As we head towards the end of the decade, I think it is safe to say that one of the major themes that surrounded public libraries over the past 10 years was their shift towards being a place in the community that was more focused on events, programs, and more public gatherings. While hosting events at the library is in no way an old idea (can one of you please tell me when we have the first recorded example of a story time in a library?), it feels like it has become much more of a focus these days. We have websites dedicated to sharing program ideas. We have professional books focusing on small yet very important segments of library patrons. We even have innovative and forward thinking spaces that are all about bringing people together over events & more. Things like an events calendar full of things for kids, tweens, teens, and adults is now a given on every library website. Libraries that don’t have an events calendar on their website and are not hosting regularly scheduled programs for all ages look like they’ve been left behind.
Leading this movement were the Youth Services Librarians. Deeply rooted in all of their actions is a call to develop, plan, and host events and programs to their library. These events & programs are dreamed up by youth services librarians, planned by youth services librarians, and then eventually run by youth services librarians. These events & programs bring community members in, engage them in some kind of activity or learning, and then send them home with a smile on their face. The last time a service offered by libraries this revolutionary was back when libraries actually began loaning out materials for library patrons to take home. Events & Programs at public libraries, led by the charge and direction of Youth Services Librarians, have forever changed the way that communities will see their public library.
I’m giving a lot of love to Youth Services Librarians here, but let’s not forget about the great events & programs being developed for adults. Cooking events, events focused on beer & wine, higher tech makerspaces, local history & genealogy, and many other events for adults are pushing boundaries of what libraries do for their patrons. The neatest thing about these programs for adults is that often times they’re bringing community members out of their homes and getting them out and about in the community. When communities are hustling, bustling, and are full of life, there is an energy that comes with it. By having events at public libraries for adults, libraries are helping bring even more positive energy to their communities.
I can’t pinpoint one event or program that Youth Services Librarians have brought into libraries that is my favorite. It could be an event as traditional as story time. It could be the Teen Advisory Board that brings together teens and empowers them to grow and become leaders. It could be as simple as a video game night, a program that seems like it is all about playing video games but in fact is more about bringing people together to learn together, communicate with other, and hopefully build relationships. What’s at the core of all of these events & programs nd what should be remembered by anyone who asks the question “why should we have all of these events at the library?” is that these library events bring people together, help community members connect, and in turn help communities grow together. Events & Programs at public libraries are an essential service for all communities. Without events & programs at your public library, you are simply not doing your job. I was recently discussing library stuff with a few other librarians. One of people I was chatting with casually dropped the idea that another librarian that was in their life held the view that library programs were nothing but parties. This is the kind of thinking that hurts public libraries. This is the kind of thinking that we need to get out of public libraries.
For me, the years of 2010-2020 in public libraries will forever be known as The Decade of Events & Programs. It was in these years that a majority of public librarians opened their eyes, embraced event & program planning, and began to see the public library as not just a place where you can borrow stuff, but instead a place where community members come together, communicate with each other, learn, and grow & build their communities. It was in this decade that I think libraries finally started to fully understand the positive impact they could have on their communities. I’m excited about the next decade.