The goal of self-directed, aka “passive,” programming is to offer something interactive for your patrons on their own schedule, so you don’t have to worry about putting a lot of effort into a program, only to hope everyone is free to attend at 3pm on Tuesday – patrons can participate whenever they stop in without assistance from you. If you do have a regular after-school crowd, this is a great way to keep them engaged. Let’s look at what you’ll need to consider to get started.
Space: Having visited many libraries in North Dakota, I know most of you work in very small spaces. However, the nature of these programs is that you’ll only have a few kids participating at a time. You basically need a table and some wall space, and while it may require some reconfiguration, it may be more feasible than you think. If you think this type of programming could benefit your library, it may be worth rearranging some furniture.
If you don’t have space to dedicate to this all the time, consider setting up a station for a few hours on a specific day each week. You may not have an area dedicated solely to children’s programming, but you probably have a space you use for story time that could be repurposed from 3-6pm every Thursday, or whenever works for you.
Materials: If you have story time, you probably have craft supplies on hand. You may need to replenish them more frequently, but you can generally start many self-directed programs with basic craft and office supplies.
Money: Most self-directed programs are very low-cost, and frequently use items you already have on hand or can easily obtain. No one has extra cash just waiting to be used; however, before you decide you don’t have the funds, take a look at some ideas to see what you can do with what you have. If you feel another program is not within your budget, consider instead if you could redirect money you are using for more time consuming programming, especially if it is not regularly well-attended. Perhaps you could find a local sponsor or partner to help with start up supplies if you don’t have basic craft/office supplies on hand.
Time: Activities should be brief enough so patrons can easily complete them during a visit. The rotation schedule can vary to suit your library – you can feature one activity a month, or change it up every week if that’s manageable for you. Just like regular programs, self-directed programming does require preparation on your part; however, with self-directed programming your investment in preparation can potentially have a larger payoff in terms of overall patron engagement.
Age groups: Focus on one or more age group – preschool, school age, teens – depending on who you are trying to target and how much space you have. Since it is self-directed, you’ll want to make it clear who the intended audience is and provide directions they are capable of following on their own, or with minimal instruction, especially if space restrictions do not allow you to place the station near the books intended for the age group you have chosen.
Themes: Themes aren’t necessary, but you probably already have themes for story time, so you can build off this – holidays, poetry, fairy tales, comics, summer reading themes, etc. For more ideas on themes, take a look at this article or check out the book DIY programming and book displays: how to stretch your programming without stretching your budget and staff by Amanda Moss Struckmeyer and Svetha Hetzler from the NDSL.
Have you tried self-directed programming at your library? What works best for you? Share your suggestions in the comments!