Carla Bywaters, School of Information at San José State University
Innovation: Now is the Time for 21st Century Programming!

Problem Statement:

The best programming events can be a hit-or-miss for many patrons and for many different reasons, possibly, causing several to think such thoughts as below:
• “Why do programs take place only at the library? I feel very lonely and isolated because I am homebound.”
• “I am a repeat customer, and there are so many programs I’d like to attend! Why are those always scheduled when I have to work?”
• “I have signed up for your eight-week cumulative programming event, but I missed last week. How can I catch up? I feel so lost; maybe I should just drop out.”
• “There’s a program I’d like to attend on the other side of town, but I have no transportation, and a bus ride is 1 ½- 2 ½ hours. I guess libraries aren’t for everyone.”
Speaking from personal experience, the more our clients miss a library program, the likelier it is that they will forget about us and find alternate programming.

Many for-profit companies like Netflix, Amazon Video, and Starz at $8.99/month, are stiff competition, convenient, and just a click away. Free sites, such as Hulu, UGOplayer, Songza, and TED Talks are meeting people where they’re at. Eerily enough, Fahrenheit 451 has arrived in full force where almost everybody stays inside and watches “viewing screens,” becoming the center of a virtual world that grows increasingly lonelier. However, I believe the library’s slant is how camaraderie can be found within community. While we are the hub of the neighborhood, our patrons progressively take their place as the heart!

Innovation:

I propose that libraries begin to live stream and/or film, with permission, much of its unique and engaging programming events to make them more accessible for our patrons and accessible to everyone. The majority of for-profit educational companies, such as LinkedIn Learning and Franklin Covey Training, already do this. Regarding freely available information, TED Talks are yet another example. Millennials notoriously assert, “Everything you ever want to learn can be found on YouTube.” So where are we?

At our library, we’re in the middle of an eight-week Stand-Up Comedy Workshop Series, which is not on YouTube. So it can’t have everything, like access to every organization and performer with whom we have already built strong partnerships! The streamed events and videos can be housed within the library website, and participants can access and/or review them via their card depending on their situation.

Benefits include:
• reaching confined customers who are often relegated to watching TV
• rewarding our repeat supporters for their devotion who must miss events
• keeping our “visitors” in touch and, hopefully, turning them into consumers
• bringing the library to those who may have limited transportation choices
This approach falls right in line with Ranganathan’s Fourth Law of Library Science, “Save the time of the reader,” or watcher, in this case.

For those who can physically attend, we can encourage them to spread the word on social media before, during, and after the event by tagging themselves, the library, and their friends as well, likely tapping into our “hidden market.” Much like the Cheers theme song, folks like to go where they’re known, so like a Facebook Live setting, a “shout-out” can be given to virtual attendees.

This additionally adheres with Ranganathan’s Laws updated by ALA Past President Michael Gorman: First, “Libraries serve humanity”; second, “Respect all forms by which knowledge is communicated”; third, “Use technology intelligently to enhance service”; fourth, “Protect free access to knowledge”; and, fifth, “Honor the past and create the future”!

To further address marketing strategies, the social media person at each branch in the district can do a promotional post, tagging the event venue; the event venue then reciprocates in turn with, perhaps, an alternating, witty wordplay. Moreover, this free advertising can cause web-like exposure, far more than a two-way street, through participants’ posting, tagging, and self-promotion.

Libraries who are fortunate enough to already have recording studio equipment will find this an easier transition. For those who need to purchase items, prices seem to continually fall due to advances in this industry. Further funds can be harvested from decreasing costs associated with printing fliers—paper, toner, and formal marketing materials—as more users are inclined to take pictures. There is really no reason to edit a program in an uploaded version, to boot, as audiences have been conditioned to “reality TV.”

Let’s take an at-home cooking example of my own: I found myself short an ingredient that quickly turned into an emergency substitution instance. I doubled a chocolate chip cookie recipe and had only one bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips…but I did have one bag of milk chocolate chips…and would you believe they turned out to be the best-tasting cookies ever?!? Now I always use this fortuitous recipe. Consumers can then feel less intimidated about measuring up, being transformed into creators. I have frequently thought about filming these hilarious scenarios under the moniker “The Accidental Chef”!

Everybody wants to be a YouTube star…like so many in the audience for the Comedy Workshop who are dying to be seen. As far as those who prefer privacy, there can be designated areas to sit outside of the camera angle, plus most libraries have filming disclaimers and/or waivers, if need be. Finally, because it is community engagement by means of our “online community,” these visits should be included in the attendance count, much like a virtual reference visit.

Just as public libraries ought to become publishers, so, too, should we become content producers. The overarching benefit to this innovation is that, as communities become more bonded, it effectively demonstrates and enhances our value to stakeholders and the public at large. Since we want to remain at least with the curve, if not ahead of it, let’s give our supporters some alternative programming. The future is overdue, and the time to strike is now!