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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Frost Davis

Beyond the Mason Jar: Adding Value to Library Craft Programs

Updated: May 26, 2023

Take a look at any library programming group and you’ll find hundreds of ideas for craft programs. Why? They’re popular with customers, straightforward, and generally (with good prep work) easy to facilitate.

While I’ve previously chosen programs for those same reasons, I’d argue they alone aren’t substantial enough. (Cue the record scratch! I know, I know.) With limited time & funding resources, each program you undertake should be selected to carry out your library’s strategic goals and values.

So, how can you amp up the impact of your program? How do you connect what is popular and easy with your library’s goals?

Focus on the Skill, Not the Product

I’m sure your mason jar craft is lovely, really. But once they are outside the library walls, what do your mason-jarring patrons have to show besides the “thing,” the product? Consider focusing on a particular skill or skillset through a particular product or craft. Children’s librarians know this- they might be making a paper plate ladybug, but what they are really doing is honing preschoolers’ fine motor skills. How can you do the same for all ages?

Creativity is also a skill, a muscle and can be a key part of your program planning. Where could you move from “here are the pieces you assemble” to “Here are some materials and here is an idea. What will you make?”

How explicit you are in telling patrons the skills they could gain is up to you and will depend on your library. Simply setting the intention during your planning and naming the skill, however, will shape the whole program. You’re no longer facilitating a mason jar pencil holder program, you are teaching the skill of decoupage through a mason jar pencil holder program.

Replace “skill” with knowledge and you’ve opened up your scope again. Maybe your craft is a beeswax candle ---but it’s also a lens for introducing beekeeping or old Appalachian homemaking.

Spur Socialization

Programs are social experiences. Folks are there to “do” the program but also connect with their neighbors. For many of us, this can be a nerve-wracking experience even if we enjoy the program or the people. To ease the anxiety AND ramp up the opportunity for socialization, consider…

Using placecards

At first glance we think of assigned seating as the best option- we’re giving people choices, after all! Think back to parties you’ve attended in the past: knowing where you are to “land” can be deeply comforting. Placecards also allow patrons to meet their program “neighbors” in a way they might not otherwise.

Providing conversation starters

No traditional "icebreakers" required! Add a bit of trivia on each table. Create a display of books to browse. Have each attendee decorate a name tag as they come in. Model friendliness by introducing yourself to new patrons, and patrons to one another.

And, for the love of Pete, please play some background music. The thought of coming into a silent room to stare at a few strangers sends shivers down my spine. Find more ideas for scene-setting here.

Narrow Your Audience

Maybe you’ve noticed: most adult craft programs at libraries attract an older core audience, a group often already loyal to the library. To extend your reach, consider marketing a program to an audience you’d like to reach. Sure, maybe your program was family-friendly all along, but if you don’t tell your community, there’s a very good chance they won’t know- and won’t come.

Some ideas:

How about “Knitting for Gen Xers”?

“Instagram-Worthy Wreaths” might draw millennials.

“All-Ages Floral Watercolors” might encourage a young parent with no childcare to attend or a grandmother to bring her grandson.

Find more tips on writing descriptions here.

Hit the Road

Your craft program might be ideal for a nursing home, afterschool program, or festival booth. These off-site settings (and others) connect you with new community members and may achieve other library goals as well.

End Result?

Do any of the suggestions above and you can say you’ve…

· Served new, desired audiences

· Attracted new patrons

· Helped patrons gain new skills

· Fostered community

Now THOSE are great reasons to host a craft program.

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