Recycled Fail: Structuring Open Programs

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”
-Bill Gates

Let’s talk about failure.

It happens. We can struggle to cover it up, but mistakes can be good things. That’s right. Failure can be good.

This notion is something new to me…that I realized last night, during a program. A page gathered materials from different departments and we had a recycled art night. Sounds like a win, right?

Apparently not. It flopped for a couple of important reasons:

  1. I lacked examples. Giving preteens a heap of material doesn’t work if you don’t give them that initial spark.
  2. I forgot snacks. This, I know, is tantamount to breaking every rule. Oops.
  3. I have one pair of scissors. Literally.

How do I know this? I talked to the kids.

Why didn’t this occur to me before?

Because of balance.

Most YA Librarians run loose programs. It must open ended enough that attendees feel they can affect their personal outcome. But how do you apply structure without going overboard? Timing preteens or teens is a no-go, and I want the kids to work at their own pace.

During the program, I simply stopped. I looked around the room at each individual kid and saw boredom on their faces. Then, we talked about why. Turns out, kids actually like a bit of structure – who knew!? The sign in notebook was passed around and each teen wrote down two things: did you have fun? if not, what could have been better?

I now know they liked the idea, but the follow through was really lacking. They were honest, but not cruel, and seemed to like simply being asked their opinion. Review sheets are now going to be passed out at the end of every program and club meeting. If we expect them to have a vested interest in the quality of the YA department, including them even in the simplest of ways, has to be a priority.

Finding a New Structure

Great. So, I’m facilitating conversation built around their ideas. How does this help fix the unbalanced programs?

Think of your programs like equations, abominable math skills aside. Or, taking a page from Kari Chapin’s PLA notebook (you thought you were done hearing about this? Not a chance), think backwards from an outside perspective. What do you want your attendees to get out of the program? An imagination workout, common core standards, 21st century skills? What will it take to get them to that end point?

If the equation idea works for you, it might look something like this:

Snack + Craft/Project + Book Tie In = Awesome Program

Each portion of the equation can be made up of different components:

Good snack = Little Mess + NOT STICKY + Please No Stains

Have your Teen Advisory Board help create “ingredients” for a successful program, or include it as part of the review. I’m going to do both; again, including them in decision making can go a long way.

Data, Data, Data

Track your success. Enter the program dates and number of attendees in either Google Sheets or Excel and use the links to create charts. These are fantastic to include in your monthly reports.

If you want something a bit more mobile (think of special events!) there are sites and apps like My Attendance Tracker, Digitevent,  or Eventbrite that will help you do track numbers and progress.


What’s your secret? Have you found that happy balance, or is it a myth? I’d love to hear your answers!

Here’s to a creative Wednesday!

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