Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Reflections on Library Service to Paid Performers

Inviting outside performers to make presentations in the library is a key part of many public libraries' summer reading programs for children, and a staple of programming in libraries in general. When you hire performers to share their talents and expertise with your patrons, it is important to help make their events successful. There are four main ways to make sure you are supporting your outside performers' work to the best of your ability.

Choose a performer wisely. 

There are many wonderful children's performers out there, but not all of them will suit your library's schedule, needs, or interests. Research your options carefully before deciding who to hire (including seeking out references from other libraries). Consider the ages of the children who frequent your library, and look for presenters who do programs tailored to their developmental needs. Avoid hiring performers in the hopes that they will bring in an audience - it's not fair to waste a professional's time on a crapshoot. If you're going to spend your budget hiring a performer, get the most out of your money by doing all you can to guarantee an audience. (This also includes scheduling performances at times when your patrons are likely to attend them, and not just in a time slot that works for the performer.)


Performers who work with libraries generally know that spaces and equipment vary from location to location, but don't wait for them to ask you what is available, or what you expect from them. Instead, lay out your expectations and policies when you first make contact and continue to communicate during the weeks and days leading up to the performance. Also find out from the performer if they will need anything from you on the day of the event. They may need to use a microphone, easel, or projector, or require something as small as a pencil or a bottle of water. By discussing all these details ahead of time, you make sure that both the library and the performer are prepared, thus contributing to a positive experience for everyone.

Staff the event, but do not micromanage.

Even when a professional performer has been hired to make a presentation, the program is still being sponsored by the library, and a representative of the library should be present. The librarian or other staff member should take responsibility for enforcing library policy during the program and for handling any last-minute questions or problems. The librarian should not, however, try to dictate the specifics of a performer's presentation. When you hire someone to bring their expertise to your library, you invite them to share their talent using their own approach, and they don't have to do things your way. It's fine to seek out performers with a specific style, but once they have been hired, it isn't really fair to be upset if they don't interact with the audience in the same way you might during story time.

Follow up after the presentation.

Following any paid performance in your library, check in with your presenter. Thank him or her for the presentation, and share any positive feedback you received from patrons as they left the program. If there were any issues before or during the program, take a moment to tactfully discuss what went wrong and consider ways to improve the experience in the future. Each time I have taken a moment to chat with a presenter following a program, I have taken away a new bit of information about working with young children, or made a connection with someone whose path crossed mine in other ways down the road. While you might be too busy to linger too long after the program, it is best not to let the performer simply walk out of the library without at least a brief moment to connect with you. 

Do you host paid performers at your library location? How do you help them achieve success in their programs?
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