Ask a Storytime Ninja: My Programs Are Too Full

What a fabulous problem to have! This week the ninjas are tackling program size and how to control those crowds. If you have anything to add, please do so in the comments.

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Question:

 

Summer reading program is in full swing, and we have rooms packed with kids. I’m concerned about breaking fire codes by exceeding meeting room capacity. How do you handle your busy programs? Do you do tickets? First 70 in the room and then the room is closed (our meeting room holds 70 people)? Do you totally ignore and pack the room with as many people as you can?

 

Answers:

 

From Natasha: We do a number of things to try to prevent breaking the fire codes:

  • For events we know will have a big turn-out we do tickets and advertise that they’ll be available 30 minutes before the event start time on a first come, first served basis.  So that means the line can then start 60 minutes before the program, so it’s not always ideal.
  • We also try to host the bigger programs on our lawn (we’re lucky to have that option), in the park across the street (again, lucky), or by closing off part of the parking lot or having it at a school a block away.  Or we try to have back-to-back sessions, or programs that rotate people in and out so that we can accommodate more.
  • For programs like crafts or Storytimes where a limited amount of materials might be available, we have a sign up sheet on the door, and people sign in on the door as they come in – once we’ve hit capacity, we flip over the sign and on the back it has a message that the room is full and at fire code capacity, but if they check at the Ref Desk we’ll get them info about other programs at our branch or nearby branches.  In reality, that usually means a few more people will squeeze in but I or another staff person try to make it clear we’re at the maximum safe number of people for the room.  It’s super hard to turn people away, and some people handle it way better than others, but being friendly, empathetic, and trying to give them options can do wonders.

 

From Michelle:
This is a good problem to have! I always try and remind myself this when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed with the amount of people turning up for programs. Number one, we do not break fire codes. They are there for a very good reason. If you decide to break them, and an emergency happens, your library will be liable for any issues that happen as a result of the broken fire code. Do not break them, keep your patrons safe.

We have space challenges at our library, so we handle popular programs in a few different ways. We require tickets for outside performers. We advertise tickets available on a certain date for library card holders. To accommodate more people we sometimes book two performances. For some other programs, we do registration to keep the number at a reasonable level. We run our drop-in no registration storytimes multiple times a week. For really popular programs, I think it is always good to run them more than once so more people can experience them. If a program ends up being unexpectedly popular we try and run it again in the next few months.

 

From Ingrid:

I work at the Youth Wing of Brooklyn Public’s Central location, and it’s a busy place. Over the years, the librarians have noticed what programs have the most participants and figured out ways to do crowd control. We all continue to follow their lead.
Our most popular programs, Toddler Time, Story and Play, and Babies and Books (the classics!), require tickets. We knock out the same class, back-to-back, so that everyone has a chance to attend and hardly anyone is ever turned away. Free tickets are available the morning of the class. Patrons go to the reference desk to get a ticket. Each class holds 25 kids and their caregivers. Once the tickets for the first class are gone, patrons are welcome to attend the 2nd class. We are fairly strict about age parameters: babies can’t attend toddler classes and vice versa. Doors are closed as soon as the event starts: no late-comers sneaking into the class 15 minutes in. A combination of tickets, back-to-back classes, strict age guidelines, and a “no late comer” policy keeps our classes from getting overrun. This is not necessary in every library (I’ve worked in smaller libraries where you have to *beg* to get participants), but it’s necessary here.
Most of our classes for older patrons don’t get over-inundated. *Most* of them aren’t ticketed, unless it’s a special one-off program, like a Diary of a Wimpy Kid party or something that will be very popular.

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