This is a great question for any of you super researchers out there. Do you know of any research done in this area? Any advice for our questioner? Please leave comments below.
Our library is considering rotating presenters weekly at a special storytime during a regular presenter’s maternity leave. What empirical evidence exists that shows that using different performers will hurt a program on a long term basis? Is there any evidence to show that attendance numbers are tied to program presenter?
Alternatives would be suspending the program for a quarter until the regular presenter is back on duty.
Abby says: We just started a weekly Preschool Explorers program, which we rotate each week between different presenters and topics (music/movement, preschool science, and storytime). We started this program in September and while attendance certainly varies from week to week, it has not been tied to certain performers or even certain topics. That is, it’s relatively even whether we’re offering storytime, science, or music/movement and no matter who is offering the program.
In the past, we’ve offered registered storytimes with several class time options each week and the same person leading the same class time each week. Attendance depended on the convenience of the class time (i.e. we’d had a lot of requests for Mondays at 10 and that was heavily attended), not on who was doing it, even if we added the presenters names to the storytime brochure.
Tabin says: This all depends on if you have good fill-ins. If the fill-ins are good, go for it. If not, take a break. I was on leave and discovered from a nurse that my fill-in was bad and people stopped coming. It took months to get attendance to pre-leave level. Had I known this I would have just suspended storytime and put out a sign saying storytime would return on x date. Instead I was in the ER with someone asking when I was going back to work. (Answer: not today.)
Mel says: I don’t have any empirical evidence about this–I think it would be really hard to prove either way. My gut feeling though is that suspending the program entirely would be more problematic than rotating performers. My advice would be to go ahead and rotate (if there’s absolutely no way that one person can fill in for the entire time) but to talk to the original presenter and have every guest presenter use the exact same format–same opening songs, closing songs, puppet, same order for activities, whatever, in order to make sure that the experience feels as consistent as possible for the attendees.