Getting People to Arrive Early

Library Planning Program Start Time

“The library program starts promptly at 6:00 p.m.”, said the librarian. “I know my people from years of experience, which means the program will start ten minutes past the scheduled start time as late arrives will be pouring in.”

I am a parent and understand it is challenging to get kids out the door and move.  As a professional performer, I know what it likes to wait for a family to be seated.

How to combat late arrivals

This technique is used in two industries that demand it runs on time; the airlines and train industry require passager to arrive early.

For decades we have been conditioned to check in early when flying or going to a train station.  Airlines label documents with pre-check-in and departure times, and many times the check-in time is in larger print and the easiest time to find on the boarding pass.

The Problem

A patron reads the library program and sees an event they like, and next to the event is the date and time of the event.  What happens?  The mom reads the date and time and leaves to arrive promptly at the advertised time.  Showing up minutes before the event, parking, walking to the meeting room with kids in tow, they arrive what they feel is on time, ten minutes into the program.


The family arrives at the program’s start but needs to check in before escorting the family through the door.  Clinging to mom are the two kids who are encouraged to sit on the floor with the other kids.  With all eyes focused on the new arrivals, the program comes to a slow halt until the new arrivals are settled into their seats.

How to change late behavior

Changing behavoir is the 1st step in planning library programs

Like the airlines who advertise check-in time, so should library schedules.  For example, You want your Summer reading programs to start promptly at 9:00 a.m. Then promote the reading program check-in is at 8:45 a.m.  The 8:45 a.m. time is when you want the parents to arrive, just like school teachers wish their class in their seats and ready at 9:00 a.m.  The first bell is at 8:50, and the classes start at 9:00 a.m.

Let’s consider professional sports, which starts at the top of the hour.  A perfect example was the Chicago White Sox. As part of the deal, White Sox weeknight home games will begin at 7:11 p.m. instead of the typical 7:05 p.m. first pitch.

Move the Clock Back

I can hear the voice of some librarians say, “We cannot change our times. People know storytime is Wednesday at 9:00 a.m.”  The alternative is to have the “actual program” start at 9:15 a.m.  Like professional sports, we turn the T.V. on at noon but realize the game doesn’t start to 12:09 and know this T.V. schedule activity based on this new start time.

You, the librarian, are the producer of the event.  Advertise the program publicly to start at 9:00 a.m. and schedule the staff or entertainer to start at 9:10 a.m.

Use the extra time for Marketing

Over the years of performing, I always ask the librarian if they have any announcements before the start of the show? The majority of the librarians take a pass and say, “We don’t have anything to announce.”  If you can recall when you said this, don’t do it again.  Consider you have new families that may be unaware of all the library’s services.  Parents are busy people and forget things. Public service announcements before the show’s start will help reinforce or remind local families about the free service the library provides.

Finally, you use the extra ten minutes to educate, inform, and distract the audience from those arriving late. The show can start promptly at the delayed time that only you, your staff, and the entertainer know.  Movie theaters have been doing this for decades, and nobody questions the exact start of a movie once in the theater.

Reward Early Arrivals

Don’t you like receiving something FOR free when it not expected?

Countless businesses are looking for ways to draw customers to their businesses.  Partnering with local companies, the library can advertise the first twenty families will get a gift certificate from XYZ restaurant or business.  Patrons will show up early for a gift certificate with free drinks, fries, and ice cream.

The goal is to reward those who arrive at the check-in time, so the program starts on time.

Getting Results

reading a book is the final goal of every library program

The goal is to get people into the library and service the families in the community. Each library is different, and the three options of

  1. Pre-Check-in Time
  2. Delayed Start
  3. Announcements Prior to Start

These techniques can work for some, all, or most of your programs. The key to its success is based on your willingness to try, tweak, and repeat.  No new process is perfect without at least a dozen tries.

Please leave a comment on your views, thoughts, ideas on what you think about these techniques.

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