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KCLS Public Programming Office -- A Directed Fieldwork Experience
By Michael Harkovitch
May 18, 2003

When I sat down to discuss my professional interests with Lynnea Erickson, I had no idea that mention of my interest in public library programming during our half hour conversation would lead to something so wonderful: my directed fieldwork experience as a Public Programming Intern at the King County Library System. Working on a number of projects in the Public Programming Office during spring quarter 2003, I've definitely gained a more "behind-the-scenes" perspective of public programming.

My previous exposure to programming in public libraries had been limited to on-site sorts of activities: cursory promotion, greeting the presenters and performers, making sure the area was set up to suit their needs, being present during the event to make sure it went smoothly (which, I might add, often does not, but that's another story). This was the easy part. Planning the event has many facets: contacting the author or performer, negotiating a contract with a publisher, making all of the arrangements, promoting the events, maintaining internal communication channels with staff at the branches or locations where the event is to take place (this is SO important… I cannot count the number of times I've witnessed an author or performer show up to do a program, greeted by the startled staff who had not been informed of the event), etc.

Working with my site supervisors -- Deborah Schneider, KCLS' Public Programming Coordinator, and Chapple Langemack, KCLS' Reader's Services Coordinator -- in the KCLS Service Center in Issaquah has been a delight! As someone who secretly and continually questions his own abilities, the incredible volume of responsibility and trust placed in me over the course of my internship/DFW prompted me to shed my own perceived limitations and tell myself, "And just why can't I do this? It's not like everyone else isn't repairing the plane while flying it." KCLS is learning as they go along, and several other library systems nationwide are studying their evolving model.

Contacting authors to generate interest in participating in KCLS programs -- most notably Teen Read Month, Oct. 15-Nov. 15, 2003 -- has been the most eye-opening aspect of my experience. Expecting to have to follow a strict set of guidelines, I was taken aback slightly the first time Deborah said, "Why don't you go ahead and email the author directly and ask if he's interested?"

Indeed, I've ended up pitching program ideas to authors, publishers, and publicists via grassroots methods more than any "official" method. I emailed Chronicle Books directly to pitch a program idea involving Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht, authors of The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook series. I emailed Karin Lowachee, author of the critically acclaimed YA novel, Warchild, to generate her interest in a future program, and have since maintained an email conversation with her about her upcoming book (Burndive), the state of the SARS situation in Toronto (where she lives and works), and have made plans to meet her for a cup of coffee while there for the ALA Conference. And most exciting -- for me, at least -- was handing a letter of invitation to the legendary Francesca Lia Block during her recent visit to the University Bookstore, and answering questions for her about KCLS.

After researching and approaching some authors and publishers, I helped Deborah pitch some ideas for Teen Read Month to the YA librarians and some administrators with the help of a PowerPoint presentation that I put together (thank you, iSchool!). I have also attended and evaluated the success of several programs.

Chapple, who handles the big name author events, throws things my way at a rapid pace. I've researched authors, generated ideas for promoting library programs, written promotional copy for events, composed online newsletters and booklists in support of some programs, helped develop a procedural checklist for author events, and have even written an official proposal to a publisher for an author event. I've worked in one capacity or another on author events such as Tom Robbins, Dave Barry, Erik Larson, and Jacqueline Mitchard. Chapple joked to me once that she thinks of at least three new things every day for me to do. It's no joke; she sends all of those things my way, and I love doing them. This is because when I see the results of our efforts (or similar efforts) in action, my career choice is once again validated.

For example (although this was not a KCLS program), when I listened to Francesca Lia Block answer questions from audience members who came to see her, I was struck by the presence of dozens (not a few… DOZENS!) of gay and lesbian teens who had come to see her. Clearly, her books have significantly touched this segment of the population, and bringing her to these teens was nothing short of a spiritual experience for them. Another teen, who sat next to me during the event, told me that she and her mother had driven up from Portland to see Francesca Lia Block. Her excitement before the event was intoxicating and rubbed off on me. Those of us bringing authors to the public must be doing something right if we're contributing to the quality of people's lives on such a profound level.

Will this experience make me a better librarian? Knowing what goes into such an event provides insight on how to propose, plan, and carry out such an event. Public programming has become a vital part of public libraries' service plans, and should continue to be developed and improved over the years. This gives us the opportunity to evaluate, develop, and promote our collections. Many librarians don't know how to contact an author or set up such an event. On top of all the satisfaction I've felt, I would say that this experience makes me a bit more marketable as well. (And that never hurts, considering the job market, does it?)

Deborah and Chapple (and some of the other staff in the Service Center) are eager to continue exploring and participating in the Directed Fieldwork Program. If you think this sounds like something you might want to pursue, go see Lynnea Erickson in the Student Services Office. She set this up for me, and I can't thank her enough; it's changed my life and my own professional perspective.

And my advice for future DFW participants at this site: go in with a sense of adventure and an open mind, be prepared to have things thrown your way at the speed of light and run with them, keep in mind that you won't be the only person in the office learning as you're doing, and be prepared to have a lot of fun! Oh yeah, possessing a wicked sense of humor helps too.

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Edited by Michael Harkovitch

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