An Eye for the Future - Part 4

In this series of blog posts, sustainability is the watchword.  We've looked at issues and thoughts about project costs and grant fails and triumphs. In this final post, let's consider the sustainability factor in our everyday programming work.

Programs are some of the bread and butter of our work with youth. The concept of sustainability becomes critical here.

Our patrons often want ALL THE THINGS. And many of us want to give them ALL THE THINGS. That's perfectly understandable. They pay us, they are the reason we are working at the library in the first place. However, ALL THE THINGS often leads to staff burn-out, stress, and an unsustainable pace and level of work for staffers. Work tasks leak into home life and extra unpaid hours. Nobody loves me. Everybody hates me. I hate you. I quit (literally or just check out emotionally and mentally).

Not sustainable. To create sustainability - and sanity - in programming, finding balance is an important factor.

If we have a program budget, how can we best use it?  Many of us are expected to and feel pressure to book outside performers (note: I work as a free-lance storyteller making the big bucks at schools and libraries so I know about this issue from the performer's perspective). If we spend all our money booking performers, does that leave us a budget for incentive prizes like books, bookbags or money to fund buses or another special project?

If we balance our planning and expectations, cut back on outside performers, it often frees programming money to allow us to fund special stealth programming projects or initiatives or try something entirely new. Our budget can then sustain a larger number of efforts.

Patron Expectations
Teachers and parents have clear thoughts on what they need for kids in their care but often these fall into narrow personal concerns - we want to use the library without these crowds; the storytimes aren't convenient for my schedule;  you should have more ________ (fill in the blank: baby/toddler/teen/K/school age/homeschool/single/continuous/Saturday/evening/Sunday/Monday morning -I could go on but you know what I'm talking about here) events; why can't you provide our group with a weekly storytime or monthly outreach visits?

Meeting all the expectations isn't possible to do in a sustainable way - especially if you want to balance services to all. The challenge in planning then becomes looking for ways - through active and passive programs; judicious deployment of staff for in-house and outreach efforts and critically looking at the arc of programs  - to honor on some level most of your clientele's needs.

What might that look like? It all depends on what you can find sustainable - and what you feel you can fairly offer to all. Perhaps:
  • Storytimes being offered for 25-30 weeks of the year.
  • After school programs being offered once a month or in a three-four week series 2-3 times a year.
  • Storytime breaks of up to two months to allow time to book field trips or do outreach to daycares.
  • School age programs during school breaks and  early release days including plenty of DIY activities.
  • Programs presented once a semester to classes that make weekly/monthly visits.
  • Outreach visits scheduled once a year to every day care or school classroom
  • Passive programs made available more frequently
There isn't a one-way, right answer but there are many paths to help create a program structure that can be sustained and serve many needs.

Balance and Sustainability
The point is not to deny patrons, jealously guard time and resources or alternatively force staff into working at a mad pace.  To sustain programs, finding the balance is key. Looking at what we do and how to create balance - whether through program breaks; decreasing the frequency of some programs; offering the same level of service to all school or daycare groups or making sure that we have a balance of active and passive programs - means that our program work can be sustained.

And in the End
Last but not least, learning when to say when is critical. When a program has reached the end of it's useful life, even though it is your favorite, let it go and put staff time and resources elsewhere. It keeps what you offer fresh, frees time for new initiatives and services and keeps patrons interested in your offerings.

And that's what sustainability is really all about!

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Graphic courtesy of Pixabay

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