Sunday, October 31, 2010

The best (and most stressful) program ever

When I began my new job, I inherited some tried-and-true programs. This is one of them, and it's one I will continue over and over. Despite how much work and stress it is, it was completely worth it for a final attendance of 121. That isn't counting the 30 or 40 people the next day that I sent home with pumpkins, either.

What is this program, you ask? Pumpkin carving.

What you need: pumpkins, buckets of water and rags for cleaning, carving tools, table cloths, apple cider, napkins, hand wipes, plastic bags for seeds, heavy duty black garbage bags, and crafting supplies. For crafting supplies, I purchased a mega box of sharpies, paper for kids who wanted to practice their drawing, pom poms, pipe cleaners (the biggest hit!), stickers, sequins, and tacky glue.

Nuts and Bolts: The biggest stress of this program is finding pumpkins, since every attendee who wants one gets a pumpkin. I called around to a number of local farms, and I had 2 farms that donated a total of about 160 pumpkins. If you aren't so lucky to get such a donation, ask your local retailers for discounts on a large lot. Some stores sell them at $2.99 each, and if you can get 100 for half price, it's still not that expensive.

All of the pumpkins needed to be transported, and between a coworker and myself, we did it in 3 trips. It took a few hours and a lot of manual labor, since our programming room is downstairs in our building. We borrowed a cart from the store next to the library, piled them in, then lined the perimeter of our programming room with pumpkins. Naturally, we had a few other programs prior to the pumpkin carving one, so we needed to keep some space clear.

Prior to the program: We clean and gut the pumpkins before the program in order to make it run smoothly. Our room capacity is 35 without tables and chairs; with tables for carving, it's probably more like 25-30. To get 120 people in and out within 4 hours we have to do some work beforehand. If the idea of cleaning and gutting 160 pumpkins overwhelms you, think about the community resource you already have: teens needing service hours.

I'm lucky to have some regular volunteers and their families who eagerly volunteered. One mom wanted to so she could take all of the innards home for cooking (which I was game with). In addition, I put a call out to the sponsor of our high school's National Honors Society; from that alone, I got an additional 10 volunteers. I also put an announcement into the school's daily announcements and begged a good friend of mine to help. All together, I had 20 volunteers who came. Oh, I forgot: I advertised free food. I got a deal with the pizza shop next door to give us 7 pizzas for $50 (I am a HUGE proponent of not asking for free things from local vendors -- I ask for discounts because I believe all businesses deserve the actual business. Too many hand outs isn't good partnering). I also picked up a bag of candy and a few bottles of pop.

We made it an assembly line: a few people cleaned pumpkins with the bucket of water and rags; my friend and I cut the tops off the pumpkins (since I'd rather we get hurt than the teens); and then we passed the pumpkins off to the teens who gutted them on the table clothes I had laid on the floor. I told the teens they were welcome to take home seeds if they wanted to separate them from guts and had plastic bags for them to do so. As soon as they finished cleaning out the pumpkins, they relined them up along the wall and waited for their next one. With that many volunteers, we were done with cleaning in an hour and a half. The kids got service hours, free food, and time to hang out with their friends.

I also contacted our local newspaper about the program a week prior to the event. We had a member of the press show up and take a ton of photos. This ended up being prime opportunity to tell him who donated the pumpkins, and I'll be thrilled to see the photo spread in next Sunday's newspaper! Perfect pr opportunity for the library and our generous donors.

The Program: The next morning after story time, I pulled out 7 tables and covered them with new table clothes. One table had cider and cups, one had craft supplies, and all of the others just had an assortment of cutting utensils. The table with cider also had a sign thanking our pumpkin donors and thanking the volunteers from the night before.

I sat by the door and let people come in in groups, limiting capacity to the best of my ability without cutting families apart. They were told they could pick out their pumpkins and have fun. After they finished, I took a photo of each group with their creations, which apparently was the thing some of the kids MOST looked forward to (one ran upstairs to our adult services area and told the librarians there they got their photo taken - too cute!).

We did have a backup with people at the beginning, so my boss pulled out tickets and numbered them. I then called ticket numbers to let people in. No one seemed to mind waiting since it wasn't a lengthy wait to get in, and I had pulled out a ton of new coloring sheets and had them available in our youth services room for families to use.

Aftermath: When the program ended at 4 p.m., the floor was a mess. Thanks to the table cloths, tables were mostly clean, but the floor was another story. Craft goodies were everywhere. But fortunately, after sweeping the floor of the big pieces and then vacuuming carefully, clean up was finished in 30 minutes with two people. That was worth it for the crowd, the work, and the endless thank yous we got for this program.

We had tons of pumpkins remaining after this program, and the next day, I offered them to anyone who came in the library. So many people were thrilled to take one home -- and we had even hidden some small ones that stayed ungutted for those who really wanted to have seeds or pumpkin pie.

Lessons Learned: I followed notes from my predecessor about cider quantity, and I wish I had purchased a little more. No one complained at all, but I think more people would have taken advantage of it had I had more. I would also invest in an additional electronic cutter or two and I would probably bring out more craft supplies. My other big lesson was that I should have pulled out the photo printer: I think families would have LOVED taking home a photo of their creations.

Other information: I get asked a lot about the size of my library with the turnouts we get, and I will say my community is about 8,000 people. We do not take sign ups for this, nor do we expect people to even have a library card. So, turn out can be tough to gauge but since this program has gone on for a few years and gets nice press, we know it grows. In fact, this year's turn out was the highest yet (and the turn out for the night before for clean out was a huge leap from the year before). This is the kind of program that would work best in smaller libraries or in branches. You could make this a sign up only program to get an idea of numbers, but always be prepared for those who just show up. I hate turning anyone away and I'm fortunate I did not have to do it for this one.

Bonus program: My coworker runs our on-site storytime and was able to use the small pumpkins we chose not to gut for her storytime craft. Again, the kids and parents love it and thank us for letting the mess be made at the library and not their home.

Total cost: After the pizza, pop, candy, and new supplies we needed to purchase, I spent probably around $110-120. For a turnout that huge and the press we'll be getting, it was worth every penny.


  1. I'm glad you guys had fun and all that work was worth it! It's so interesting the major programs we inherit when we start at a new place. :) My library does a "gingerbread" house workshop every year (actually graham crackers) and an egg decorating program around Easter.

  2. We do a huge gingerbread program, too. Fortunately, it's not as much prep as this one and I heard from some of the parents and the teens how to organize it better than previous years (woo hoo!).

    I am starting an egg program around Easter, too, but keeping it a little wider. Some decorating and some making of cascarones. I'm interested in hearing about yours more!