Career Strategies for Librarians
Not Just for Kids: Cultivating Adult Programs
by Jennifer Johnston

After a three-year-plus stint of working in academic and special libraries, I accepted a reference position
at a public library.  I loved my new job, and when I was asked to take on the task of reviving adult
programming, I jumped at the opportunity.  It wasn’t until after I’d accepted the position that I realized I
had no prior work or school experience relating to this type of library service.   

I immediately turned to any books, articles, websites, and fellow librarians I could find for help. With their
advice, and my on-the-job encounters, I eventually grew comfortable with my new responsibility. Here are
some tips I learned along the way.  

Why Do It

There are a number of reasons libraries offer adult programs.  Programming is a wonderful way of
gathering members of the community together in one central location to share a common experience,
such as listening to an author read his or her new novel, attending an orientation for small business
start-ups, or discussing concerns about a new city ordinance.  

Library programs also have the ability to inform and empower people.  Computer classes, literacy
programs, and genealogy workshops all help adult learners become more independent and achieve
personal aspirations, whether it’s a new job, a citizenship test, or a family tree.

A Good Fit

Before developing any library program, it’s necessary to look at what your community likes and wants in
order to ensure that your event will be well attended and effective.  Two resources can aid in this:
demographics and library user statistics.  For example, my library serves a large population of 189,000,
where the majority of people are low-income, Spanish-speaking residents; in addition to this, mysteries
circulate more than any other genre.  I try to keep this knowledge in mind when developing programs.

Another way to find out what your community wants is by asking them.  Develop a survey that can be
mailed, answered online, filled out at the circulation desk, or distributed after other programs for patron

You also want to make sure a program is a good fit for your library.  Brainstorm library resources before
creating any program by asking yourself: who, where, and how much.  Determine if you’ll be the sole
person arranging classes and events, or if a committee will be in charge of different aspects.  Estimate
how many people might attend and decide if the library has an appropriate venue for the event.  If the
library doesn’t have a good space, hold the program off-site at a community center, school, or church.  
And finally, if you develop a program that requires money, research whether programming is allotted a
certain amount of your library budget; if it’s not, don’t panic!  Simply investigate other options: your library’
s literacy department, Friends of the Library organization, local business’ sponsorship, admission fees,
and state, federal, or community grants are all possible alternatives.  It might be helpful at this time to
create a programming budget detailing what costs you’re looking to cover, such as staff time, handouts,
honorariums, travel expenses, room rental, refreshments, and publicity.

Types of Programs

One of the best aspects about developing library programs is realizing how many options you have.  
Take any of these general types of adult programs, and adapt them to your own library’s needs and
Presentations: Host author readings, film discussions, musical performances, and local history
lectures.  Also consider breaking away from these traditional formats by planning a phone chat or virtual
visit instead.

Workshops: Recreational workshops can include genealogy, writing, and craft classes, while
educational workshops can cover topics such as computer skills, job training, grant writing, tax
assistance, or health information.  Look to your local college, university, or non-profit organizations for

One-on-One Programs: Literacy instruction, GED tutoring, and resume writing are very effective with
individual guidance.
Browse through Chase’s Calendar of Events for program ideas that correlate with state holidays,
sponsored events, and anniversaries.  And for more inspiration, take a look at: ALA’s Public Programs
Office; the PUBLIB listserv archives; other libraries’ websites; and library blogs, such as those from
Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library and St. Joseph County Public Library.

Publicity Is Absolutely Essential

People won’t come to library programs if they don’t know about them. This fact, along with the realization
that libraries are increasingly competing with other events for attendance, makes publicizing a program
absolutely essential.  

Creating printed advertising is a good start.  If you have someone else who drafts publicity materials,
skip to the next paragraph.  If you’ll be the one taking on this job, I’d suggest coming up with a basic
design in Microsoft Word (or any graphics program) that can be easily turned into invitations, flyers, or
posters, and serve as a template for later events.

Mail and post your invitations and flyers to the typical places: libraries, coffee shops, colleges, and
community bulletin boards—but also consider targeted locations.  For example, if you’re bringing in an
author who would also appeal to teenagers, leave information at local schools and movie theaters; if you’
re bringing in an expert on nutrition, post flyers at grocery stores and senior citizen centers.   

Other places to advertise programs include:  

Library website
Library or city newsletter
Local newspapers and radio stations
Relevant Listservs
Final Suggestions

Being responsible for library programming probably means you’ll be in charge of introducing events.
Keep your introduction brief, with information about the event’s importance to the community, guest
biography and accomplishments, significant people and organizations supporting the event, and future
library happenings.  If you dislike speaking in front of crowds, read these LIScareer articles for tips on
overcoming glossophobia: Learning to Teach: Providing Library Instruction; Presenting with Confidence:
10 Tips for Librarians; and The Librarian’s Guide to Developing Presentation Skills.

Documenting your programs might prove helpful.  A brief log with event details, or binder with past event
flyers and attendance numbers, will allow you to keep track of which programs you’ve developed and
which have been successful.  This information will come in handy for both library reports and your

Drafting a programming policy to keep with past event information might also be a good idea.  Address
specifics such as types of programs the library will offer, how refreshments will be set up, and what
actions to take if an event is cancelled or challenged.  

And finally: enjoy yourself!  Developing library programs lets you get to know your community better, and
lets your community experience a unique and valuable aspect of their local library.

Further Reading

·        Adult Programming for Libraries: A Manual for Libraries. Chicago: American Library Association,

·        Lear, Brett W. Adult Programs in the Library. Chicago: American Library Association, 2002.

·        Ludlam, Jane. “Presenting Readings and Workshops” Poets & Writers, Inc. (2000). <
org/rw/presguides.htm> (3 March 2006).

·        Scherlen, Allan. “The Inside Scoop on Finding a Public Library Speaker.” Public Libraries 45, no. 2
(March/April 2006): 70-73.

About the Author:

Jennifer Johnston was reference and adult services librarian at San Bernardino Public Library in San
Bernardino, California from 2005-2006.  She has recently relocated to the Boston area, but you can find
past event photos and more at her website,

Article published Nov 2006

Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.