We often hear about amazing library programming-enormous board games, scavenger hunts, and stellar teen turnouts. ‘ But what about the programs that didn’t exactly work out as expected? ‘ Sometimes it happens! We can’t have perfect programs every time, but we can certainly make sure others don’t walk right into the same programming problems. Join us for the vent session, complete with goat poop, all-nighters, and a surprising amount of marshmallow-related problems. Please feel free to include your own Teen Programming Flop in the comments section-we’d love to hear. Let the commiseration begin!

By TTaylor (Own work) CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By TTaylor (Own work) CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Top Things We Learned

If you invite a goat to the library, make sure he’s wearing a good diaper.

Marshmallows are probably better outside toys.

All-nighters are less fun than they sound.

When all else fails, Gangnam Style videos on YouTube are a proven win.

Our Horror Stories

Public Domain Movies and The Bothersome Buffering

“For Teen Read Week one year, we had to pick from a list of programs to have, but I found out days before the program date, which had by then been advertised for months (via annoyingly tiny posters), that we were on our own to put together the described-by-someone-else program. I picked a Halloween horror movie, but then I found out that it had to be a public domain movie only, which, it turns out, means Really Old and Lame. All of our public domain horror DVDs were checked out, so someone sent me a website streaming old horror movies that we could play from the laptop. By old, I mean like, from the 30s. All of the ones that looked remotely fun popped up with an error message that said the content had been taken down due to copyright infringement. So we ended up with some random, ancient, lame movie with a picture too dark and grainy to see, and to boot, since it was streaming, it kept stopping every couple seconds to buffer. Most of the teens looked in and smartly walked on by, but I had one trooper who was content to watch this movie anyway. Soon, though, the other teens realized (exactly what I thought they would realize) that laptop= internet, so they came in and bogarted it and instead put on Youtube videos of Gangnam Style. I didn’t even protest!”

Marshmallow Madness

“My biggest flop was this past summer. I planned a marshmallow shooter event. I had PVC pipe donated from the city public works department…We were going to make the marshmallows inside, then go outside to shoot them. However, the day of the event there was a parade downtown (which I hadn’t known). So instead of the 25 kids who regularly show up to our events, we had over 70 kids. I had enough supplies for everyone. But, the unknown teens started a marshmallow food fight in the library. We ended up having to call the police to kick everyone out. Also, we had to have the carpets professionally cleaned to get all of the marshmallow out of them.”

More Marshmallow Madness: The Great Marshmallow Incident of 2012

“We ‘ have had a Marshmallow Incident event several years running with no problem but apparently I got VERY fresh marshmallows… that fateful day. ‘ We read the book ‘The Marshmallow Incident’ and then divided into teams and, using spoons as catapults, we shot each other for about half an hour. Way fun! But, these VERY fresh marshmallows did not just mush, but they smooshed and smashed and gooed until our shoes were caked 1/2 inch thick with marshmallow goo. ‘ The floor was inches deep in goo and we tracked it EVERYWHERE! Our custodian was NOT happy! ‘ I worked for about two hours trying to clean it off the floor and finally got it scrubbed off and shining – until it dried. ‘ My shoes literally stuck fast to the floor. ‘ Another hour of ‘cutting’ the goo with vinegar, Windex-everything in the custodian’s closet! ‘ We did not do the Marshmallow Incident this past summer, but I may try it again – with very stale marshmallows next year. ‘ The new custodian doesn’t know anything about this!”

Chess Conundrum

“It was a few years ago, but I tried a crafting program where teens could make their own chess pieces out of hardware. I thought it would be sooo cool. But it took forever just to make one piece. Having that much hardware for each kid to make an entire set was incredibly expensive. And the teens were so frustrated that they only finished one piece. Not my finest moment.”

Is it Time to Sleep Yet?! ‘ The Reading Marathon of Doom

A 24-hour reading marathon ended up being exactly as exhausting as it sounds.

“We decided to do a 24-hour reading marathon one fall and my LAB was SO excited about it. I had my reservations but thought, how bad could it be? The first hours were fun since I had plenty of snacks, etc. and the kids loved taking turns. The energy went even higher when they all changed into pajamas and rolled out their sleeping bags, but (as you can imagine) things began to wane around 2 am…The kids were fine with it, but I needed to snatch a couple hours of sleep SOMETIME in the course of the night! They all agreed that the marathon was “just okay” and a few years later, when a new crop of students proposed a reading marathon like it would be amazing, I almost leapt out of my skin saying, “NO!”

Sometimes They Just Don’t Show Up!

We’ve got story after story of teens just not coming to programs; in fact, it was the most common Flop. Several librarians and program specialists mentioned that teenagers seem to be reluctant to attend programs with speakers or performers. The takeaway lesson here: sometimes, there’s nothing you can do. ‘ Even with the best of promotions and the most careful scheduling, and most compelling programs, you may occasionally be faced with an empty room. Don’t worry-it happens to us all!

Some examples:

A five-author-panel in Houston attracted just a small group of teens.

A Denver read-aloud in a library serving over a thousand teenagers attracted only two of them.

An amazing Steampunk Tea Party-the culmination of the week-long Club Steampunk, got scanty attendance due to outside events also scheduled at the same time.

A great program where teens could learn to take and edit digital photos ended up getting not a single sign-up.

And finally, the Goat Poopocalypse.

I know you’ve all been waiting for this one! Even though it’s not strictly teen programming, we had to include it for sheer hilarity’s sake.

“A board member brought her goat to story time dressed in her husband’s Jockeys as a “diaper.” They didn’t hold the little nuggets very well at all…so I was on my hands and knees picking up goat poop before the doors opened! Had to move story time outside in a big hurry.”

As you can see, programming is an unpredictable business; you just never know exactly how it will turn out. ‘ Let’s take heart-it’s either a good time or a good story, right? ‘ And here we’ve collected some really excellent stories. ‘ Again, please share yours in the comments!

Shanna Shadoan‘ is a librarian with the Denver Public Libraries. She is currently serving on the YALSA Teen Read Week Committee. Find her at fortitudeandpatience.com

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