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TL v60n2: Set Your Programs on Fire…and Keep Them Asking for More
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Tennessee Libraries 

Volume 60 Number 2



 Set Your Programs on Fire ... and Keep Them Asking for More 


Michele Parsley

Highland Rim Regional Library


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Presented at the 2010 TLA Annual Conference

Today’s libraries are the hub of every community.  They have become a lifeline to those seeking jobs, tax assistance, unemployment benefits and so much more. They offer free help and no hassle. Citizens have become dependent on these facilities and the staffs who run them.  Computers glow, downloads slide quietly into JumpDrives, Wi-Fi hums, self-check pings, and books flow out the door.  The circulation climbs as more patrons discover the many forms of media readily available.  The library is alive and vital!

It is time to meet with the local officials to present the library budget for the next fiscal year. The word on the street hints that the process is going to be painful.  The economic woes of the world have impacted local governments and cuts are inevitable.  How well do the town fathers know their library director and the services provided to the public by the library?  Have you, as that director, cultivated an ongoing report with the public you serve?  Do you take your services out to those who cannot come to you?  Have you invited the leaders of your community into your library, included them in the programs and kept them informed of changes and improvements?

Do you feel you are too busy?  Have you tried that and they didn’t come?  Perhaps a more circumvent approach might work.  The business community in most areas is also made of those individuals who become involved in local government.  Consider initiating programs in your library that include the business community.

Micki Parsley and Rebecca Bowles, Outreach Services of Highland Rim Regional Library, conduct adult programming at assisted living centers throughout their region.   At the TLA Conference held in Memphis this April they offered pointers on presenting programs and how librarians could adapt the ideas for use in a library setting.  They proposed inviting the local businesses to participate in the programs to assist in building useful relationships that may be of great support at future budget meetings.

One of the most successful programs Micki and Rebecca have conducted is “Wedding Remembrances”.  They have carried their wedding dresses, pictures, and books pertaining to weddings throughout the region.  This program has evoked many memories and stimulated wonderful discussions.

Micki and Rebecca suggested that a library presenting this program invite local businesses that would be involved in making a wedding day memorable.  These could include the wedding planner, florist, organist, photographer, baker, dressmaker, minister, caterer, etc.  Advertising this event would naturally include the local press and media.  The library director should encourage the public to bring their wedding pictures, display several unique dresses, floral arrangements, invitations, books and web sites.  The caterer and baker could provide small refreshments to advertise their specialties. The library would be bringing together the public and the business sector for an informative and enjoyable event.

This may sound way too trivial, but Micki and Rebecca can attest to the success of this endeavor by drawing many individuals into the assisted living centers where they have offered the program.  The Red Hat Ladies, Retired Teachers Association, friends and family members line up to enjoy an afternoon of books and information.  Taking the “show on the road”, as Micki and Rebecca refer to it, is another way to promote the library and its’ activities.  Most communities have such facilities as senior centers, assisted living centers, and Alzheimer’s centers.  

Many of these centers have transportation for their residents, but travel can be difficult and requires careful planning.  Bringing programs to the centers is usually greatly appreciated.

Today more seniors are staying fit and remaining mobile, although some may need gentle, watchful guidance.  Assisted living centers allow their residents the freedom and flexibility they desire while maintaining a level of security.  These folks are alert and active, and as so, are great groups for the interaction of book talks and themed programs.  Many of them are still politically active and can be wonderful advocates for their local library.

How do you, as a busy library director, go about presenting programming outside of your library setting?  You have a small staff and time is limited. There may be help in the form of your Friends group, the Regional Library Center, or perhaps you know of an energetic person just dying to get involved in a project.  Micki and Rebecca offer a nuts and bolts approach to going on the road.

It is important to the project to have a good working relationship with the facility’s activities director. Activities directors wear many hats.  Their time may be limited so consequently they are responsive to suggestions and help.  Outreach services from your library can fill the bill!  A well-planned program with need of little additional effort on the part of the activities director is most welcome.  The activities director will know much about the residents’ interests and can make helpful suggestions.

Choose topics that can easily include involvement from the residents, such as decorating hats to be worn at “An Afternoon Tea”.  Inquire into the interests of the residents to help formulate ideas.  The love of animals, travels, military life, favorite sports and hobbies, are all themes that work well. Remember to include topics and books that will appeal to both men and women.  Themes and books that generate reminiscing are ideal.  

Communicate with the activities director prior to presenting the program about seating arrangements, the anticipated number of attendees and any special equipment or set-up you require.  Coordinate responsibilities when refreshments are part of the presentation.  Many centers gladly prepare refreshments that correspond with the theme.  Sparkling wine with cheese and crackers can be offered for “A Wine Tasting” theme, ice-cream with special toppings for “An Ice-Cream Social”, and lots of chocolate during “A Chocolate Affair”.

Display the books used in the talk to peak interest and use them as a guide to your presentation. Add related items to the display to reinforce the theme.  Teapots, cups, samples of teas, folded napkins, trays, etc., add much visual depth to “An Afternoon Tea”.  Frequently these items will spark a lively discussion.

Keep it light and insert humor into the program.  Encourage comments to engage the audience as much as possible.  Aim for twenty to thirty minutes if refreshments are to be served.  Enjoy yourself and it will become contagious!

The success of these programs will be reflected in an increase in circulation of books pertaining to the subject.  Micki and Rebecca will leave the books they have used in the program for the residents to enjoy.   The outreach is repeated once every three months allowing plenty of time for the books to circulate throughout the facility.  Family members become aware of the service and are pleased that such a service is provided.   This is an added plus for your library giving it more visibility within the community.

Take a step outside of your library and gaze around your town.   Where do you see opportunities to spread the word about the wonderful services your library has to offer?  As the commercial states – “Get out there”!  Spreading the word is like spreading the jam, it makes everything sweeter. 

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