7 Outdoor Program Tips for Libraries

A girl sanitizes her hands on the way into a library storytime that is held outdoors. If your library has outdoor space or a local park area available and authorities have determined it is safe to gather, you may be ready to engage some of your community members in an outdoor storytime, art class, or yoga lesson. As always, follow the recommendations of your state and local authorities when deciding whether or not it’s safe to hold outdoor programs at your library.

Every library’s situation will be different, but the following tips can help you plan and keep everyone safe.

Outdoor Programming Tips

1. Plan Ahead

This may seem like a no-brainer, but along with your regular planning, brainstorm with some colleagues and ask, “What could go wrong?”

What will you do if participants don’t follow protocol? How will you handle participants who are exhibiting illness symptoms? Think about all the things that could happen and arm yourself with contingency plans.

2. Limit Registration

To ensure your outdoor program meets the legal gathering limits and you have enough room to social distance, require participants to register and place a limit on registration.

3. Set Safety Guidelines

Will you require everyone to wear masks? If so, have disposable masks on hand for purchase for those who forgot to bring them.

Decide where you would like people to walk, and mark a path with signs, barriers, or traffic cones for them to follow to get to your program area. If you will require participants to sanitize their hands on the way into the program and on the way out, provide a hand sanitizer station or a portable hand-washing station.

Giving young participants a visual reminder of where they should sit will help keep them in their spots once they arrive. Consider using different colored carpet squares or vinyl floor cushions and assigning one to each participant when they arrive (lay them out in a socially distanced pattern). Let them know they should stay on their colored squares throughout the program. Alternatively, spray paint circles in the grass for families, and have them bring their own blankets to sit on. 

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4. Provide Individual Supplies

Depending on what type of program you are doing, you might want to have supplies ready and waiting. You can hand out art materials at a central station as patrons arrive or place supplies in individual bags and pass them out to families during the craft portion of your program (or send them home as take-and-make kits).

For example, hold a storytime with the book Chalk, and then pass out individual baggies of sidewalk chalk. Let participants spread out and get creative on the library’s sidewalk, or encourage them to go home and create!

5. Test Your Setup

If you’ll be wearing a mask, it may be hard for participants to hear you, especially with ambient outdoor noise. Grab some colleagues and test your setup to see if they can hear you; if not, consider using a bluetooth microphone and PA system along with a face shield to amplify your voice. Have your colleagues sit in the farthest seats and see if they can still see the illustrations in your story and can hear and see any directions you are giving.

Consider using big books for storytime or having a helper walk around with a second copy of the book so participants can see the illustrations. If you have the budget, purchase paperback copies of the book for each family so they can follow along, and then let participants take the books home with them to add to their home libraries.

You can also use books that require movement you can model that can be done in a confined space, such as Eric Carle’s From Head to Toe

6. Communicate

When you begin advertising your program, make sure you (over) communicate the rules that will need to be followed to ensure that everyone stays safe. Remind participants to bring masks if you are requiring them, as well as personal hand sanitizer to use along with any sanitizer you provide.

Once participants arrive, make sure you reiterate the rules and have clear signs reminding them about social distancing guidelines and requirements for masks and hand sanitizers.

7. Add Passive Outdoor Programming

Give patrons additional ways to interact with your library even when you’re not open. Set up a Storywalk® around the building, or create a chalk or duct-tape “obstacle course” along the sidewalk for families to interact with.


Liz Bowie

Liz Bowie

Marketing Content Manager at Demco, Inc.
Liz is the Marketing Content Manager for Demco. Her background includes editorial management and product development of innovative and time-saving tools for schools and libraries, with an emphasis on Common Core, literacy and math. The products she and her team have developed, including classroom games, learning centers and professional development resources, have garnered 46 industry awards for excellence in education. Liz is passionate about promoting literacy through her work and the work of others. If you are interested in sharing your ideas and programming tips on Demco’s Ideas and Inspiration blog or have ideas for topics you’d like to see covered, contact Liz at lizb@demco.com