Planning Ahead: How Our Summer Programs Come to Life

It may be winter everywhere else, but it’s summer for me and my colleagues in the Community Programming Department here at Mid-Continent Public Library

Our feet might be slogging through ice and snow as we walk into work, but our heads are in the summer programming season, pondering if there will be enough shade at 10 a.m. in July to keep pot-bellied pigs from overheating at the pop-up petting zoo. By the end of our department’s summer season, we’ll have helped our 31 branch libraries choose, schedule, arrange, rearrange and confirm an estimated 2,200 programs. 

Here’s a glimpse at what the next few weeks of “summer” will look like for us:

Sunny beach

Our summer actually began in December, when we started preparing "selection aid reports" for the programming coordinators in each of the branch libraries. I like to think of these as our version of the Nielsen Ratings. The reports offer the branch programming coordinators — library staff who choose, manage and facilitate programs in each branch — a snapshot of what program attendance was like at their branches for summer 2015. Along with attendance figures, the report looks at how attendance fared compared to the previous year, which programs were the most and least popular with kids, teens and adults, as well as which days of the week and time slots brought in audiences.

Along with this report, in mid-January each programming coordinator will receive a catalog of 100-plus programs available to them for summer 2016. From magicians and storytellers to nutritionists and decorators, each presenter has been vetted by our department. We call these Headquarters or HQ-provided programs. Each program is assigned a tier — 0 to 5 — which corresponds to its relative price. Each branch is given a tier budget which corresponds to its size, past programming trends and audience demographics. The branch programming coordinators shop the catalog for programs that match their budget and their branch’s audience. 

Once they’ve had a chance to shop the catalog, the branch programming coordinators will meet one-on-one with me and my fellow programming specialists in early February to schedule their program choices. Unlike shopping other catalogs, though, very few of our programs are “out of stock” to the branches. Much of the credit for that goes to our branch’s flexibility, creativity and cooperation when it comes to scheduling.

Once every branch has been scheduled, all the dates and times are reviewed once more for potential scheduling conflicts by the Community Programming Department. Once any conflicts are resolved, the presenters are contacted to see if the dates and times requested by the branches fit their schedule. If they don’t, then we try to find times that will work. If none can be found, then an alternate program is put in its place. Only rarely is a requested program canceled altogether.

While our department is busy juggling presenters, dates and times to assure that all the HQ-provided programs fit just so, the branch programming coordinators plan their own in-house programs — storytimes, book groups, craft groups, as well as additional adult, teen and kids’ programs — for the summer season. Those get sent to our department for review and are then put on the schedule.

Even before the first signs of spring emerge, the final summer program schedule will be nearly complete and the first proofs of the summer edition of our programming magazine, "Beyond the Books," will be ready for proofreading.

By the time the tulips start to bloom here in Kansas City, our summer in the Community Programming Department will be over. And just as everyone is turning on their air conditioners and shopping for swimsuits, we’ll be mentally unpacking our sweaters and raking imaginary leaves because it will be fall in our corner of the world.