Wednesday, January 9, 2013

What's your programming planning style? (I want to know!)

Library folks have been talking about taking programming breaks lately, and all that talk has got me thinking about program planning--I try to plan in bulk on breaks. You see, in my library district, program event calendars are published every quarter, with event descriptions ready at least a month before the first program. That means my March-May events must be solidified February 1. This schedule requires some amount of forethought and planning, which I create in the form of a programming grid:

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.


  1. I can't seem to get away for the PreSchool age group planning without using a theme! I have found that I force books to fit the theme-many times without great results from the listeners. I am trying to just read great books more and more. Also with the craft for PreSchoolers, I have gone to this rotation: stamping day, stringing (cheerios, ponybeads etc)day, sticker day, playdough day etc. This has freed me up from cutting out construction paper shapes, for them to glue together. It also focuses on fine motor skills and being "process oriented". Hopefully one day I will be able to get the Theme idea out of my head and storytimes.

  2. I'm a loose planner by nature, but I try to have everything as nailed down as possible just in case I'm sick and someone else has to fill in.

  3. A little bit of everything. Sometimes I have everything planned out months in advance (last fall!) sometimes there's a series of emergencies and I plan too many big projects over the break and I end up planning things a week at a time (right now). I do lay out a rough map far in advance - I currently have everything scheduled through the end of 2013 and crafts/projects laid out for the next 3-4 months, although no details. I don't know how people do it otherwise - how do you budget? I do a LOT of craft and art projects - we have something with every single program except baby storytime - so I have to at least know the craft ahead of time so I can lay out the budget and not end up in the fall with no money and no supplies. Basically, I plan the heck out of everything and then go with the flow. Flexibility within organization


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