar will take into account the following:

1. Your institution's strategic goals and/or annual objectives.

What is your institution striving to achieve? Are you seeking out a specific audience of new program participants? Are you looking to support curricular mile markers in your community? Do you have a quantitative goal for increasing programs, or program attendance? Goals and objectives can be whatever you and your institution have decided, but they need to be kept in mind throughout every program planning cycle.

2. The age range(s) you serve.

And not just the age range you currently serve with current programs; in many cases, the programming scales are heavily tipped toward early literacy (an excellent program category) but with minimal, or no, school-age offerings. Consider the full range of people you serve in your department, or ideally want to serve. And remember: the caregivers in your department count, too.

3. Developmentally Appropriate Programming.

I'm delving more deeply into this particular subject in coming months, but it's safe to say at this point that not every program is appropriate for every age. And by the same token, if the Percy Jackson program you offer for grades K-5 is only attended by K-3, then you're actually not meeting the program needs of those older elementary kids. Consider what is appropriate for specific ages, based on your childhood development expertise, when you plan a program; and then consider that program's reach after it's been offered. I find that it's particularly important to be reflective about programming when it comes to the age of kids we serve, because who we think will attend a program can often be different from who actually attends a program. And that often leaves the kids at the old ends of age ranges without much to do in the library.

4. Literacy (broadly).

I can go on and on and on about how literacy in library services for youth doesn't refer exclusively to early literacy. There are so many types of literacy, and they are appropriate at different ages and stages of learning. What types of literacy do you want to promote? Reading? STEAM? Digital citizenship? Social literacy? Be thoughtful about what types of literacies you want to help kids develop, and integrate those into your program calendar. NB: They don't have to be standalone programs; you can integrate pretty much any type of literacy into existing programs with a bit of research and planning.

5. The special needs programming your community needs.

I will never purport to be an expert on special needs programming, but I do know that every community needs something unique when it comes to special needs programming. Talk to schools, parents, your special needs librarian, etc., to suss out what types of special needs programming will be most utilized by your community. Remember that all ages of children with special needs can benefit from special needs programming, and also that there are huge benefits to programs in which children with special needs are alongside typically developing children.

6. Staff sanity.

A balanced program calendar can only truly be balanced if the staff providing the programs don't feel crushed and stressed by what's being asked of them. Talk to program providers. Talk to desk staff who are covering the front lines of service while programs are happening. Yes, programming usually means that there are some days and times that are more hectic than others; but it doesn't mean we all have to be running ragged all the time. Consider when thoughtful breaks from regular programming, like storytimes, may be useful for staff, and also consider what alternative activities you can offer in these breaks. Be creative in what you offer, but be kind to staff, too. A balance program calendar is one that is sustainable.

7. Major initiatives.

These may be big projects specific to your library or system. For instance, every January and February, we take part in a community-wide initiative called Coming Together in Skokie and Niles Township, which requires a fair amount of special programming on our part. These types of projects definitely need consideration for a balanced program calendar.

Remember state and national initiatives, too. There's Take Your Child to the Library Day (beginning of February); World Read Aloud Day (beginning of March); National Libraries Week (April); Día (end of April); Star Wars Reads Day (October); and many more. Make a longterm calendar that includes these annual initiatives so they never sneak up on you, then choose the ones that best fit with your library's goals and mission to celebrate and program around.

8. Timing.

I feel like this last point is fairly obvious: you don't want all of the programs happening at once, nor do you want there to be huge swaths of time in which nothing is happening. Take into consideration school breaks when you schedule programs. Take into consideration what else is happening in the library and in the larger community. Take into consideration the schedules of working parents. Take into consideration staff schedules. In short, be incredibly intentional about timing.

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These are the major things I'm currently considering when it comes to a balanced program calendar. I feel confident that these considerations will evolve and grow as I become more familiar with my new position. Also, summer is its own can of worms in most libraries. But for now, these eight points are helping me to think about programming in a way that is balanced for our community's needs.

What do you consider what it comes to creating a balanced program calendar?

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