Erin Shea is Head of Adult Programming at Darien Library in Darien, CT. She tweets from @erintheshea and manages Darien Library’s tumblr, where she recently wrote about hosting author events in libraries and how to find audiences for them:
“Do not neglect niche groups! For example we recently hosted Becky Aikman, author of the memoir Saturday Night Widows. I reached out to local widow support groups. We had the CEO of Weight Watchers talk about his weight loss book and I reached out to local Weight Watchers centers. Sometimes I go undercover on MeetUp.com and join MeetUp groups and invite members. I have reached out to local magicians when we had a magician author visit. Get out into your community! Also invite a local blogger to be “in conversation” with an author. That way the blog’s readership finds out about the event and the blogger promotes the heck out of your program. Get your staff excited and interested so they promote it to patrons. How do you get them excited? Involve them in the planning of your event.”
We talked to Erin over email this week and learned more about the ins and outs of author events in libraries: how they are planned, what makes them successful, and why libraries and author events make a perfect match.
Togather: Why should an author have an event in a library?
Erin: The type of people who frequent libraries are your audience. They are readers, engaged community members, and movers and shakers in their town. You want them to know you and know your book so they will talk about it with all of their friends. What author would not want to speak to a group of informed readers?
Togather: How do you choose authors to speak at your library? Do you find them? Do they find you? Do you pick authors you already know will be popular, or do you pick something that looks interesting?
Erin: I try to book authors who I think we can get an audience for. Because we book pretty far out, I look for authors who have books coming out 4-6 months from now. My colleagues are always an excellent resource as well since our staff members all have their fingers on the pulse of great literature. While most of the authors who come here are people I’ve reached out to, we have done events for authors who have approached us. If we have enough time to plan a great event and I think we will have an audience for it, then nothing is really off the table. I have also booked authors because patrons have tweeted ideas at me.
Togather: What makes a good author event? What have been some of your favorites?
Erin: I think the Q&A portion at the end of an author event is really what can make an author event spectacular. One of my favorite author events for which this was the case was Pete Hamill. A friend of his from elementary school attended that event. We also hosted Alex Stone, author of Fooling Houdini, a memoir about magic, psychology, and math. Two local magicians attended that event which led to a very interesting Q&A afterward full of posturing magicians.
Togather: How do libraries benefit from author events?
Erin: Author events start conversations. Whether it’s book groups reading the author’s book in preparation for the event or two attendees striking up a conversation while saving seats for their spouses, author events are the spark that builds and strengthens community.
Togather: What makes an event at a library a success? Do you simply measure the number of people who show up, or does it extend beyond that? What are the goals of programming in libraries?
Erin: In my eyes, a successful event is one that stays with an audience member. If I am still hearing comments from our users about an event that happened two weeks ago, well that is just awesome. My goal for programming is to schedule events that solidify Darien Library’s reputation as being the center of town. I think it is cool to come to the Library and I want our programming to reflect that.
Togather: With the changing face of libraries, such as a decline in reference and other more traditional services, how important are events in libraries now versus a few years ago? Is there a difference at all?
Erin: Libraries are all about empowering the patron. Our motto is, “It’s for you!” and it is so true. I think library programming needs to move in this direction and I would like to see libraries become cooperative learning spaces with neighbors teaching neighbors valuable skills.