Library programs tell a larger story

Heights Libraries staff members Carole Wallencheck and L.P. Coladangelo.

Heights Libraries adult services staff L.P. Coladangelo and Carole Wallencheck spend a lot of time together: at adjoining desks, working reference, planning programs, and, most recently, at the Ohio Library Council’s (OLC) Northeast Chapter Conference. Together they put on a presentation about how they create compelling library programs by using a narrative structure.

“Humans are hardwired to remember stories much better than raw information, so when we plan programs we aren’t just picking a subject; we try to tell a larger story in our programming,” said Wallencheck.

The library’s programming schedule runs on a quarterly basis, and, each season, staff plan programs around a particular theme. This spring’s focus was “Springtime in Paris,” and this past winter was “Tales and Chronicles of the Civil War.” By building programs around a specific theme, Coladangelo and Wallencheck access the subject from every angle and create a community of curious and eager participants.

An example of this is the Science and Nature Study Group. Most recently, the subject was extinction and the three programs in the series focused on the past, present and future of extinction. “Tales and Chronicles of the Civil War” wasn’t about the battles and politics, but rather the personal stories of individuals living in that era, including a program about Civil War love letters.

Library surveys from 2015 have shown thus far that these series-based programs exceeded participants’ expectations 86 percent of the time. These survey statistics also imply that programs pique a new interest in the people who attend. When asked what else they would like to see happening at their library, participants mentioned similar subjects within the given theme.

This system really started to gel in the spring of 2013 when library staff planned programming around the Muslim Journeys Bookshelf grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The grant required that the library put on a few programs around the theme, but Wallencheck and Coladangelo took the idea and ran with it. They created an extensive series of programs at the library, and offered trips to the Cleveland Museum of Art, a mosque in Parma, and Cleveland State University.

At the OLC Chapter Conference, Coladangelo explained how they keep coming up with ideas for programs, and included a proverb that summed it up well: “All is grist for the mill,” meaning, they look for ideas everywhere.

This year’s adult summer reading theme will be “Heroes and Legends,” and fall programing will focusaround Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

Julia Murphy

Julia Murphy is the marketing assistant for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library.

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Volume 8, Issue 5, Posted 11:32 AM, 04.30.2015