Pam a couple weeks ago wrote about how Number Can Lie. If you haven’t read it yet, go do so. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
This week I want to take a slightly different spin on things. I think Pam hit good points on why not to get discouraged and how small numbers are still a success, but what about the opposite? Is it okay to call a program that has good numbers a failure? What about when most of the teens who attend generally enjoyed it? Normally, these are things we’d say are home runs, right? But what about when your gut says it’s not working, especially if it’s reoccuring? What do you do then?
Let me give you an example. For 6 years, I ran a monthly Anime Club meeting. My numbers were pretty steady once we got rolling; I had 15-20 teens almost every meeting. On paper, Anime Club looked like a success, but I knew that was a lie. For the past 2 years, after every single session I would walk out feeling drained. The teens were almost always overly excited, chaotic, and just rowdy. I felt like every 10 minutes I would have to ask them to keep it down and remind them that there were other meetings taking place next to us.
As much as I like anime/manga myself, this easily became a program I dreaded! However, I kept with it because it was getting good attendance! And the teens were coming back, so it had to just be me. Maybe I just needed to focus them better! So, I started bringing in sketch pads and a monthly craft project. I always had anime running in the background. I had conversation starters to get them talking as a group rather than cliques. None of it worked. It always slid back into chaos, no matter what I did.
Finally, I made the hard decision to let it go as a monthly program. Sometimes, I still wonder if I did the right thing, especially when most teen librarians struggle to get an active group like that. I know it was though, if no other reason than my own sanity. It also drove home for me that good numbers don’t always = success.
Of course, this isn’t the only program that has fallen into this grey area for me. I’ve realized I really need to look at my programs beyond just numbers. Here are few things I’ve started to consider when I label a program a roaring success or not…
- How did the teens react? Did they seem to have fun? Was there any vocal/written feedback from them?
- Is it fulfilling the goals of the program? If not, can I restructure it so it does?
- How did it make me feel? Do I cringe every time you think about the program? Does it drain me beyond a point deemed good? Do I dread running it again?
- Did I bring in new teens? Or am I just hitting the same group over and over? If new teens did come, did they have fun or did they seem out of place?
- Is this a valuable use of my time? Could I replace it with a new program that would better serve my community?
I, of course, don’t have to answer every single question a yes, but it does help me remember what to focus on.
Above all else, I want everyone to remember it’s okay to admit when a program doesn’t work! Just because “everyone else is doing it” doesn’t mean YOU HAVE to do it at your library. This doesn’t mean you’re failing as a teen librarian. In fact, by closely examining your programs, big and small, you’re allowing yourself to build better programs and services for your community!