Where Are We Going, And How Will We Know When We Get There?

bookshelvesAs I’ve started my new job, one of my first major tasks was planning programs for the Fall. Programs are a large part of what we do. But I think sometimes we get into a rut. Or we have ideas that seem wonderful in theory but aren’t as effective as we hoped. I think that there are a couple of steps normally associated with instructional planning that could be useful for library programs: Objectives and Assessment.

But, you say, I’m planning fun programs for kids. Why would I use those instructional tools? Libraries are, at heart, educational institutions. Even our fun programs usually have at least some educational component, if only the hope of drawing new users into the library. On a more practical level, clear objectives and assessment after the fact provide a road map that can help us make our programs more effective.


Identifying objectives can be as simple as asking why we are planning the program. What are we hoping to accomplish? What do we want participants to get out of it? Fun is a perfectly valid objective. But we can certainly think of more. Are you trying to spark creativity? Build early literacy skills? Promote a love of reading? Build community partnerships? Help teens learn technical skills? Feeling stuck for ideas – start with your library’s mission statement. Or take the idea of program objectives a step further and consider creating a vision statement for your department. Gretchen Kolderup makes a strong argument for doing just that in her article, “What I Wish I’d Known About Building Teen Services from Scratch,” which appeared on the blog In the Library with the Lead Pipe.

The process of stating objectives for a program allows for more intentional and focused planning. For example, I believe that libraries are logical participants in the Maker Space movement. So one of my objectives is for many of my programs to have a creative component. I want to provide a space where teens are comfortable exploring their creativity in both arts and sciences. In practical terms, that means I will avoid craft kits where the final product is predetermined in favor of more open-ended activities.  Being clear about  my objectives will shape activity choices and determine the types of supplies I purchase.


The term assessment can call to mind unpleasant connotations of tests and grades. But in this context, assessment is simply evaluating how the program went. Did we meet our objectives? What worked? What didn’t? What could we do differently next time? Ideally, we can also get some feedback from those who attend. To some degree, most of us do this already, even if only by discussing how things went with our colleagues. But it is worth taking to time to be a bit more methodical about the process.

To return to the example of my Creator Space program, I will do informal assessment by talking to the teens who attend. I’ll ask which of the activities they enjoy and what they would like to see in the future. Then, and this is key, I will write down their responses and my own reflections on how the program went. We always think we will remember what went well and what we would do differently. But all too often the memory has faded by the time we set out to plan the next event. Nor can we share our knowledge and experience with others if we don’t record the information.

So if your answer to “Why are you planning that program?” is, “Because libraries have to offer programs,” or “Because I have to offer a Halloween (insert any event or holiday here) program,” I believe that with a little bit of forethought you can create a much more effective program. I challenge you to do three things as you plan your next event:

  1. Brainstorm a list of what you remember working and not working at previous programs. Write it down and add to it as you think of new things.
  2. Create at least an informal list of objectives for the program. Don’t worry about going into great detail. This is just to focus your thinking as you choose activities.
  3. Collect and record responses to the program from both participants and staff who were involved. Now you already have a jump on step 1 for your next program. And when a colleague asks for help planning something similar, you have something concrete to give them. In the long run, this simple step will make planning future programs much faster and easier.

Library programs are already making a big difference in people’s lives. Adding the educational tools of Objectives and Assessment to our programming toolboxes can help those programs have an even bigger impact.


About booksnquilts

I'm the Children's Services Coordinator for the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library in Central Virginia.
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