Not Your Typical Talk at Hennepin County Library

Editor’s note: Inspired by this month’s feature article, Meeting Needs and Making a Difference: Outcomes Based Planning and Evaluation, Johannah Genett, Senior Programming Librarian at Hennepin County (Minn.) Library, wrote to share some recent programs and their evaluations at her library. Here’s the second of two blog posts; read her first blog post on workshops her library offered last fall.

In December 2011, Hennepin County (Minn.) Library (HCL) offered two unique programs: the “Talk & Taste” series and “An Interview with Scott Sigler, Paperless Author.”

“Talk & Taste” featured a series of talks and food tastings about sustainable agriculture. The series was offered in partnership with the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. Each program featured two speakers and a food tasting with a restaurant that uses locally sourced food. Topics included farmstays (farm vacations), raising farm animals humanely, urban gardens and soil contaminants, the University of Minnesota’s student organic farm, the Minnesota farm-to-school food program, and how to buy and find local food. Restaurant partners were facilitated by Gastro Non Grata, a group who organizes music and food events around the Twin Cities. Gastro Non Grata brought in restaurant partners The Modern Cafe, Haute Dish, and Golden’s Deli, which served sampling ranging from boudin blanc, to chipotle-infused chili, to homemade jerky.

Approximately sixty-five people attended the program, and an additional fifty people participated in the food tasting. Of those who attended, 96 percent indicated that they learned something new about agriculture, 67 percent planned to check out related library materials, and 89 percent were more likely to attend future library programs. Attendance statistics were not as high as anticipated due to the unpopularity of having the series on December weekend afternoons. HCL is planning a program for this spring featuring Twin Cities food writers including print and online reviewers.

“An Interview with Scott Sigler: Paperless Author” was hosted at an unusual location: the Bryant Lake Bowl, a theater/restaurant/bowling alley (the program occurred in the theater). This program was coordinated by HCL’s Generation X/Y work group, which is tasked with proposing and describing useful and engaging services for adults aged 20–40. The group hoped to reach those who might not attend a program in the library setting. Patrons could order food and drinks from their theater seat. A pioneer in electronic publishing, sci-fi/horror writer Sigler wrote the world’s first podcast-only novel, EarthCore. The program featured a live interview and Q&A session with Sigler. The event was advertised as “Free with your library card.” Library staff had a laptop available to sign up attendees for library cards, and no one was turned away.

Approximately fifty patrons attended. Evaluations indicated that the program was well-received. A variety of age groups attended: 14 percent were 18–25, 23 percent were 26–35, 36 percent were 36–45, 9 percent were 46–55, and 18 percent were 55+. The author’s popularity drew fans from all over Minnesota and even North Dakota. The author’s ability to complement HCL’s advertising efforts assisted in the attendance level. This program indicated that patrons are responsive to alternative-format authors. This influenced HCL’s decision to offer a food writers program in the spring.