Ask a Storytime Ninja: Lightning Round – Overcrowded Storytimes

Here’s our newest Lightning Round question! These questions are posed to all of our ninjas instead of just our featured monthly ones and are meant to be quick and efficient responses to some interesting inquiries. Here’s our question for this week which is a bit longer but a tough one:

 

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The Question:

 

“My library has an attendance problem at story time…. we have WAY too many people at story times that we are regularly far exceeding the fire code for our storytime room (we’re consistently getting 60 – 80 people at several of our storytimes). We’ve talked about a variety of options. We’re spreading our storytimes out over the week (and adding one new time slot) hoping that we will no longer get families who come for the first of the day and stay for all three sessions. But we are really at capacity for the number of storytimes we can offer. We’re also discussing shutting the door and not allowing late arrivals. Which helps cut the numbers down, but still not really enough. We would like to avoid advanced registration or tickets (as neighboring libraries do this and it is big bone of contention among our families and the biggest comment we got on a recent parent survey was thanking us for not doing this) but it is not off the table entirely. Does anyone have any suggestions for other things we may not be thinking of?
 
And a follow up: does anyone have or seen a sign they particularly like the language of about no late admittance to storytime? I want something positive and upbeat, but that gets the point across. And keeps the parent from pounding on the door trying to get someone to let them in. Thanks!”

 

The Answers:

 

From Michelle M.:

 

I know sometimes advanced registration or tickets seems really discouraging but it is a necessary evil. That is great that you really want to accommodate your patrons and their children, but it comes to a point where it may not be feasible or when it is, it poses too much stress on the staff. I would not allow families to attend more than one session of storytime, due to overcrowding and I make that clear in the summer before anyone starts to register that is the case. Anyhow we do the same thing each program, so I can’t imagine that they would want to do it over, but who knows, maybe some don’t mind??
 

In my situation, I am the sole children’s librarian at my library. I’m not sure how it is where you work, but it appears that if you have multiple storytimes, it is a possibility that you could have more than one librarian. Anyhow, there is a good possibility due to limited staff that we would not have anyone to downstairs in the children’s room to discourage late arrivals. We could put up a sign but even though we have had a few late arrivals, we had not gotten to the point where we have too many people in the room. In the summer, where there are more kids, I have two programs and that works for me. I guess you may be in a community with a large population, perhaps a lot bigger than mine.
 

If you are able to have multiple sessions and each family could only attend one, that would be a big help for you all. I know it makes you all the bad guy but they have to understand that many people poses a safety hazard and poses a lot of stress on the staff.

 

From Eve P.:

 

Wow, what a great problem to have! There are only 3 choices that I can see. 1. Change venues; 2. Add more programming; 3. Limit attendance by requiring pre-registration.
 

Changing venues: If some of the participants are attending as groups, could you go to them as outreach and/or have them alternate which performances to attend? Is there another area of the library which might accommodate more people?
 

Adding more Programming: From the information presented, it sounds as though the programs being offered are all unique. Because you have stated that you cannot add more programs, have you considered cutting one or more of the unique programs? You could then offer the same program 2 weeks running, and ask that families only attend one of the two repeat performances. Or, you could cut a program entirely and then offer back-to-back presentations of your more popular programs.
Have you thought about contracting out some of your storytimes as a way of adding additional programming, or have you lobbied the library board for additional staffing to meet the demands of your community?
 

Requiring Pre-registration: You have stated that you do not wish to do this, but if you are regularly exceeding fire code regulations you may have no choice. Because there are always families that register but then don’t show up, a 5 minute rule can be handy. If the person is more that 5 minutes late their spot is forfeit and another might take their place.
 

Congratulations on this fabulous problem – may we all be so afflicted!

From Soraya S. (@vivalosbooks):

 

That is a tough choice to make. I’ve worked in a branch where we were so excited to have even just five families for storytime and am now in one where we average 40-50+ every single program so it goes against my personal beliefs to ever turn someone away. However, we were finding at my new branch, with the introduction to a month Mad Science Club, that our school age programs were now averaging 100+ which went way above our room capacity. After a lot of discussion and brainstorming to try to come up with other alternatives, we actually found the easiest way to manage the crowd with our limited supplies and staff was to unfortunately do tickets. And once we ran out of tickets, that was all we could let in, no exceptions. There was a bit of pushback for the first couple of months but it’s been two years since we’ve implemented it and it’s worked wonders. 99% of parents are pretty understanding but every now and then we do get that one irate parent who demands their child be let in but by having those ground rules explicitly stated on all of our materials, it’s quite easy to deny them access.

 

The only other alternative I could think of is reaaally stressing to your parents that if the storytimes continue to be overcapacity, that you will have to start limiting attendance. But, if they want to avoid that, they can help by ONLY coming to one program a day and that you may be able to avoid tickets happening. It may be inevitable though sadly and you certainly don’t want to be over fire code. Our calendars and program flyers all have this stated somewhere to advertise our limitations: “Please note: space is limited in all school age programs and tickets are required to attend. They are free and available after 3 p.m. on the day of the program on a first come first serve basis. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation!” I hope that helps!

 

Thanks for all the great responses everyone! Do you have any of your own? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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