Tips for Reflecting On and Evaluating Your Library Programs

Happy Face, Meh Face, Sad FaceHow often have you finished a library program and thought to yourself, “That went really well today” or maybe “That was a total flop”?

Often we finish running an activity, clean up the mess, reset the space, and then move on to the next task on the to-do list. In doing so, we make a determination about how the program went based on our gut instinct and some external cues from participants and caregivers. But how do we know if our assessment is accurate without taking time to reflect?

Program Designer Reflection

As library program designers, it’s important to take the time to think about what our expectations were for the program and for the participants themselves and how well the program met those expectations. No matter what age group we’re working with, we can begin by asking ourselves these questions:

  • What was success supposed to look like?
  • What were the specific signs that parts of the activity worked well or didn’t work well?
  • How did this program/activity compare to similar ones I’ve done before?
  • How did participants’ actions and behaviors compare to past events?

Participant Reflection

Reflecting on how your library program went, while extremely valuable, is one-sided. How do you know if participants enjoyed or disliked an activity or program if they weren’t asked? While participant reflection is often a lower priority due to time constraints, different participants attending, and myriad other reasons, making time for it can be invaluable to you. It’s also valuable for participants, as it provides an opportunity for them to think about what they hoped to get out of the program and how it relates to their everyday lives or other things they’ve learned. It’s also an opportunity for them to reframe their thinking about whether they were successful at the activity. Use the following reflection questions with your group or break into smaller groups and discuss.

  • Did you learn or do something new today?
  • Had you ever done anything like this before? How was this activity similar to or different from things you have done in the past?
  • How did the activity go for you today? Did you accomplish what you wanted? Were you better at some part of it than you have been in the past?
  • If you had trouble with something today, how did you get through it? Did you problem-solve on your own or with other participants, or did you ask an instructor for help?

Notice that none of these questions asks participants whether they had fun or how they felt about the program or activity as a whole. Those questions are evaluative and should be asked once participants have had a chance to reflect and think through everything that happened along the way and what their experiences were like.

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Library Program Evaluation

relection - planning - action - evaluationOnce you and your participants have both had time to reflect upon the program and activities, then it’s time for evaluation. This can be done as a group by simply asking for a show of hands in response to a few questions. You can also ask for individual responses by posting a question somewhere in the room and asking participants to write or draw a response on their way out. Here are some evaluative questions you might ask:

  • How did you feel about the program when you were getting ready to come to it?
  • How did you feel about the program at the end?
  • Did you have fun?
  • Are you happy with what you did?
  • Would you come to another program like this one in the future?
  • Do you wish we had done or not done something during the program?
  • Will you tell your friends about what you did today?
  • Is there anything you can think of that would make the program better?

These kinds of evaluative questions provide great snapshots that can be used in marketing materials for future events, on social media to generate excitement, and for sharing with stakeholders so they can see the value in the programs you offer. Just be sure that you obtain written permission to use the participants’ quotes if you plan to share them online or in marketing materials.

All of the feedback you get through the combination of reflection and evaluation from the participants, along with your own reflection, will help you evaluate your program and think about ways for improving what you do in the future.


Erin Hoag

Erin Hoag

Erin Hoag is the Learning Content Manager at Demco. She has a master’s in library and information studies with a focus on child and youth services. For over 10 years, she has worked in informal education, developing and running programs in museums, libraries, and community centers.