The Programming Librarian

“We used to look at programming as a way to get people in and then get them to read.  Now programming is one of our core learning experiences,” noted one of the advisory workshop participants. “Now that programming has become central to what we do, we need more training and assessment.”

Both advisory groups raised the question, “Does public programming require a standalone set of skills?” One participant responded with Ranganathan’s fifth law of library science: that the library is a growing organism, and its definition is constantly evolving. As librarians perceive the need for new forms of access to information, they respond with fresh ways to serve their populations. The growth of programming demonstrates the library’s organic nature.

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An effect of that growth is that the library professional who steps into the role of programming librarian has rarely received specific training. As one participant put it, “Collections were the initial core of the library and were accompanied by great methodology. Programs came second, but are not supported by enough methodology.”

Today, in small libraries, the job may be done by a single professional. Large urban libraries may support multi-person programming staffs. In academic libraries community engagement or outreach librarian positions carry heavy collaboration and programming responsibilities.

What are the core competencies of an effective programming librarian? Are schools of library science offering specific training in this area? In addition to strong familiarity with library collections and core services, a programming librarian needs strong interpersonal skills, the ability to negotiate with potential partners, a deep relationship with the community, and the sensitivity to deal with difficult issues. In recent years, some librarians have taken courses in facilitation, a skill that is increasingly required in the programming arena.


The identification of core competencies, training needs, and best practices of programming librarians should be included in the research framework, along with guidelines for incorporating such training in schools of library science. 

Did you receive training to develop programming in school, on the job, or elsewhere? How did it help you?

Read responses and provide your own feedback using the comment box below. Comments are moderated and will be posted within 24 hours. Please let us know whether you would like to make your comments public or keep them private.

Comments ( 4 )
  • Jude Schanzer says:

    Yes, I have received training. I am a trained teaching artist through the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts on Long Island, NY and Lincoln Center, NYC, NY. I am also a theatre director and have been a teacher. Years ago, I developed on of the first outreach professional theatre training programs for at risk youth in the country. All of this has prepared me to develop programming in a library which will reach a wide audience. This is not the “other thing” that I do. Programming is “the thing” that I do and have trained for most of my adult life. In addition, our office has two other full time people. Our graphic designer is well versed in anime and has his own comic books, he works with teens and developed our extremely successful aweekly anime club and yearly EMcon. Our colleague is trained in arts management and effectively schedules and sets up programs for the broadest impact while setting the right atmosphere for participation.

    • Institution Name/Affiliation: East Meadow Public Library/Programmer
  • Manju Prasad-Rao says:

    I received most training on my job; however my library degree helped with being organized, and in using search skills for created bibliographies and learning materials. My degree in Instructional Technology with graphics and computer training, helped in the production of fliers, brochures, websites and other web publicity materials. My training as an Indian classical dancer/performer provided experience in organizing programs, and in interacting with the public.

    • Institution Name/Affiliation: Long island University
  • Amber Conger says:

    In school, I think I spent one class session discussing programming during a Children’s Services course. Otherwise, programming was ignored, which is unfortunate considering how much of my time I spend doing it now.

    A colleague and I recently held a “When Good Programs Go Bad” session at our library for veteran librarians to share experiences about programming that they’ve learned the hard way, and for others to learn from them and to ask questions. Most of our staff have had no formal training, just on the job as needed, and it is a learning process for each new person, each time. Our session was well-attended and I think everyone learned valuable intel that day!

    • Shannon Bahler says:

      I definitely received my training on the job! My first programming-related job was at a new library/museum that was starting to establish its identity. One of the ways this institution built up its brand was through creative programming. Although I didn’t really hire on with the intention of being involved in program creation, I soon got caught up in it, as it was a small staff and everybody did everything. I was able to take the skills I learned and connections I made in that position and use them in my current position, which is program coordination in a more traditional public library setting. I would welcome a more formalized approach to training–especially in the library schools. Programming is so much more than just booking events for the library. It’s important that people understand the underlying philosophy of why libraries offer programming and how it will keep libraries relevant in their communities in the 21st century.

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