In April, Jay Asher laughed at my jokes; in June, I hugged Ransom Riggs; and in September, I will compare my biceps to those of “The World’s Strongest Librarian” Josh Hanagarne. Thanks to the magic invoked by our programming division manager, the library routinely hosts high-profile authors. Such visits are featured events, usually attracting over 50 patrons—some traveling from as far away as Pennsylvania and southern Virginia. Each author event is treated differently than the last, because we learn from previous events what works and what doesn’t, and because each author comes with their own needs, or has no requests and instead relies on us to plan a suitable program for our audience.
With the recent installation of the Espresso Book Machine at our Rust Library, and the popularity of self-publishing with Kindle Direct Publishing (or another of the myriad self-publishing platforms), anyone can be an author. We are often approached by authors (both popular and self-published) as well as book agents and publishers asking if we would like to host them for a book discussion, reading, or signing. Our inclination is to say yes because “Libraries are in the reading business,” as marketing librarian Nancy Dowd said at our Staff Development Day last year. But many authors leave the program details to us, putting us in a tentatively enthusiastic position of figuring out what to do. While that is stressful—Will anyone come? Will the author hate what we did?—it is also a fun opportunity to engage our audience by trying something new. No two books are the same, so neither should two author events.
So how do you plan an author event that is more than a C-SPAN-like reading and Q&A session? First you should know the book. And by “know” I mean read. I rarely recommend a book that I haven’t read, so there is no way I would ask someone to take the time to read the book and attend the event when I have not made the effort to do so. Knowing the themes, parental guidance factors (sex, drugs, violence), and style of the story help me recommend the book to the right audience. I didn’t give Thirteen Reasons Why to every teen girl who came into the Teen Center looking for “a good book.” Instead I probed, asked what their favorite books and hobbies were, and suggested from there. Do we want hundreds of people in the audience? Yes. Am I willing to lie to readers about how much they would like a book, just to get them there? No. My library’s Teen Center has a bigger tween scene than teen one, so inviting Jay Asher and his tale of suicide was a tad worrisome for us. Luckily, a perfect mix of young readers and adults attended the event, quelling our fears.
Jay Asher’s visit in the spring was a two-day experience that took him to the juvenile detention center, a high school, my library, and the It’s All Write short story contest awards ceremony. His presentation at the high school was only for students who had submitted essays to their teachers. A local bookseller sold Ransom Riggs and Tahera Mafi novels at their co-headlining event, which was candid and hilarious as they introduced each other and gave out swag to anyone who asked a question. Prior to Bruce Coville’s book reading and Q&A, young readers were encouraged to create “fan art” at a table set up in the Juvenile section. We usually offer pizza, free stuff, books for sale, or activities as a way to break the ice between staff, the audience, and the famous person standing at the podium. All parties involved seem to appreciate this approach because it keeps everyone engaged instead of sitting around waiting for the author to make the first move.
We are currently working with a local author to plan a YA Writer’s panel, which includes giving ARCs of some of the authors’ debut novels to our teen book club members. Elise Nader, author of Escape from Eden (Merit Pr.), has already committed to five copies for the giveaway. Working directly with the teens is a great way to determine if we should continue with the program, as their input is the most significant. The relationships we have established over the past six months with our teens are helpful in planning future programs.
Fresh Paint traces the development of teen services for a new public library in an underserved community.
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