Planning a library comic-con or pop-culture related programs can be a blast, especially if you have a passion for comics and the like. However, many people overlook how much of an undertaking these programs can be. Often they take months of planning and a lot of creative thinking to execute successfully. And even when you think everything is good to go, things do not always work out the way you thought they would. But fear not! It is possible to have successful programs even when things go wrong.
I am a Public Services Librarian at the Marion County Public Library System. My focus is primarily on adults and teens, and I do a lot of pop-culture related programing due to the diverse age range of patrons interested in these type of programs. I run two monthly teen clubs specifically focused on manga, graphic novels and pop-culture as well as organize our annual comic-con event — “Comic Connection” — and recently I put together a “Super Mario Day” celebration that was a hit with families in our community. Both programs required major planning as well as assistance from staff, volunteers and outside organizations. Below is a helpful guide to programming mishaps and tips on how to avoid them!
The more time you give yourself to plan for a program, the better. For a program like Comic Connection, I start planning for next year’s immediately after the current one ends. Positive and negative feedback from the program are still fresh in the mind, and it’s a helpful to jot these down to remember what can be improved and revamped for the following year. Most outside groups like a few months’ notice prior to the program, but it’s important to build strong relationships by staying in communication with publishers, comic shops, cosplayers or anyone else taking part in the program throughout the year. The value these businesses, organizations and groups bring to library programming is huge and these relationships should be nurtured.
If the event includes prizes and giveaways, making sure the library receives materials for the event should always be a top priority. Many publishers are happy to provide promotional materials for library programming at no cost to the library. However, there are some who require payment. This year I was very excited to make contact with a major publisher in the comics industry who agreed to send a huge bulk of promotional items for our Comic Connection program. When they hit me with the shipping costs, it totaled just about our entire budget for the event. Sadly, I had to pass up on the materials and figure out other ways to find giveaways for patrons that were more cost friendly. I reached out to other publishers and found a handful who were more than happy to ship boxes of materials at no cost for our library program.
Activities, Panels, Contests!
Another equally important task is coming up with activities for patrons to do during the event. Do research and select activities that are proven to be successful. Picking an activity no one is interested in ends up being a waste of time that could have been spent on something more valuable. This year our comic-con included POP! Toy Trading as well as table top and video gaming. Patrons were engaged in the video games which were supervised by staff, and the table top games were run by a local comic shop throughout the event. However, not as many patrons brought in POP! toys to trade as we had expected. The comic shops that brought in toys to trade were a little disappointed, but talked to me about brainstorming ideas to boost the trade numbers next year.
After analyzing what might have caused the lack of participation in our trading activity, I realized it was only mentioned very minutely in the bottom corner of our promotional flier for the program. If we were to try it again, making changes like increasing the size and visibility on the flier to better catch patrons' attention would be something I would do. Sometimes getting the attention of patrons can be hard, and it takes multiple attempts for something to catch on. Don’t give up if the first attempt doesn’t go as planned. Figure out what can be improved and try again.
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Partner with Local Comic Shops
Inviting local comic shops and cosplayers to events is another way to enhance pop-culture programming and get patrons excited. However, when dealing with multiple businesses and people, sometimes things do not always go as planned. At our Comic Connection program, I had lined up a Wonder Woman cosplayer to attend and take pictures with patrons for the entire two hours of the program. But, on the day of, I received notice that she was having a family emergency and would only be able to make it for the last 40 minutes. This was disappointing because the majority of those in attendance arrived during the first hour, but there was nothing that could be done. On the upside, members of the 501st Legion and a Captain America cosplayer were available for photo ops as well. Unfortunately, unexpected scenarios such as this do occur and there no sure way to prepare for them. The best thing that can be done is to have multiple cosplayers in attendance. Then, if one is unable to make it, it will not affect the program in a disastrous way.
Having local comic shops in attendance also allows patrons to interact with franchises they love and learn about new ones. Our local comic shop was able to host our table top gaming program which also added to the experience for our event. Be sure to cultivate the relationship between your library and comic shop during pop-culture events as they can provide a lot of support to your programming.
Test the Tech!
When technology is being used, it is always a good idea to plan a day before the program to test things out to make sure everything works as expected. For Super Mario Day, I brought in a Nintendo Switch for patrons to play Super Smash Bros: Ultimate on during the program. The day before, I took a few hours to set it up and make sure everything worked in the library setting. It turned out the audio cable and input being used caused a loud static noise over the speakers when the Switch was turned on. I used this time to troubleshoot and find a way to get the sound working as best as it could without the static sound. Always make sure there is time to run through anything that is able to be tested beforehand to avoid preventable unfortunate events on the day of the program. Mishaps may still occur on the day of the program, but at least this way they might be minimized.
At this same program, we served iced tea to those in attendance, which a volunteer made the day prior to the program. What I did not do was taste the tea after it was made. On the day of the program, I realized the tea did not taste right after a patron let me know. After tasting it, I determined that it was not nearly sweet enough, so I added sugar until it tasted better. Little things like this may not seem like a big deal but making sure patrons enjoy all parts of a program is necessary for success and repeat attendees. And, it is less stressful to attend to details like this when the room is not packed with people.
Remaining calm and preparing in advance, as much as possible, is crucial to the success of a program. Also it is important to realize that inevitably something will go wrong and having the ability to adapt and make things work are paramount to success. Pop-culture programming can be a lot of work but is worth it. Patrons of all ages enjoy these types of programs, and they help libraries stay relevant in a time where it is much needed. Getting to see the community come together under the roof of the library to celebrate pop-culture is a wonderful experience and one that is rewarding in so many ways. Enjoy it, have fun with it, and your geek community will live long and prosper.
Jonathan Khan is a Public Services Librarian with the Marion County Public Library System and received his MSI degree from Florida State University. He is an avid comic reader and pop culture fan and has organized many pop culture focused programs in his library system. He is very excited to see libraries becoming more open to this type of programming and looks forward to seeing the progression of pop culture programming.