I have a rough idea of how many types of "special" programs (i.e., not recurring, age-specific story times) I want our department to offer every month. As I find ideas in the books I read, professional journals, and (primarily) online, I fill in the program spaces in my grid. As you can see, in some areas I am much better planned than others. I don't have my January outreach story time figured out yet, for example, despite the fact that it is most definitely already January. But I do have science program topics planned out for many months to come.
My programming grid helps me keep tabs on all of the program ideas that end up bouncing around my brain, and it absolutely streamlines my process when I need to plug programs into a schedule. As far as planning program content, though? How I do that can vary hugely, and many times it takes the form of what Marge at Tiny Tips for Library Fun calls "unprogramming." Here are three examples of my different programming styles:
- For school-age programs (that are not science programs): I tend to find inspiration for these programs in the form of complete ideas; that is, I find the theme, activities, and related books all at once. Thus, when I have a school-age program idea, I plug it into my program grid and create a Google Doc with the full program itinerary. Said itinerary can be structured (e.g., booktalk, craft, activity, craft, closing activity), but just as often the itinerary lists a few loose ideas of things we can do depending on audience mood. Regardless of whether I program or unprogram these events, I spend about 45 minutes planning for an average 45 minute program.
- For science programs: I spend downtime on the reference desk browsing science activities online, and when I find at least three on any given STEM topic, I consider that topic program-worthy. I plug the topic into my program grid, create a Google Doc with the program topic as the title, and wait until about two weeks before the program to solidify my program itinerary and create program materials. For these programs, I spend about 90 minutes for an average 45 minute program.
- For story times: With the exception of in the fall, when I incorporate state award-nominated picture books into my story times, I tend to keep a free planning style for story times. I like to look through new picture books as they are delivered to the branch, and I often find myself pulling these titles to share at upcoming story times. I'll frequently fill out these program reading lists with books from favorite authors, folktales, and classic picture books. I note relevant early literacy connection as I read through the books, and that's enough for me to be prepared to share tips in the program. Oh yes, and the craft. More and more often, I turn to so-called "blank page crafts" for my story times with a craft component. The freedom and creativity allowed by such crafts with loose parameters are developmentally beneficial to children, and I love the interactions I have with them when they tell me about their creations. That works for me. I usually spend between 15 and 30 minutes planning for 30-45 minute story times.
So that's what I do when it comes to program planning. Even within my variety of programs, there are a range of program planning styles that I use. In my opinion, there is no one right way to plan programs--so long as the resulting programs are engaging, quality, and supporting some aspect of the library's mission, like literacy, education, lifelong learning, etc. (I will say, however, that when you spend 3, 4, 5 times as much time planning as you do providing a program, it's time to start evaluating program content priorities--more on that in a future post).
What about you? How to do plan for your library programs? Take a moment and answer that question below; I'll share results in an upcoming blog post.