Programming Puzzler: Registration or Drop-in: which is better?

We presented this puzzler to our newsletter readers. Here are their responses:

“We just recently started offering non-registered storytimes, and to my surprise, I love it! I was very hesitant to give up the idea of knowing how many people to expect, but now I have found that with a little planning, I can make just about any number of people work. Parents love being able to drop in without worrying about pre-registering.” -Katie R.

“In order to make programs more accessible to all, we don’t register programs that staff offer. If an outside presenter requests a registered program, we are happy to accommodate. Otherwise we try to estimate the number of supplies we need for the program. We are generally over-optimistic, having more than enough supplies for everyone, and we find we can always use left over items for another program.” -Sue H.

“Registering children’s programs that require specific supplies and those with a more complicated project are a must. In these financially tight times, registering allows us to purchase exactly what we need and assign the appropriate number of staff to a program.” -Mary Q.

“My library offers a mix of registered and non-registered programs, and I must admit I prefer registration. I think the parents who come to registered programs are more likely to make a commitment to attending. It’s too easy, with non-registered programs, for them to say they will come and then not do it.” -Maryann B.

“I like to keep registration only for programs that need a lot of supplies (such as our science programs for middle schoolers) or programs that might overflow our room. Otherwise registration is such a waste of staff time. If a person shows up to storytime and there is space, we will let them come in. So why bother to preregister?” -Valarianna P.

Kathy and Christine say:

Registered programs and drop-in programs both have their benefits. Registered programs help the presenter plan activities more effectively, especially when crafts or other materials are involved. Having a limited number, particularly in baby and toddler programs, can make for a more enriching experience for the children and parents. And some activities simply can’t be done with an extra large group.

On the other hand, drop-in programs convey an open-door attitude to patrons and cut down on staff busywork (after all, taking registrations and waiting lists, making confirmation calls, and just managing the registration can be quite a chore!).

To decide whether to make a program registered or drop-in, consider:

  • Is space an issue?
  • Do you need to know numbers in order to plan for specific activities or materials?
  • Do you expect an overflow crowd?
  • Do you need to limit your numbers in order to provide a developmentally appropriate program?

When planning for a non-registered program, maintain maximum flexibility by:

  • keeping crafts simple – or doing away with them entirely. Consider using coloring sheets or other easy-to-reproduce crafts instead of more complicated projects.
  • having a plan B (and C, and D…). Think about how you can adapt your materials if you should end up with a group much larger, or much smaller, than your average. Be ready to shift gears midprogram if necessary.
  • making sure your storytime books and materials stand up to the needs of a large group. If a flannelboard’s pieces are too tiny, consider redoing them as large stick puppets, or use live props instead.
  • using action songs or wiggle rhymes to help your group vent its energy and refocus its attention periodically throughout the program.
  • collaborating with other staff. We know of one enterprising librarian who, faced with an unexpectedly huge crowd at a storytime, quickly worked out a plan with another staff member to divide the group in half. One half colored in the children’s department under the supervision of the other staff member while the other half attended storytime with the programmer, then the groups switched.
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