Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Making Connections: Family Nights and Brewfests

Special thanks to PSB for letting me creep so hard
As the school-age services librarian at my workplace, I do my fair share of outreach-- some in the form of classroom visits to various grade levels, and some in the form of family nights. The patron-return bang for my hourly buck, I'd venture to guess, is in the former. BUT that doesn't mean that I'm not constantly looking for ways to up the ante with my family night offerings.

One might say that I have high expectations for outreach, but I will admit that I don't think there's any reason that, at a non-profit evening where everyone's aim is equal, the public library's table can't be the go-to place that everyone wants to visit. The most happening kiosk on the block, I guess.

Is this too much to try for, or is the very nature of family nights too ingrained and out of our control? Are we doomed to scrounge and scatter for every visitor we can get?

Last weekend I found inspiration in an unexpected place: the Between the Bluffs Beer, Wine, and Cheese Fest.

I go to a few brewfests a year; doesn't hurt that my guy is a cellarman at a local brewery called Pearl Street Brewery. Because of this, I've been privy to the planning that goes into participation that ends up looking effortless to attendees. If you've never been to a brewfest, it's kind of like an exhibit hall at a library conference, but with less fluorescent lighting and fewer people who could legally drive at any given moment (okay, that part might be debatable). It's a great place to talk about what you love; because it stands to reason that if you're there, you love beer, and everyone present does, too.

Why do people attend family nights? To talk about what they love, and what they love are their kids. What are we bringing to facilitate that?

These are questions I'll be pondering as our school year races on and school carnivals are looming. Here are some other tips I picked up that brewfest participants do right. AND a bunch of questions that I don't have answer to yet:

1. Have something attendees need: Pearl Street has this vehicle called the The Grumman.  It's basically a Grumman, natch, but it has the ability to dispense beer. It's known all over the city and whoever drives it might have stop to take pictures with passers-by.

Thing is, when they take it to brewfests, it's re-purposed to be a "Hydration Station." I think this is genius, because think about it: there's access to beer EVERYWHERE. But water? You might be paying $3.50 a bottle in the food area. Setting up a place near your stuff that provides a much-needed commodity certainly helps attendees flock to your booth.

What do families need that we can provide in an attractive way? Maybe a branded fan or sunglasses for an outdoor summer event? What about an indoor event? Maybe a bag to keep the flyers from everyone else?Do people even use pencils anymore?

2. Infiltrate the crowd: So at local festivals and bars around Wisconsin, there's this game called Hammerschlagen.  I always saw it being played, but didn't learn its name until this past weekend, and only then I learned it because these were all over the place:

Stickers that said "got wood?" and "get hammered!" with the phrase "let's play Hammerslagen!" were all over the place. All. Over.

Now, I don't particularly condone going around and placing stickers on people who don't want them. But this does get me thinking: If we handed out pins or stickers that were actually really cool looking or had a pop-culture connection, I bet we could get kids talking to other kids: "where'd you get that?!" and we'd have people coming up to see what we were about.

3. Be Ready to Play: Okay, so I get that the point of my blog is that I naturally do NOT play but that's why this one was so important to note. Very often family nights are after school, so that means you've already been working 6 hours and NOW you have to go and set up a table to give out info and possibly play a game that you're not all that excited about. Or, you were excited about it hours ago, but this day has been the day from hell, and it's easy to assume that no one wants to be there, because it's raining and late and ugh.

BUT here's the thing: the parents who bring their kids out do want to be there. If only for the free spaghetti dinner, but they're still there. They weren't forced. And there's plenty of families who wish they could be there but can't because of scheduling or transportation issues or whatever. So if you want them to come talk to you, you have to be the best self you can be at that time. If that means acting silly to refresh yourself, so be it. I don't know about you, but that always energizes me.
That's my guy, Caleb, at this weekend's brewfest. Now it might have been easy for him to want to phone it in. He had, after all, worked several days in the weeks prior for over 9 hours; one of them was 16.5. But he was just like, "We're on our home turf, and these brewfest goers are the greatest, and I'm gonna get myself some pigtails and rock this shizz, because this should be fun."

And for real, any school you outreach for is your home turf. Whenever I introduce myself during outreach I try to make sure to say "I'm one of your librarians at your public library." And when you own that, your whole frame of reference changes. And if you can have fun doing it? Even better.

Maybe I should try to bring a disguise or something. Dressing up is always fun for me.

4. Keep your Offerings Small but Important: I am so incredibly guilty of bringing 8.5X11" handouts to family nights you have no idea. And THEN I started thinking about all these connections while I was at Between the Bluffs.... and then I saw it: Dark Horse Brewing Company. An awesome brewery out of Marshall, MI. They had exactly 2 options: a stout, and an IPA. And their signage was minimal; just the names of each, written in Sharpie. I apologize that I don't remember the name of the stout; but that's okay, because I'm more of an IPA person, and the IPA was Crooked Tree. AND when the stout was out, word of mouth had it that the next tapping would be Double Crooked Tree, a beer impossible to find around here normally. And of course, that meant that everyone visited the Dark Horse table (at least) twice.

Pearl Street also had a few offerings, changing them throughout the day and providing people with rarer beers at specific times. Above all, everyone got something that they wanted and was relevant to them.

I'm trying to think about how this could translate to our family night offerings. A business card with a bit.ly link depending on the age of your child? Literacy tips or reader's advisory suggestions based on a child's favorite genre? Whatever this ends up being, it will boil down to making sure what we offer is relevant to each family.

What are some of the most unexpected places you've found inspiration? What's your favorite thing to do for outreach?

6 comments:

  1. One of the most successful outreach programs I've seen was an interactive blog journey where kids would receive a badge after completing certain tasks. The badge could be posted on social media and printed as buttons, stickers, or certificates. Adults loved it because it was free, and kids loved winning something they could lord over their friends, which was great marketing.

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  2. Wow! We were actually thinking about partially gamifying our SLP. I'd love to hear more about this!

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  3. Great ideas here! Outreach is so important, and I love that you're reflecting on your practice by thinking about what's important to kids/families versus what's important to libraries.

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  4. Thanks, Tessa! Your comment means so much to me. I really do think that if kids and their families see what's important to them reflected by the library, then they'll visit us-- which, of course, is important to libraries!

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  5. I constantly love your outside of the box thinking!

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  6. We can never get any one to give us great swag, so it's hard sometimes to compete at family nights with, say, Parks and Rec, who have awesome foam footballs. Our manager got our friends group to buy us a dry-erase trivia wheel. We put categories like "fairy tales" or "the library" and give out bookmarks or stickers to the kids who get the questions right. It's a HUGE hit! Kids feel smart when they answer the questions, and it definitely catches the eye!

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