So far I’ve used my Personal Service Priority Plan to identify a new partnership to pursue. However, just as important as knowing when to say “yes” is clearly identifying when to say “no”. This month I discuss how I used the plan to evaluate an offered one-off program and to politely decline.No

There’s lots of great advice out there about why we should say no if an existing or potential program doesn’t seem to be meeting the needs of our community (I love the suggestion to “stop doing things” in Maureen Hartman’s post Level Up Your Leadership: Stop Doing Things). So what does this look like in practice?

Last fall I was approached by an author interested in giving a reading from her new book during some evening or weekend at my library. Deciding whether to accept or decline offers from local writers can be tricky for me, because on the surface it seems an obvious choice: the public library promotes literacy and writing, and here’s someone who wants to talk to youth about writing for free – great! However, I still needed to run this through the Priority Plan “rubric”.


  • Will continue current successful programs, but only add programs that address these priorities:
  • Clear tie to literacy/information
  • Connect people to an expert rather than use a non-expert staff as a presenter
  • Uses materials obtained through partnerships with organizations to enrich programs rather than as the sole basis of a program

Robot ReadingRight away I could see some gray areas appearing. I needed a clear tie to literacy: would the author be simply reading to middle schoolers from a book or involving them in the process somehow? How would the connection of youth to expert be facilitated? Would the book be the sole basis of the program or would the program be about writing with the book serving as enrichment?

Raising these questions allowed me to think critically about what clarifications I needed from the author. But I still felt there was something missing from my analysis. And then it hit me: no one in my community has asked for this type of programming! Then I remembered two important ideas posited by Hayden Bass in one of her Adventures In Outreach posts:

“Programs and Services that are crucial in one community may have little impact in another”

“Is the program or service being provided elsewhere?”

A brief look at some community calendars informed me that not only were there several free author readings for youth already happening at nearby locations in my area, but this specific author was already scheduled to do a reading from her book at a nearby bookstore later that month. The bases were already covered.

It was simple: I was thinking of offering a program my community already had and didn’t need from the library. I missed a crucial bullet point when I created my original Personal Service Priority Plan! I have added to the “Programming” portion of my plan the criterion: “Response to community interest”.

As a result of this analysis, I had a way to say no without causing bad feelings. I congratulated the author for being asked to speak elsewhere in the community and explained our library’s focus this year on programs that involve interactive learning elements. I then breathed a sigh of relief as I marked this issue “resolved’ and moved on!

About Kristina Darnell

Kristina is a youth services librarian at the Seattle Public Library.

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