Your local PTO or parent group meeting is a great place to reach local families who may not be regular library patrons. It’s important that we librarians are able to break down the jargon and make the library an accessible community asset, as parent meetings are a great place to make connections with residents who may never have set foot in a library—or had a bad experience, and have since been scared to return.
Here are my four main components to every parent meeting presentation:
Introduction: One of the most important things you can do in a presentation, if you’re not too nervous to remember, is to state your name. Tell them where their nearest library is. Use landmarks if possible and bus lines where applicable.
Checking Out Materials: There are so many things about material check out that don’t involve, “go up to the desk and check them out”. I make sure to bring examples of the types of books they can check out to help their families as well as talk about the option of visiting the books at the library. Any special items to check out (like our Cultural Passes to Adventure) are mentioned here too.
Library Habits for Success: A huge concern for many parents is avoiding fines. I share Hennepin County Library’s “Four Habits of Successful Library Families” to ease that fear: Visit the library a specific day each week or month; check out the same number of books each time; have a set place at home where library books go; and plan to attend programs. I mention a few upcoming programs at their closest library they may want to attend.
Here are a few more tips that I’ve picked up:
Skip the Powerpoint: I’ve given a presentation to parents in school media centers and classrooms. I’ve also spoken at a meeting that was set up in a hallway. You can’t be sure what your accommodations will be, so it’s best to be prepared for a technology-free scenario.
Bring every brochure you have: Or at least bring a brochure on everything you talk about. Library card applications are also helpful. That way the parents can learn more about the aspects of your presentation that resonated most with them. Leave your extra copies if possible for parents who can’t make it to the meeting.
Leave time for questions: At the end of presentations, I’ve gotten way more questions that I originally anticipated. Save about 25% of your presentation time for this purpose.
Have a few canned responses on the ready. Here are some of mine:
1. "You mentioned apps. My teacher says my child can use apps, but my doctor says my child should not use apps. Explain this to me." I have not yet had a parent presentation where I didn't field a question like this. One of them was at the tail end of a third 12-hour day in a week, and poised through an interpreter. I was glad to have this canned response ready:
"I am not a doctor. My job as a librarian is to help you use the tools you have in your home in the best way for your child. I know that sometimes those tools are apps, and when you child uses them I would like for you to use them together."
2. [Insert extremely specific complaint about the library here]: Rather than address the complaint directly, I've offered to take down their name and contact info to share with a contact at their local library. The complaints we hear at parent presentations may not get to their local library otherwise, but these complaints may hurt the reputation of the library in the community's memory in the long run.
What are your top tips for presenting to parents?