Adult Programming Ideas Aplenty at WLA 2014

A lot of great ideas were shared at the 2014 Wisconsin Library Association (WLA) Annual Conference, from helping to stop summer slide by creating partnerships with local schools to teaching electronics in your makerspace with homemade conductive dough.

Some of the most energizing sessions were those where the participants contributed to the discussion, such as “Adult Program Swap,” facilitated by Melissa Carollo, Rene Bue and Peg Burington. Get 50+ librarians in a room to talk about adult programming, and you’re bound to walk away with some interesting and unique ideas! Below are just some of the most popular tips and programs mentioned in the session. Take Peg’s advice and “Steal every idea you come upon!”

Demco Product Development Manager Liz Bowie checks out the groovy sessions at WLA with Pete the Cat.

13 Ideas for Adult Programming for Your Library

  1. Take a walk downtown and introduce yourself to the business owners in your community. Find out what they are experts in. An antique store owner might love to give a talk about the evolution of toys, or you might meet a community member who could give an informative talk about raising backyard chickens — people love to share what they’re passionate about!
  2. Hold your own Antiques Roadshow with the help of a local expert. Set up a viewing area for your expert and ask each participant to discuss the history of his or her antique for the audience. Your expert can then evaluate it, discuss what he or she knows about it and offer an estimation of its worth.
  3. Create a Cookbook Club. Set out a selection of cookbooks and have each participant choose something to make from one of them. The next time you meet, sample and discuss the creations. This idea is perfect for organizing around a theme, such as Cinco de Mayo, Thanksgiving favorites or family heritage.
  4. Collaborate with a local nursing home or hospital on the third Friday of each month to focus on the 3 Bs: breakfast, blood sugar and blood pressure. Have volunteer healthcare workers come to the library to monitor blood sugar and blood pressure for participants and offer healthy living tips. You might also offer a light breakfast.
  5. Start a Fitness Friday with a yoga guru, tai chi teacher or senior aerobics instructor.
  6. Launch a Scholar for Life Program. Invite local university professors to share their favorite lectures on topics of their choosing. Many universities require their faculty to participate in community lectures series.
  7. Start a film series with foreign films, indie films or Academy Award winners. Accept small donations to cover the cost of popcorn, and recruit volunteers to help facilitate the program.
  8. Partner with your university extension for a gardening program about bulb forcing. Ask your local hardware store for bulb and flower pot donations and have your expert talk about the history of the tulip trade and show participants how to create indoor winter blooms.
  9. Seek out someone in your community who loves to travel or someone who has recently taken the trip of a lifetime. Invite her to give a talk about her travels and share pictures and video from her journey.
  10. Get spooky in the library! If there is a ghost-hunting group in your area, invite them to give a presentation on local ghost lore. Take it a step further by cutting the lights while the group investigates the paranormal activity in your library. You never know who, or what, might show up!
  11. Hold a Downton Abbey Tea and Trivia or a Game of Thrones Trivia Night. Invite participants to dress the part!
  12. Take your book club on the road to an assisted living home so that the residents can participate.
  13. During the holidays, hold a gingerbread house contest and solicit prizes from local businesses and banks. This is a great opportunity to create intergenerational programs, with youngsters teaming up with parents and grandparents to construct their candy-coated structures. A less expensive alternative for patrons is a Peeps® contest near Easter, with participants using Peeps, craft materials and recyclables to make their creations.

How to Promote Library Programs

We all know that sometimes the best laid plans go awry, and the programs you’re most excited about can end up with dismal turnouts. But never fear! WLA 2014 participants also shared some tips for getting the word out and making a program successful.

  • Don’t give up. You might not have the best turnout the first time, but use this as a learning experience. Talk to the participants who attended. What worked? What can you do differently next time? Is there a way to better advertise your program?
  • Set a standard time for your program. Once patrons realize that you’re screening a foreign film on the first Friday of every month, they’ll come to expect and look forward to it, and you’ll see your participation numbers go up. One participant noted that when she had authors speak, nobody was attending, but when she created an “Author a Month Club,” it began to catch on and her attendance rose.
  • Supplement a small budget by creating partnerships with local businesses, residents, universities and museums.
  • Market, market, market! Use all avenues at your disposal, including local radio ads, newspaper press releases, community bulletin boards, e-newsletters, e-mails, grocery bag stuffers and flyers listing upcoming programs available. Software, such as SignUp, can also help streamline your efforts with electronic marketing assistance and online registration.
  • Focus on your audience and don’t try to offer too much all at once. Take a deep breath — you’re doing great things!


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