With a need for family-friendly programming in their small town, an Iowa library created a superhero series culminating in a private movie theater showing.
Anamosa is a community of 5,533 in eastern Iowa, and it's quite remote. Many families drive 30 to 50 minutes to the nearby cities of Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Dubuque looking for family activities.
Our residents are always looking for things for kids to do close to home, so the Anamosa Library & Learning Center put together a spring-long, superhero-themed program series for all ages, culminating in a private showing of “Avengers: Endgame” at a movie theater in Cedar Rapids.
It was a lot of work; the whole series — 33 programs in all, including the movie screenings — was essentially like adding another summer reading program on top of our already-hectic librarian workloads. Initially I wasn’t sure we could handle it. I’m so glad I was wrong! Here's how it worked.
How it began
Lured to Marcus Theaters’ website because of a "Harry Potter" movie marathon, we noticed the "book a private movie showing" advertisement. Having never done this before, we had no idea whether or not people would even be interested. We chose "Avengers: Endgame," a movie so popular we could almost guarantee success.
The Incredible Fundraising
Marcus Theaters quickly got us the booking cost, and we developed a budget for the other activities, including supplies, prizes and food. The movie showing was the most expensive program we have ever done: $1,500 for the tickets and concessions combined. We would definitely need some fundraising support.
Scheduling in-person meetings with potential sponsors, including many we’d never asked before, was a crucial part of our success. But our enthusiasm was so infectious, we exceeded our fundraising goal and could offer $5 movie tickets! We were supported by a construction company, a law office, a dentist, a few insurance agencies, a florist and more.
Ironing Out Details
To build anticipation for our movie showing and meet the needs of our families, we decided to hold activities on early-release school days, followed by the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. The previous summer, a "Lord of the Rings"-themed physical activity tracker was very popular and fit in nicely to our new theme with slight modifications.
Tracker of the Activity Vol. 2
The revamped activity tracker, now known as Superhero Training Camp, ran the entire spring. This added a fun element to the superhero theme ("do you have what it takes to be the best superhero?" the website asked) by giving participants a way to track their physical activity at home.
We offered a paper tracker, but people could do everything online using Google Forms. This information was then automatically updated on an online leaderboard. About 30 percent of participants completed the tracker, with two-thirds submitting online.
Wednesdays: Scheduling War
Our Wednesday activities had a variety of activities including crafts, slime, STEAM activities, obstacle courses, trivia and mystery solving. Some programs even tempted Roblox devotees off their computers.
Then, disaster struck: winter happened. The school canceled all early releases to make up nine snow days. We quickly rearranged our schedule, but saw a drop in attendance.
Movie Showings: The Inconsistent Attendance
As a result of the rescheduling, some movies had no activity before them and thus had little to no attendance. The other movies we showed typically had five or ten attendees; not even food and candy could lure the kids off the computers. Our best attended movie, by far, was the showing we had for “Avengers: Infinity War,” the night before we went to the movie theater for “Avengers: Endgame.”
The Costume Contest
The night before our final movie screening, we held a costume contest at the library. The event was intricately planned with half-hour time slots available in over a three-hour period. We thought this would allow people to come and go as they pleased. Instead, everyone stayed the entire time. With such a great turnout, we didn't have enough activities scheduled to keep everyone entertained for three hours; next time, we would plan more activities. People surprised us with their costuming efforts and enthusiasm!
Entering the Endgame
The real surpise turned out to be a huge turnout for our movie theater showing. Our ticket sales began four weeks and were supposed to end 10 days before the showing so we could confirm theater size. Turns out most people don’t plan more than two weeks in advance for movies. Luckily, Marcus Theaters gave us an additional theater when our numbers doubled in the final week! We ended up with 127 attendees, filling two small theaters.
The day of, we needed at least two staff members present at the theater, one to oversee the check-in process and the other to answer questions. This helped things run quickly and smoothly. People were already asking what our next movie showing would be as they left the theater.
Rebecca Vernon is the director of the Anamosa Library & Learning Center in Anamosa, Iowa. This blog post is part of a series, organized by Iowa State Library, exploring programming in small libraries throughout the state.