Initial Steps in the Project

– Preliminary Analysis –

To launch this project, NewKnowledge began by documenting the current state of programming in libraries through a meta-analysis of related documents in the ALA offices and ALA PPO archives and through feedback from a nationwide professional opinion survey from current library programmers, available as downloadable reports on ala.org/NILPPA under “Related Resources.” Both of these tasks confirmed a wide range of programs and audiences and a positive growth trend in programming. Both analyses turned up anecdotal evidence of the value of programs, but provided no standard process for assessing and documenting impact — a tool that would be of great importance for continued growth and value of programming in the library field.

– Workshop #1 –

Two planning workshops took on the initial steps of defining research needs. The first group of six library professionals (representing public, academic, and special libraries) met with ALA staff and NewKnowledge researchers on January 24, 2014, at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia. This one-day workshop focused on identifying the many types of audiences being served through library programming, as well as the range of program types being offered. In addition to staff-generated programs, the group noted many variations of partnership programs, presented in collaboration with a breadth of community organizations. Partnership programs provide libraries with many different ways to assess and serve community needs as well as to identify new audiences.

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Just as audiences divide into many segments, so do program goals. The advisory group identified numerous goals that range from enhancing literacy to providing a sense of belonging. These goals generally divided into acquiring new knowledge and learning new skills. Many were based on obtaining practical information such as use of new technologies and initiating job searches. Others sought to introduce new topics and resources and to encourage discussion and critical thinking. The range of program goals made clear that programming librarians, along with their community partners, need additional research that will help them create targeted and effective programming, identify public needs, and access many learning resources.

Perhaps the most important conclusion of the group’s discussion on research methodologies was that, considering the numerous variables—library size and type, audience segmentation, program structure, and potential partnerships—there is no “one-size-fits-all” tool for studying the processes, impacts, and training for public programming in libraries. Instead, a suite of research methods would most likely be needed to provide a comprehensive understanding.

– Workshop #2 –

A second group of 11 library professionals (representing public, academic, and special libraries, as well as a state library and a state humanities agency) gathered in Chicago on May 8 and 9, 2014, to review and build on the work of the initial workshop. Their task was to further refine the research framework by identifying the kinds of evidence necessary to validate the impact of programs. This first assignment required a thorough analysis of the distinguishing characteristics of different types of library programs, as well as libraries themselves. With so many variables to consider, the group engaged in rich conversation about how best to apply types of research methods to develop a multifaceted national picture of the many impacts of library programming.

  • Throughout the two-day workshop, the participants met in small working groups to probe such questions as:
  • How do we define success for local, regional, and national program models?
  • How do we define success for collaborative, culturally co-created programs and how do they differ from programs originated by the library alone?
  • What indicators of success reach across program types versus those with more specific application?

Workshop participants in Chicago were encouraged to think about the parts of a useful program model and how ALA PPO could employ such a model to improve programming impacts for individuals, groups, and society. Figure 1 offers an overview of the constituent parts of a logic model that could be adapted and applied to an assessment of public programming.

figure 1

Figure 1: Example of components of a logic model for library programs

The group also examined how geography, community size, library type, and cultural or economic segments affect the nature of programs and their impact on varied audiences.

Finally, there was considerable discussion among the working groups about the essential competencies required for serving as a library program specialist; about the processes for building strong community collaboration, including assessing community needs; and finally, about the many uses of research data among all stakeholders, beyond the library itself. There emerged strong recognition that the success of this research framework will require broad outreach to the numerous library associations and collaborative groups that serve the field, as well as to those organizations with a shared interest in the results, such as the Federation of State Humanities Councils, Pew Research Center, Rand Corporation, and numerous other direct and indirect stakeholders.

Workshop participants discussed how to assure such active participation through multiple outreach methods, including in-person contact, the web, remote sites, and others. Finding ways to assure buy-in from libraries across the country led to suggestions about establishing talk-back mechanisms at national and regional meetings, using simple one-question iPad surveys, strategically placing articles in journals and other publications, and developing and sharing talking points. It became clear that the research framework must be multifaceted and must be implemented over several years.

The initial information gathering and the work of the two NILPPA advisory groups has identified many of the questions that are emerging as a result of the growth of library programming. These discussions painted a vibrant picture of library programming as it has developed in libraries of all sizes and types. They confirmed how programming has become a core library service, and further defined the need for more specific research about the aspects of programming that are making a difference in individual lives.


How do new programs come to fruition in your library?

Would it help you to have tangible evidence of a program’s success? What might that evidence look like? What might you do with it?


Read responses and provide your own feedback using the comment box below. Comments are moderated and will be posted within 24 hours. Please let us know whether you would like to make your comments public or keep them private.

Comments ( 6 )
  • Amber Conger says:

    Our library has a Programs and Partnerships Department with 4 full-time staff dedicated to coordinating larger events and series. Librarians at each location are also expected to present or coordinate programs. I’m part of the latter group. In my case, there isn’t much of a formal process behind it. If I have a personal interest or skill in something, I do a program on it. If someone contacts me, if patrons request it, if I see an idea somewhere, same thing. I’ve arranged programs on topics ranging from mental illness to identity theft, and personally presented art, dance, book swaps, spelling bees, workforce development programs, among others.

    After the program, the first question everyone asks is “how did your program go?”, immediately followed by, “how many people did you have?”. It’s disheartening to go to a lot of effort and then all anyone cares about are the numbers. I would love to prove impact and outcomes, but is it possible to truly move past the idea that a meaningful program with 6 attendees is still worth doing? When it comes to our funders, I’m not sure they’ll see it that way. Please address these concerns in your study.

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  • Jude Schanzer says:

    We are extremely lucky in East Meadow. We have a programming/public relations department with 3 full-time employees all with backgrounds in the arts and /or academia. We come in with ideas for programs and brainstorm together. Sometimes our ideas come form events we have attended, news, or fundamental educational needs — often fostered by teachers. Our graphic designer, who is an anime expert, decided NYC ComicCon could happen at East Meadow Library. We call it EMcon, we have done this for 4 years. 4500 people attended last year, mostly teens. The growth is exponential. Many of the teens are already planning for this year’s EMcon.

    We have a Sunday performance series of concerts, theatre, dance, or performance artists. There is a Cabaret one Friday night a month. We had to build audiences for these. The performance series is now 10 years old, the cabaret only 2 or 3 years. However, people now sign up for these events without even knowing or caring who is performing. This is trust and that is an indication of success for our programming roster as a whole.

    • Institution Name/Affiliation: East Meadow Public Library/Programmer
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  • Cynthia Landrum says:

    Programs are generally the brain-child of our creative staff or a successful model from another library. For the sake of accountability and to answer the most important question, “What is the value does a program create?” having evidence beyond traditional attendance data is critical. Optimally, evidence would focus on both quantitative and qualitative measures that shape and are integrated into program design. They would employ tools from various fields, including education, museums, social services, social science among others.

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  • Martin Gagnon says:

    Many of our programs come by recommendation of other librarians. We also use the local newspapers and social media outlets to scan possible issues that the community may join together to hear more about. Sometimes program presenters just come to us asking to deliver a program or a social service organization will ask to present on a topic. As much as possible we tie programs into community events.

    • Institution Name/Affiliation: Auburn Public Library
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  • Janis Young, Senior Librarian says:

    We get a program idea from the newspaper, another library, or someone we know. Then a proposal is written up and submitted to the Assistant Library Director for approval. It can be useful to know that a program was successful at another library.To find this out, we sometimes call other libraries and speak to the programming librarian. They are usually quite willing to be helpful. If the program did well, we usually go ahead with it. If some aspects of it was less than successful, we may discuss it further. But sometimes it’s fun to just take a chance and see what happens.

    • Institution Name/Affiliation: Ontario City Library
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  • Vince Juliano says:

    I suspect that many public programs are more cultural in nature than specifically educational. Educational programs that target specific skills or acquisition on knowledge could be evaluated in terms of what was learned.
    However, cultural programs like concerts, plays, poetry readings, even book discussions will be harder to assess in terms of effectiveness. Simply looking at the size of an audience for one program is not adequate in such cases. Perhaps, scheduling similar programs as a series would be a better evidence of the value of the programs in the series. If attendance falls off, then the programs in the series were either not well done or simply were not of interest to that particular community.

    • Institution Name/Affiliation: Russell
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