We are not drunks just trying to get library programs in bars! We are librarians who are passionate about facilitating fun, mutually beneficial partnerships in our communities and connecting to new & underserved populations in our communities.
This is a pictures of Books on Tap, the book club I started at Northbrook Public Library - a now thriving group that meets monthly at a local bar in Northbrook. What isn’t pictured here is the 6 months that it took for me to get this book group started and approved. Northbrook Public Library very rarely ever left the library. They had one teen book club that met at a Starbucks and they went to a farmer’s market twice a year. But that’s about it.
The fact is at some libraries, people are going to be very skeptical and probably underneath all that haterade, afraid. Booze at a library program just freaks some people out and for some, the very idea of doing adult programming outside of the library is absurd. Why would you do that? Don’t we want to get bodies INSIDE the library? Those are the type of things that could possibly be brought up. So I am going to give you some tips on how to deal with the skeptics and get your program started.
Relentless enthusiasm is your first line of defense and you need to remember this every step of the way. Whenever you are making a big change or attempting to make a big change, the first step to success is relentless enthusiasm. You will need this for two reasons: first, to keep yourself going when you hit brick walls and second, to lead by example.
Be the change you want to see quote. I like to use SpongeBob’s version because Gandhi never really said the other version but it doesn’t matter - they mean the same thing.
If you are about to make a major change - like FOR EXAMPLE, the first off-site library program that also happens to includ booze! - you must stay positive. You are leading by example ALWAYS. So no matter what roadblocks you hit, staying positive is an important element to accomplishing great things, including getting your offsite book club approved.
Research. You will be researching all sorts of things throughout this whole process like location, marketing, demographics. But for now, you are just trying to get the book group approved. So focus on area libraries - who is doing this already in your area? Go visit one of their meetings. Get a feel for what other libraries are doing and this will help you create your own group.
This will eventually become your proposal but for right now, you need to get organized. In the book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen, he describes that getting ideas out of your head is the first step to actually accomplishing thing. This is informal. This is to get your mind working around the idea.
This can be one person or four people - or heck, it can be your whole department. But the fact is, when you are trying to make a change that makes some people uncomfortable, you need a support group or as I like to call them, partners in crime. Find these people and start working through your ideas with them.
Start talking out the idea with people. Start conversations with your partners in crime and beyond. At this point in the game, it is extremely likely that you will find allies where you didn’t expect it. Talk to you boss about it. Get a feel for how he or she feels about the idea. This is going to help you when you write your proposal.
Get ready for answering the questions. For naysayers, there tends to be three main questions that are a variation on a theme: “What kind of person would attend a program like that?” “Isn’t that a liability issue?” “Will people get too drunk to talk about the book?” And remember back to your research where you visited other area libraries? You are prepared to answer these questions now because you have watched groups like this in action or you have talked with someone who runs a group like this.
Notice how this wasn’t the first step? Taking action should never be your first step. Enancting lasting change takes ground work and now you are ready for your confident Rita Hayworth move - your ace in the hole. You are going to write a formal proposal and it will be awesome.
This is my outline for all proposals - and I write many. Why? There’s just something about a formal, written, officially submitted proposal that makes people take you more seriously. It’s written down with a date and your name. Now it has to be addressed.
It also helps you formulate your own thoughts from that brainstorming session you had earlier, and later becomes a plan of action when you start actually implementing your plan. And finally, it’s a favor to your boss and administration. If they are being hesitant, chances are they are going to have to get board approval. Your proposal is giving them the framework to convince the board that this is a good, non-scary idea.
All proposals should be a variation on these themes.
Throughout this presentation, we are going to cover a lot of these topics. But make sure your purpose - the mission statement portion is lock-tight. Why are you doing this? Why did you lay all that ground-work?
Your purpose or mission statement is the heart of your proposal. This is how you hook them. You must have a strong sense of purpose for a program like this. This is not just because it’s fun (but it is). You need to think in terms of what administration, and the board wants to hear here. And yes, just like the Fellowship of the Ring, you need a strong sense of purpose.
We’re sticking with the Lord of the RIngs theme here because really, is there anyone more dedicated to their purpose than Gollum? These are the main reasons to start a group like this but each community will have something unique.
Visit the places that you are interested in approaching. Will they be a good fit for what you’re planning? Would you want to hang out there? Parking? Noise levels? Go on the day you want to hold meetings. Are they busy? Is there some sort of special that you may want do avoid? Do they do trivia? Karaoke? These are things you have to consider.
Set up a meeting in person to discuss. It’s important to come with a clear view of what you want to do and what you want from them (space? specials? etc), but also some flexibility to account for their end of things.
This is when you can hash out details--Is there a day and time that works best for you? If it’s a restaurant or pub, what is their slowest night that they’d appreciate business on? How many people can they accomodate? Will they charge you? Is this a one-time event, or something you would like to continue monthly? Provide you with your own waitress? Do separate checks?
What if someone doesn’t want to order anything? Will they promote you, allow you to advertise within their space?
The fact is, there will probably be some issues that first year and that’s okay. For example, Litlounge once met during the NBA finals. I know! But you adapt and talk very loudly and make it work.
You need to be prepared to put ongoing effort into your marketing campaign. Swag and posters are not enough. People need to be reminded what you are offering and why they should want it. These types of programs don’t always attract the same group every month (nor should they). Perhaps you are appealing to a transient audience. Any way you cut it you will need to allocate time and resources into ongoing marketing and promotion of your program.
Who do you want your program to appeal to? How do they receive information? What types of communication are effective with that group of people? Most importantly, be happy with any audience even if it’s not the one you had in mind.
Off-site discussions, like LitLounge or Books On Tap, are in many ways unlike in-library book discussions and that’s the cool thing about them. We still pick books, nudge the discussion forward, and call the time but otherwise the location, the book selection, and the crowd makes for a different experience. We focus on a relaxed, open, and social atmosphere, we welcome all (no registration or even an obligation to read the book), we adapt well, we talk loud, we attract a diverse group of people, we select a mix of books, and we shove food in our mouths in between outbursts about our favorite characters or plot twists.
Choose a mix of books and you’ll get a mixed crowd.
For LitLounge, we choose books of all genres and subject matters but with a slight leaning toward younger-feeling books (and definitely fewer gentle historical novels with WW II themes). Most our titles are fiction picks, but we also try to include some nonfiction, graphic novels, sci-fi, fantasy, classics, literary titles and anything that could be fun or different to read and discuss.
Select couple local books each year and invite the authors to your book discussions. You’d be surprised how easy it is to get a “yes,” especially if you let them know that you’re meeting at a bar and they can just chat about their writing over a drink or a plate of food. Book discussions with an author visit can attract a large crowd, sometimes twice your usual number of attendees, but that’s a great problem to have and it also gives you a chance to build connections with your local authors for your future library events.
Appy Hour meets at two different locations and two different times to hit different demographics. They meet in the evening at a coffee shop and in the afternoon at the grocery store.
As an example of another variation on a concept of an off-site program, Morton Grove Public Library takes its programming to the community through a monthly booktalk at the local Senior Center. Each month a librarian book-talks around 15 books on a specific subject or genre (mysteries, banned books, inspirational reads, etc.) and checks out the books to the attendees. The program attracts a lot of readers who like to hear book suggestions but don’t necessary care to participate in book discussions.
Pages, a book discussion that meets at the local Barnes and Noble and focuses on adult readers interested in reading and discussing teen titles.
This year Morton Grove Public Library started hosting a Trivia Night at the Bringer Inn, a sports bar next door. As the picture shows, the event fills easily with locals who want to show off their trivia brilliance and hang out with their friends.
This is the reaction we’re looking for from all our patrons!
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