Require Pre-Registration & Minimums for Library Programs? Pros & Cons

ImageBecky Tatar used the PubLib discussion group to ask this question:

We are trying to grow our programming at our main library.  However, even though we ask people to register,  we sometimes have a hard time getting people to sign up for the program.  This means that when we check registration a day or two before the program, it seems as if possibly only 1 or 2 people are interested.  We do sometimes get a couple more people on walk ins.  We are under the gun here, and are being asked to cancel any program that doesn't have 5 or more people signed up.

Here are some responses she got:

  • "... if you advertise a program that you should hold it regardless of the number of people pre-registered.  If you cancel the program and find yourself doing that too often, the public will stop even looking at your programs because of the fear that you will just cancel it anyway. Also, the benefits of programming is more than just the attendance at the event.  It is also the opportunity to market your library and its services to a range of people.  Hopefully, more people will see that you are holding an event than those who actually attend." Jason Hatton
  • "We have discovered along the way that people need to get used to the idea the library has programming.  I started a foreign film series and had one person the first afternoon!  That was three years ago and now I have a minimum attendance of 15, but sometimes goes up to 30. We serve a population of roughly 30,000 and are very happy with that growth.  So, my point is, that you have to give it time. In addition, when at all possible, we have no signup.  People feel restricted by it.  I know I don't want to take someone's seat by signing up for something I may not end up being able to attend, so I end up not attending when I could have.  If I could just walk in, I would go more often.  And yes, it is rude not to call and say I'm not coming, but everyone is busy and why make it harder for them to come?  Planning food can be difficult and some presenters insist on knowing, but most of them are fine with hearing that we don't do signups." Sally Tornow
  • "The only time we do registrations is when there is an absolute need for them.  For example, we have a children's program this summer that requires a lot of adult supervision (for safety reasons), so we limited the participants to the number we felt we could manage and still be safe. We have found that our attendance drops if we do pre-registration on most other types of programs.  People simply don't like registering. If we anticipate crowds that are larger than the space we have available, we try to do the same program twice, preferably on the same day. If only one person shows up, we still do the program." Jesse Ephraim
  • "Our experience is different.  Attendance goes up when we require the public to "enroll in the class." It has emphasized the value of the program." Paula Laurita
  • "I have repeatedly gotten amazing numbers this year (60-70+, when I usually anticipate 10-30 for a program) with cosponsored programs. Sometimes the cosponsor does little more than bring food or contribute some of the presenter's honorarium, plus helping with publicity. But I am convinced that cosponsor publicity has made the difference between good and stellar attendance at these programs. If you get local community groups to cosponsor programs of interest to their members, they are going to be able to advertise those programs to the people who will be most interested. Plus they'll probably push it harder than they otherwise would since their behind-the-scenes involvement will make them more invested in having a good attendance. And it's good community outreach, to boot. It takes a little more energy (and interpersonal savvy, depending on the group) than running a program on your own, but I think it's well worth it."  Heather Backman