Stressed By The Summer Reading Programme?

It’s that time again for public libraries. If you’re not full swing into organising your next Summer Reading Programme you soon will be.

Although I haven’t had hands-on experience with a summer reading programme, I couldn’t help but notice a few things when I was working in a public library*:

  • It’s not an enviable job. Meetings, minutes, emails and phone calls – who loves these, really? Then there is the extra work these generate…
  • The leadup to the Summer Reading Programme is often more stressful than the programme itself. Everyone has their own ideas as to how the programme should be organised and feels the need to share these, repeatedly.
  • The Summer Reading Programme impacts on everyone in the library. All training and new activities are put on hold during summer because the library is too under-resourced to undertake anything else at the same time.

And I’ve also noticed that unfortunately and predictably, stress and conflict are inevitable because:

  • By its very nature the Summer Reading Programme requires balancing the diverse needs and requirements of many people – children’s librarians, branch managers, children and their parents, to name a few.
  • As the Coordinator of the Summer Reading Programme you have limited power. You can’t make someone do what they said they were going to do because they don’t report to you. You are the meat in the middle of the sandwich and you’re easily squished.
  • As the Coordinator of the Summer Reading Programme you spend a lot of time trying to get buy-in, consensus, and tasks completed. If it doesn’t happen, you end up doing it yourself because who else can you delegate to? Plus juggling time off for staff in the branches is a whole ‘nother story…

But don’t despair just yet. Although conflict is inevitable, the number one source of conflict is ambiguity.

Ambiguity doesn't paralyze workers; it makes them
insecure and stirs them up. Competent employees,
when faced with ambiguity, will do what they are most
comfortable doing in order to feel as if they are
contributing something appropriate. Doing something,
whether it's helpful or not, makes us feel good.

And the beauty is…ambiguity can be minimised…with a plan. A plan doesn’t need to be perfect because you can tweak it as you go. A planned approach not only helps reduce confusion but it also:

  1. Provides guidance and confidence to all those involved in organising the Summer Reading Programme regardless of their experience and skills.
  2. Enhances the likelihood of quickly and cost-effectively producing a Summer Reading Programme that satisfies our most demanding branch managers, parents or childrens’ librarians. Using a planned approach gives them confidence that you will deliver.
  3. Ensures consistency. Expectations can be managed, promises kept in-check, surprises avoided, and people held accountable.

Stressing about the Summer Reading Programme isn’t going to make it any easier. Make a plan and use it. Or email me and let’s talk it over.

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail – Benjamin Franklin

* These are my observations from when I worked for Manukau Libraries for nearly six years (now part of Auckland Libraries). They may not be a accurate depiction of what occurs in other libraries. I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below or via email.

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