Guest Column: Reach Your Patrons through Passive Programming

Posted by Kelly Ireland Rembert

Every day lots of patrons come into your library, but only a small portion may come to your programs. How can you engage these patrons? Passive programming is a great way to start.

Little or no staff interaction happens during passive programming. Instead, you set up your passive programs and let your patrons stumble upon them. Passive programs can be a memorable part of a patron’s day—and hopefully something they will go home and tell friends and family about.

Passive programming can also be a low-key way to do a celebration. In September of 2012, budget cuts forced my library to reduce hours by 33 percent. The following June, we were celebrating the 10th anniversary of our new building. We wanted to mark this event, but we didn’t want to do anything too grand, in light of the recent cutbacks. Passive programs throughout the month enabled us to celebrate the anniversary in a respectful manner.


Getting Started

There is no end to the different types and variations of passive programs. Here are a few ideas to get your minds turning. Feel free to copy these or put your own twist on them to make them your own.

Wrapped books - Get LuckyMYSTERY BOOKS—Wrap books up so the patron can’t see the title – book a blind date near Valentine’s Day; Get Lucky with a good book near St. Patrick’s Day; wrap a book in plain paper and add a big question mark for mystery books, etc. Many checkout systems can read the barcode through the wrapping so no need for the patron to unwrap it until they leave.



GUESSING CONTESTS—Get a jar and fill it with candies (red Swedish fish for “Read Across America Day” or gold coins for “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” for example) and have patrons guess the number of candies inside. Or fill a clear Plexiglas box with books and have patrons guess the number of pages inside. The winner can receive the items they guessed on or a gift certificate to your Friends Book Sale.


Downton-AbbeyINTERACTIVE DISPLAYS—My library has taken a portable white board on wheels and turned it into many interactive displays. We cover the board with large paper and have had a March Madness contest to discover our town’s favorite book. We have printed out large maps and had people tell us where a beloved book is set. We have also had a Downton Abbey display with what the upstairs characters would read on one side and what the downstairs characters would read on the other.


COLORING CONTESTS OR COLORING SHEETS—Have an artist on your staff or in the community? Make a coloring sheet of your library. (See our Patches Coloring Contest Sheet for an example.) You could depict the outside of the building, your youth area, caricatures of your librarians, a unique feature, etc. Hand these out inside the library and at community events. (You can pass them out at a parade, for example.) Take this activity to the next level by using the sheets for a coloring contest.


Voting-station-for-new-library-bannersVOTING CONTESTS—Are you thinking about a new logo, new banner, or new mascot? Turn it into a contest. Let people vote and take an ownership stake—especially, if they choose the winner.

PATRON AND STAFF FAVORITES—Everyone has favorite books and movies. Ask patrons or staff for a list of their favorites and then turn it into a display. You can ask in general or ask them for favorite scary books or movies, favorite winter reads, etc.


book-raffle-stationRAFFLE A BOOK—As libraries, we tend not to charge for much—if anything—so, it can be harder to give things away. However, most of us have a Friends group that sells used books. Setting up a book raffle means patrons get a chance at winning a book and you get promotion for your Friends group and its book sale. It’s also a great opportunity to collect email addresses for your e-newsletter.



ONLINE AND IN-PERSON SURVEYS—Want to know what collections to expand, what programs to offer or any other burning questions? Surveys are a great way to find out more from your patrons—so, ask away. Create quick three-to-five-question surveys, and have them around the library to fill out, on your website, and on social media. Will these be scientific? Not at all, but they can give you more information to base decisions on. If you want to ask more than three to five quick questions, then make up more than one survey. Put them out in different places or at different times.


Patron-signing-a-giant-anniversary-card-to-the-libraryGIANT CARD TO SIGN—Use a large piece of foam core and ask people what they love about your library.Put two pieces together and make a giant birthday/anniversary card for people to sign. Just remember to leave a few sharpies nearby.


ONLINE AND SOCIAL MEDIA—Finally, don’t limit your passive programs to just inside the library. Expand them virtually.

Websites and social media are great forums to ask questions, run a photography contest, have patrons tell you their favorite bedtime book of past or present, ask patrons why they love and use your library. Online is a great way to strike up a conversation.


Kelly Ireland Rembert is the Outreach Librarian at the Southfield Public Library and the founder of the Michigan Public Relations Group. She thanks many of her colleagues for the great ideas she mentions above.

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3 Responses to “Guest Column: Reach Your Patrons through Passive Programming”

  1. Wanda Edwards

    Nice article. We plan to share this with other staff members, for inspiration and ideas.



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