Help A Bitch Out

Library Programming

Since Bitchery members are big library fans, I wanted to ask you about library programming that you’ve found enormously successful. I’m currently pitching myself as a speaker at libraries, especially those that have a strong fiction and romance collection, but I’m also friends with a few people who serve on library boards.

I think one of the outcomes of a sour economy is an increase in library card registration – I know I jumped on the chance to join the NYPL once I learned I was eligible, which means I have two libraries to choose from. But perhaps new programming initiatives might bring more people into the libraries in their towns – libraries they are already paying for. Increased use of facilities provides a rather interesting cyclical phenomenon: more people coming for fun events means more people using the library and building the community of library patrons… which means more people will get behind library intiatives which may yield more financial assets for the library to use for… wait for it… more fun events and programs!

So, what programs have been successful in your area? Are there particular romance-genre-centered events that you enjoy and would love to see more of? What programs at your library do you absolutely adore? And what types of services or events would you like to see?


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  1. 1
    hollygee says:

    Marin County Library is not pro-romance. It has some, but they seem to have the traditional sighting-down-the-raised-nose syndrome. Your post made me realize that I could do something more than put in a monthly list of books that I would like ordered. I am anticipating ideas from the Bitches.

  2. 2
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    I would like to see more puppet shows, specifically ones that I am performing in, as that is how I make my living.

  3. 3
    ev says:

    Our library is pro-romance, that’s not the problem.

    It’s getting people to understand that they need to be a seperate entity to get more funding. They voted it down. So they closed 2 of the 4 branches in the area. People bitched. Idiots.

  4. 4

    I advertise and market public library programming at my day job. The purpose of the programming is exactly as you say: to get people to come to the library, if possible, people who don’t generally come otherwise. There’s a certain malaise to the population. I joke—seriously, though—that we could give away money at programs and people would still bitch about coming, and once they got there, complain that the dollar bill we gave them was wrinkled.

    We do so many programs that I have trouble cramming them on our monthly hold-slip bookmark, but not many programs focus on romance. We had an erotic romance author give a talk two years ago. A group of students from a local college were studying trends in romance readers and they showed up, mainly to have some fresh meat to fill out their surveys, I think.

  5. 5

    My most successful library programs have been when I’m talking about my research, and then I take questions on my writing or on romance novels in general.  I’ve got three presentations I do, depending on the audience: “Good Girls Go to Heaven, Bad Girls go to Sea”; “A History of Florida Pirates”; and my newest, “‘They that go down to the sea in ships’—A Brief History of Jewish Pirates, Privateers and Seafarers”.

    You need a hook to get the audience to respond to the invite, and just talking about romance novels in general won’t get people flocking to you in droves unless you’re Nora Roberts.  Having food available also helps get people in the door.

    Incidentally, I’ll cheerfully drive to any public library within 100 miles of my home to do a presentation.  I loooooooove my public library, especially Inter-Library Loan!

  6. 6
    Carin says:

    For me, the most successful programming at the library here is the children’s programming.  My library has tons of programming for kids, and I love it.  At this point in my life with munchkins underfoot, anything that will entertain them, and maybe even keep them busy enough for me to go browse for a while, is AWESOME.  Plus the bonus of my kids thinking the library is a top ten destination spot in the world!

    I especially enjoy the summer reading program with weekly hooks to bring the kids (and me) back in.  Once a week they do something like “what’s wrong with the library” where the kids have to look around and notice 3 wierd things such as, the clock is upside down.  They also do a weekly drawing for a give away and the kids get to sign up each time they come in. 

    I’ve never actually gone to any adult programming at the library.  It would have to be a pretty sweet deal for me to pony up for a babysitter or trade for time away with my husband.  Again, I think that’s a reflection of my “age” in life right now with the kiddos.

  7. 7
    Kit says:


    (Of course, I only have a budget for teen programming, so I’m not sure how exactly that will work out, but I’ll think of something.)

    Hmm… programs. In our library, as many people above have said, the big programs are children’s programs. We’ve also noticed that more people are using the library due to the economic downturn, but we’re a city department, and therefore funded by property taxes. (In other words, unlike most businesses, we don’t get more money just because more people are shopping.) We’re trying to serve the increased population with – if we’re lucky – the same staffing and not reductions in force. That means we don’t have as many staff to spare to do programs. (Even when the program is an outside speaker, it takes staff time to publicize, plan the event, do setup and takedown of the meeting room, etc.)

    Our main programming for grown-ups is computer classes (also big in a tough economy, as people want to improve their job skills). Once a month we also have a combined adults-and-kids program where the kids meet in the children’s room to hear stories and the parents meet in the regular meeting room for some kind of activity Our biggest hit programs are ones that let the audience participate, rather than just a lecture or reading – they like crafts (grownups like crafts too!), cooking demos, Wii bowling, etc.

    If it were my demographic you were trying to appeal to (COME TO MY LIBRARY! WE HAVE COOKIES!), I would bill it as a class or a participatory activity – how to write your own book blog, or how to choose romance reading that you’re really going to like, or something like that. I’d bring in the Romance Novel Cover Generator for posters, too. :D

  8. 8
    asdfg says:

    Master Gardeners present gardening seminars in the spring at the several branch libraries within the county. Certain libraries have best attendance on certain days or nights, depending on the demographics of that location. For instance, one draws a crowd at 10:00 on Saturday, while another one draws no one on that day and time.

    Here in the south, don’t schedule anything on Wednesday evenings. That interfers with evening church services.

    Cookies don’t seem to matter, but handouts to take home are big hits.

    Promotion of the seminars gets best results when mentioned in the local newspaper gardening section, and on signs in front of each library (signs changed to reflect latest seminar).

  9. 9
    kate says:

    I have tried a couple romance centered program ideas. The more successful program was a paperback romance swap. It was an informal drop-in program. We seeded it with donations. People dropped off their already read romances and picked out new ones. People left way more than they took, so we donated the leftovers to our Friends group’s booksale. The less successful program was a presentation by a published romance author. The people who got the most out of it were the aspiring romance writers. Had I thought about that factor before hand, I might have been able to market the program to local writer’s groups. It was a fun program, but attendance was lacking.

    The programs that are the most successful are the craft programs where the attendees actually get to make stuff. The last Saturday, we had a beading class. Everyone got to make a bracelet and 42 people showed up. That is a very high number for a typical adult program at my branch. We’re going to try some more DIY stuff this spring and see how it goes.

    Adult programming is very hit and miss. Mostly miss. Good luck.

  10. 10
    Lori says:

    This is probably going to sound odd, but I really miss the LA public library.  LA has a (generally well deserved) rep for not being the most book friendly place, but the LAPL is actually quite good.  They hosted a wide range of programs that IME were well attended.  I think Darlene is correct—-an attention grabbing title is very important and goes a long way in pulling in an audience. 

    Here in DC the situation is very different.  In terms of programs, most of what the library does is focused on children.  I assume that’s because there are so many other places here for adults to go.

  11. 11
    Rainbow Tea says:

    The libraries I frequent down here in Florida have no events regarding romance, which is a tragedy. Not even guest speakers, that I’ve ever seen.

    On the plus, they seem to have a strong (or at least strong attempts at) teen/kid oriented programs. When I volunteered in middle school we used to do puppets and read-a-louds but I don’t think they do that anymore.

    Basically they offer a tourneys. Like one Saturday out of the month is anime night, another is video game night, Yu-Gi-Oh (or whatever popular dueling card game there is ATM) night and so on. I suppose while the tweens are busying themselves upstairs and the librarians are trying to subtly push at least some manga on them, the parents might be tempted to spend a couple hours browsing the library instead of just dumping their brats and leaving. (at least, that’s my hope.)

  12. 12
    rebyj says:

    The main branch of our library is downtown Nashville and my backfiring Uncle Buck car doesn’t do well downtown. (It scares the pedestrians LOL) also since I care for a housebound disabled person I don’t get out much anyway therefore I wouldn’t be able to attend any in-house programs other than maybe a book sale. I’d find a way to get there for sure!

    However I’ll take this opportunity to say I’m all for libraries expanding their online features. I use Netlibrary and Overdrive but am really surprised at how limited the choices are. Or maybe I’m just greedy.
    Overdrive especially could be improved. Their checkouts are 2 weeks and that makes the waiting lists long. One book I’m waiting for I’m number 23 so 23 x 2 weeks is….a long time to wait for a book!

  13. 13
    Terry Odell says:

    I’ve done numerous programs at local (central Florida) libraries, and I’m always happy to appear. Usually, I talk for a bit about how I got into writing (by mistake), how I thought I was writing a mystery but it turned out I was writing a romance, so I had to start reading romance.  Then I open for questions, and we have a grand time.

    Attendees have ranged from aspiring authors to readers. A few of the libraries pay an honorarium or at least some mileage money, but my local county system gives nothing. I sincerely wish they were more supportive of local authors—they’re happy to have me appear, and do very nice promo—but they still don’t have my book in their collection. I keep hoping they’ll get more copies than the one I donated.

    Speaking of which—if you are a library person, I’d love for you to request my book from your local system. You get to read it, and my publisher is happy (which makes me happy).

  14. 14
    ev says:

    One of the things our local branch does during the summer is hold a reading contest- for adults and kids. You keep track of the books you have checked out and read, and the ones with the most win some (usually) nice prizes. I have gotten gift certs to the local bookstore, restaurants and a Ukelele! LOL

    size69- I didn’t know it came in sizes!!

  15. 15
    Jessa Slade says:

    My library does a lot of kids programming too.  The big summer reading contest seems to do very well; I’ve heard kids talking about it as they stand in line.  The local branches do a lot of non-book related programs—tax prep help, computer and language classes, college application assistance, etc.—while the main downtown branch does most of the readings.

    Sadly, our downtown branch isn’t very convenient.  Parking is terrible.  Powells, the big bookstore, has better parking and does a better job advertising their readings.  I often hear women complain that getting around easily downtown dissuades them from attending events there.

    Portland is such a big book town, though; you can always find a reading or writing group meeting somewhere.

  16. 16
    Danielle (no, not that Danielle, the other one) says:

    Cool to see so many programming librarians in here. That’s also my day job, so if you have any additional questions feel free to email me.

    I’ll second Darlene’s point: you need a “hook.” Just reading from your new book doesn’t bring people out in droves unless you’re a) Neil Gaiman, or b) a local author who’s put in a lot of time & effort to invite friends & otherwise self-promote.

    I’d go with covers as your hook. You know how much people love “Covers Gone Wild”—if you advertised a contest to win a copy of your book at the program (title/caption a fugly cover) you’d should get some bums in seats.

    Other suggestions: contact the local RWA chapter wherever possible & ask for their help in promotion.

    And I realize it’s not likely that you’ll be coming north of the border to visit libraries – but I still have to issue an invitation. If you go anywhere near ND or MN, we’re the biggest city between Minneapolis & Calgary and just a hop north. Well, more than a hop, but to host a Smart Bitch I would personally come pick you up. So keep that in mind…

  17. 17
    tammy says:

    Sarah, this comment does not pertain directly to the question that you ask, but more to your assertion that library card registration would increase with economic downturn.  Turns out you’re right, at least the idea that demand for library services are increasing with slow economy.  Link to article in the Boston Globe:

  18. 18
    Dawn says:

    I just put my comment for the library in the post above… damn. please check out books to go

    the best new library program.

  19. 19
    Suze says:

    The best new program my library has instituted in years (that I’ve noticed) is that they have actual security guards rousting out the homeless people, instead of the 15-year-old volunteer shelf stocker girls.

    Our town is overcrowded (hopefully that will change soon with the economic downturn), and the library is overcrowded and right across the street from the homeless shelter.  I pretty much stopped going when there was no area in the library that didn’t have at least one person snoring away.  They put in a no-sleeping rule, but they still have to boot people out several times a day.

    They’re building a new community centre including a much-larger library, much farther away from the homeless shelter (not including the people who live in the bush beside the river, I think they’ll actually be closer).  Still.  I have hopes that, when they finally move into the new space, there will be some good new programs at least initially.

  20. 20
    MJ says:

    Years ago, the library in the small town where I lived hosted book discussions that included treats linked to the food in the book. A couple times it was a full dinner.

  21. 21
    amy lane says:

    I am a REAL fan of my library’s young adult section—lounging couches, up-to-date releases, manga offerings, music—it really is a haven for kids after school, and my daughter has found a way to indulge in her reading passion without breaking our bank!  If a library is going to hook them when they’re young, this is the way to go!

  22. 22
    Lynne says:

    My local library is really great!!!  In fact Camas Public Library was just voted one of the top libraries in the State of Washington.  They have lots of kids programs, lots of gardening, special craft nights, etc.  They also have a great program (funded by the Friends of the Library I’m sure) that is book discussion groups for Tweens (9-11), Teens, (12-16), Adults, and Adult Mystery.  What’s great about these book groups is that when you sign up to attend your first discussion they give (yes, give) you the book to read.  When you attend and discuss they fun book that you got last time, they give you the book for the next month.  I’ve attended both the Adult Mystery and the Tween (with my 11 year old) book groups.  They have been wonderful.  I’m thinking I’ll suggest a Romance group as well!  I love being able to pass my book along to friends and promoting the library.  As the ultimate cherry on the top of this library experience, the library doesn’t charge overdue fines!  Can you beat that?!

  23. 23
    Mel Hiers says:

    Our library system is very romance friendly.  In fact, it’s right up there with mystery as our patrons’ We’ve just started non-computer class programming at my branch, but already we’ve hosted Sherrilyn Kenyon and J.T. Ellison with some pretty positive results. 

    Rebyj, I LOVE Nashville’s main branch.  Having an Uncle Buck car myself, I understand what you mean, though.  If you ever find yourself in Smyrna, pop in and say hi!

  24. 24
    Berni says:

    Our local library has a Shakespeare reading once a month.  Anyone who shows up can take part.  My husband’s been doing it about a year now and loves it.

  25. 25
    Kay says:

    As a member of our small library’s board and an epublished romance author, I was proud to be able to begin a “Romance in” program several years ago. Alternate Februarys on a Saturday we invite members of the Dallas Area Romance Authors to travel an hour, find a very receptive audience, tell about themselves and sell their books. When the library closes, we all have lunch!

  26. 26
    Bee says:

    Pima County Library, which includes Tucson, just happened to have some Romance programming recently.  If I lived any closer I’d be there in a flash.

  27. 27
    Sarai says:

    Our library has tons of Children’s and Young Adult programming, but like Kit said, for adults we mostly have computer classes. We are not part of county or city government, technically, but we do get a big chunk of our funding from property taxes as well, and our governor put a cap on it so we’ve had to not fill vacancies, start charging for printing, put a limit on our holds, etc. And, as Kit said, our numbers are up, but we don’t get more money – just more patrons!

    I was part of a group (I work at the library) that did a romance readers advisory class for our last Staff Development Day, and it was well-attended and seemed to be well-received. We had LOTS of handouts with lists of authors, books, websites, ratings systems, etc. I think the general public would be interested in something like this, but I agree with another post (can’t remember if it was Kit now or someone else and I’m too lazy to go look) who suggested it should be more specific than just romance. Romance is such a huge category and I think to really draw in patrons, you need a catchy theme, and food. I have also found that people will do crazy things for free t-shirts. For what it’s worth.  :)

  28. 28
    rebyj says:

    Rebyj, I LOVE Nashville’s main branch.  Having an Uncle Buck car myself, I understand what you mean, though.  If you ever find yourself in Smyrna, pop in and say hi!

    Hi Mel!  I’m in Smyrna once a month or so when I take someone to the Neurosurgeon there. I’ll try to stop by someday.

    I sent you an email to the addy provided at your website.

  29. 29
    Juleigh says:

    I work for a large Melbourne (VIC) metro library district and we definitely are pro-romance. We’ve run romance specific programs over the summer, we will often have Aussie romance authors come in for talks. Surprisingly our romance author talks at my branch are some of the highest attended events. We luuuurv our romance authors! (Or rather management do as most of them will not charge a speakers fee for public libraries). We also have a romance book group at the branch where I work, we run several Book Circles which one of two of our romance readers come along to share what they’ve read, in amongst the biography and literary fans. My particular branch also have a Writers Circle for aspiring writers to seek feedback and support. For children we run twice weekly storytimes, children and teenage holiday events, mostly with crafts. Our district has partnered with a local group for a program called Book Buddies, where those wishing to learn or improve their English are buddied up with an English speaker for one on one help. Our computer classes have a five month waiting list, mainly of older patrons wanting to learn how to use a PC, the internet and email.

    But back to romance. The romance collection is as large as our crime/thriller paperback collection and we will buy in titles and authors from suggestions from patrons as well as staff, either in paperback for the romance genre collection or hardback for the adult fiction collection. (Thankfully our technical services department has no problems with me placing suggested purchases on a frequent basis so I can pimp authors and titles to my patrons

    ).  Daggy and old fashioned though they may be, but the old fashioned bookmark is still highly sought after and picked up by those borrowing books).  As for promoting our events, we advertise all events in the three local papers which cover our district and cross promote to TAFE and university English departments, book groups and some friendly bookstores allow us to mention author events at their inhouse book groups.

    Weird but true fact – last year we used a wall display for like coloured bookcovers, featuring books with green toned covers one week, followed by purple and yellow another week, red design covers, orange etc. And the most popular colour toned covers which we had to restock more than any other? Burnt orange! Best described at that almost autumn deep orange colour, anecdotally at least, appeals to the eye more than any other and had more patrons picking those books regardless of author or story type. ;)

  30. 30
    Ms.B says:

    I manage a high school library and we’re always working on ideas to get the kids in, involved, reading…

    Twilight has had a huge impact on reading, in that the HIT of which all your friends speak is found between the covers of a book, in the words.  Not the film, although if you want to see it ten times (or more), that’s dandy; but the hit is a reading hit.  We have multiple copies that always have waiting lists; but we’ve also used it as a springboard.  If you like Twilight, then try… and we have a constantly building collection of vampire/romance/fantasy (hey, I stretch the envelope!) to suggest.  Keeping up with popular series is good – most kids want to read all of a series, and like more-of-the-same.

    We’re also working on the visual presentation/marketing of our school library.  Our budget is miniscule, for this, but it’s looking better and better – just last week we interfiled reference with the main nonfiction collection and made the reference area into a reading retreat with comfy chairs and a book display with lots of cover-out books to catch the eye. Not a lunchtime but every seat there isn’t occupied.

    Bookmarks are a simple way to market a whole lot of ideas; I’ve also been sewing banners this year to change the look of the foyer (done Valentine’s Day + romance, currently International Women’s Day, next up is Harmony Day, celebrating Australia’s many cultures and cultural influences).  In the foyer, we painted words to inspire the kids and installed a bookcase in which we put a changing bunch of books, the displays reflecting what’s going on in the world, in school, or a theme.  Come near to school holiday time, we pack in a bunch of holiday borrowing suggestions, and promote holiday borrowing.

    With these ideas, and more, our loans were up 20% last year on the year before, and this year are running 40% up on 2008.  Pretty much every lunchtime the library’s full of kids.

    Budget?  Shiva wept.  Always a struggle for funds.

    But then, like last Christmas, you get Christmas cards from kids telling you how much the library means to them; and every day there’s good feedback from the kids too, so that’s encouraging.

    Some of the ideas I’ve described are on my teacher librarian blog,  I’ve. also scheduled some blog entries there over the next few weeks that include links to info on library renovations/merchandising/public programs/evaluations.


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