Learning When to Say "End!!"

One of the truly bright spots of youth librarianship is the sheer fun and creativity - the inventiveness  - of our programming work with kids and families.  Program series and "one-up" events for school-agers let us experiment with unprogramming, DIY, STEAM and lots more stuff we make up with joie de vivre, an eye for literacy and a celebration of our collections. Storytimes present an ever-flowing river of great new books to try, a fingerplay or way to deliver a literacy tip, new CDs to share, a new way to engage the kids. Over at Storytime Underground, a great example of this flow is their "Pimp My Storytime" post (go over and play now!).

But, we also know that, as good as our ideas are and as often as they work swell, the time comes when the program or format just isn't making it anymore - either for the patrons or for us.  The trick is to know when to say when - when to make a major change in direction or end a limping program.

What are some of ways that you feel the winds of we-may-need-to-change?
  • Attendance drops off.
  • The format of your school-age programs hits even you as routine.
  • You begin to dread your next storytime session.
  • The preschoolers seem antsy ALL the time (no blaming barometric pressure or the full moon there).
  • Trying new times, days, or scheduling patterns don't resurrect patron interest.
  • The same small group of dedicated patrons come, but no one new ever does.
  • Budget cuts loom and something has to go or be cut back.
As a librarian and a manager, I have presided over countless changes in my own programming and in the departments I oversee. I find change exhilarating, evolutionary and necessary to move youth services ahead. Despite those feelings, I also know: Change.Is. Hard.  It is scary ("Is that a cliff I see ahead?!?!"). It is unknown ("Is this gonna work?!?!).  It is stressful ("Are patrons gonna hate on me?!?!").

At the same time, these program tweaks, changes and endings can allow an opening up of possibilities. New information, new ways of providing service or new ways to emphasize collections can be developed and enfolded into a re-working of a program or program schedule.

This reflection on worth is something that ideally is ongoing. When we talk about changing or ending something, we often find the opportunity to add something else - new outreach to kids in schools/daycare; a stealth program; clear the schedule to bring in a whole district-full of field trip visits (Kindergartners! 2nd Graders! 7th Graders!); time to write a grant for a way new initiative. 

When we talk to our patrons about the changes, they are often happy to see the additions and changes. Sometimes we have a few who question why we are making a change or express unhappiness. We find that, as a staff- and at all service points, explaining why we are doing what we are doing often makes a difference in understanding.

Sometimes our fear of the unknown, fear of community reaction or our own sense of being wedded to a certain program we birthed and proudly watched grow prevent us from making the change or bringing the end to a program.  But if we want to move forward, if we want to balance what we do so we can add a fresh program or start, it is OK to put a final period on a certain program.

How about you?  Are you able to do guilt-free program ending/change?

Graphic courtesy of Pixabay


  1. Great post, Marge! I think these are important considerations to consider when you start a new program. Will it become a tradition? Is it something you will now HAVE to do? Will it become an obligation?

    One thing we talk a lot about in my department is how do we keep things fresh? We want to reuse a lot of ideas to save money and time, but can we approach them in a different manner so it is different for the patrons and captures their interest?

    1. True on same considerations when you start a program! And I think your question of how do you keep things fresh is also key. It's easy to get into a rut. If you don't recalibrate, things can go stale fast!

  2. I've started putting as many of my programs as possible into series. Like I have Messy Art Club and anything art-ish that I want to do can slot into it. Saves on marketing and if one program is kind of a bust there will be others. Right now all the changes I'm making are internal to programs. My director put me on a no-new-programs freeze )=: (although mysteriously I ended up adding Mad Scientists Club and a winter reading program anyways. I have no idea how that happened...) I have tried a LOT of other programs that didn't work out and usually the final word was numbers as that's a big thing for us. I don't always agree with my director about how long we should test a program before declaring it a failure, but sometimes that's the way it is. Right now I'm hitting a line between the people who are "YAY we love this program, we still have our project from last year, we can't wait to make a new one" and the "this AGAIN? why can't we do something new?"

    1. I know that line. You give it a try for a few more times and then say. Ok. That's it...or it just rises out of the ashes again.

  3. We're having attendance issues with our not-storytime programs. Typically we have to limit registration to 20 and we have a waiting list full of people, but for the past month or so, they only fill around halfway. Our management is really concerned, but we can't be sure what the cause is since it's all of our various programs and not just one series. So in the spring, we're testing out new kinds of programs that diverge from our usual science and craft concentrations. It's scary for us. We don't know if the new themes will do the trick or make things worse, but at least it will refresh us and sharpen our skills.

    1. If we had a crystal ball! Good luck with this! We have found some good solutions in programs only to see them shift a few cycles later. It's what keeps our work interesting!!

  4. I have a problem with the fact that I inherited programs. Defunct, inherited programs. I know the time to change is now, but my questions is the time to change is "how"? I have some staff that are stuck on these programs, even if they don't work they're comfortable and familiar.

    1. Yes, that has happened to me at jobs as well. I introduce one or two new prgrams which usually get good participation. I then work with veteran staff to compare participation and start thinking towards sunsetting the program with 6-8 months. Mourning can go on for a very long time though. The familiar is hard for staff to sometimes let go.