Even though this preliminary report covers programming in public libraries, many of the same issues and strategies could be useful for academic libraries. In particular, the report emphasizes the role that programming can play in making a library an “anchor” of its community. Libraries, of all public institutions, might be best equipped for this kind of approach, since they already serve the broadest range of users. Furthermore, while being a center of community is important enough in good times, it becomes even more crucial in times of economic challenges, when individuals may feel as if other public institutions have failed them. Similarly, in times of transition at a college or university, the library can serve as a common meeting place for all interested parties on campus to come together and exchange ideas and even formulate possible solutions, while enjoying shared interests, such as cultural programming. (It also gives librarians the opportunity to receive feedback from users in a less formal setting than, say, a written survey, which might encourage them to be more honest in their input.)
Programming opens a number of opportunities for academic libraries. It allows them to bring in individuals who wouldn’t otherwise use the library, not just people from within the college or university, but people from the broader community, also. It presents libraries with the opportunity to showcase their strengths, such as rare items in the collection. Perhaps most importantly, it enables libraries to prove that they are more than just a self-contained unit providing books and that they have a larger relevance in the life of the campus community. This last opportunity gives libraries a chance to reach out to other departments on campus, such as those in music or the fine arts, to offer live performances or art displays. The library’s being a venue for these kinds of events might be particularly critical on a smaller campus, as there is limited space for such activities elsewhere.
In hosting such events, however, libraries need to make sure they are choosing the kinds of events that will allow the library to stand out. For instance, movie nights might not draw as many attendees if the films are the kind one could rent from the video store or watch on Netflix. Foreign films that attendees have not seen before and cover subject matter of interest to them, however, would be a good draw. Also, libraries should strive to hold different kinds of events from year to year. Even if an event has been a large draw in the past, people’s interests change, and alternative programs could help the library bring in an even larger number of attendees overall.
One suggestion the report makes for determining the most appropriate kinds of programs for a particular library is that the library look at its strengths and then come up with programs based on those. (This is also a way for the library to demonstrate that programming is related to the library’s mission.) Thinking along those lines, what are the strengths of the Benedictine University Library (collections, services, staff interests)? How could these strengths be parlayed into programming, beyond what the Library already does?