Monday, July 8, 2013

Unprogramming, Part I: Programming Motivations & Pitfalls

On the Monday of the 2013 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago, Marge Loch-Wouters and I led a conversation starter on the topic of Unprogramming: Recipes for School-Age Program Success. We had a number of requests to put our content online, and we will be doing so in installments over the course of this week. Chime in with your own unprogramming ideas and stories in the comments or on Twitter using the hashtag #unprogramming.


Programming. We all do it: planning what we'll do, gathering our materials, promoting the event to library families, and hosting the program on our specified day and time. Most of us got our chops planning story times for preschoolers. Preschool story time is a highly choreographed affair, with specifically-chosen stories, rhymes, and fingerplays that blend together to become more than the sum of their parts. Preschool programming also involves engaging caregivers in a way that influences them to facilitate their children's literacy development outside of the program room. Sure, preschool story time requires a degree of flexibility in content to account for the attention spans' of the audience; but that's flexibility with oodles of planned materials. Preschool programming takes a lot of planning.

But what about school-age programming, the older cousin of preschool programming? What's going on there?

Libraries have many various motivations for offering programming for their school-age customers:
  • We want to draw people into our buildings
  • We want to provide entertainment
  • We want to highlight our library collections
  • We want to increase use and circulation of our materials
  • We want to support literacy in every form
  • We want to allow children to try new things and develop their own interests
  • We want to engage larger, more diverse audiences of community members

As much as we may want to jump full into school-age programming, we as librarians acknowledge that programming pitfalls do exist:
  • Program fatigue is a thing, and librarians can find themselves burnt out by offering too many high-intensity programs
  • Planning time takes over other duties
  • Many programs cost money, and budgets may or may not support program costs
  • You never know just how many kids will participate
  • Kids who have attended past programs have appeared bored
  • Staff aren't very interested or invested in offering interesting programming for school-agers

And yet, despite these potential pitfalls, we continue to program for school-agers, as we should. But, *EUREKA!*, programming for school-age children does not need to be a time-consuming, exhaustively-planned affair fraught with worry and burnout. On the contrary, librarians can unprogram for school-age children.

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