By Gwen Vanderhage, MLIS
Has anyone ever told you that you can make a grilled cheese sandwich in your dorm room with an iron? Or that you can clean everything with plain, cheap white vinegar? Were you ever taught to balance a checkbook? “Adulting” is a verb that high school graduates—and some adults—use to mean they are doing something that makes them feel like responsible adults. Between new technologies and the demise of home economics and shop classes in high school, more adults these days are headed out into the world missing some handy life skills. Many public libraries are stepping up to fill the knowledge gap, hoping to capture the elusive 20-to-40-year-old demographic in the process.
Libraries of every size throughout the country are trying out this newest trend in adult programming. The Programming Librarian Interest Group on Facebook contains a wealth of ideas and feedback. Some libraries target teens getting ready to leave home. This approach might include more dorm-style ideas, like cooking with small appliances or basic laundry and ironing skills. Most open their programs up to anyone.
Cooking is a perennially popular topic among patrons. What can you make with only a hot plate, waffle iron, or blender? How about a program called “Spicing Up Your Ramen?” Eating on a budget and food safety (get a black light wand to make it really exciting) are basic and useful skills. Other basic cooking program ideas have included “Cookbook Terminology,” “10 Ways to Use a Sweet Potato,” and “Getting to Know Your Instapot.” One library offered a program showing a variety of meals that could be prepared in a coffee mug. A little creativity can go a long way with cooking programs since there is a hungry audience waiting to devour them (pardon the pun).
What about incorporating self-care, meditation, and time management into National Mental Health Month (May)?
Do you have a staffer willing to pull their car up to the library and demonstrate some basic car maintenance techniques under the hood?
You might offer a crash-course in good citizenship and invite in local groups and legislators to participate.
You could offer a program on dressing for success on a budget and include simple courses like “How to Tie a Necktie.”
As winter nears, offer a program on winterizing your home or basic plumbing repairs.
Here’s a fun one: Several libraries have offered teen programs based on the idea of Survival Skills for the Zombie Apocalypse. Isn’t that a great spin? What better excuse to teach car repair skills, self-defense, quick pickling, and recognizing edibles in nature? If your community can get tongue-in-cheek with you, run with it! The premise may be silly, but the skills are worthwhile.
Denver Public Library offered a basic sewing skills class for sewing a button, fixing a tear, and hemming a skirt. They invited participants to bring in a project that had them stumped, and it seemed to boost attendance. You might create a cute project that incorporates basic stitches and buttons, such as a felt monster or bookmark. Offering patrons a hands-on project to practice and take home is always optimal. Think about ending your quarter or year of programs with a potluck or clothes exchange, something festive and practical.
Boise Public Library, in Idaho, has a really terrific program going this year. The librarians set the calendar for the whole year in advance. They offer badges to participants who complete at least one session per month, making each accomplishment feel like being in scouts group or mastering a video game level. Collect 12 badges and earn an “Adult-in-Action” medal. Not only have they put together a comprehensive program, they have also uploaded supporting materials to their website. This allows those who are late to join (or the rest of us) to catch up with what they have been teaching.
I spoke with Boise librarian Eliza Ruby about their ambitious program, which at the time of this writing is more than halfway through the year. She said, “Our goal for this year has been to host two to four programs each month. While we have been successful with this goal, it has been a big endeavor. My advice for anyone wanting to create a similar series is to plan ahead, stay organized, and work with fellow staff members to share the workload. Our focus has been on creating events for adults; however, I think that this could easily be adapted to a series for teens to help prepare them for adulthood.”
Ruby also talked about turnout and patron response. “We have taken the opportunity with this series to try new things and experiment. This includes the types of programs we have hosted, the way we brand and market this series, and how the workshops are hosted. While we don’t always have high turnout, we have been learning what topics interest our community the most, how best to market to ‘new adults’ with the resources we have on hand, and how to get the best response from the people attending the workshops. We have also been collecting success stories of new connections, people learning the skills they need, and gaining follow-up resources.” Ruby shared that their end-of-summer clothing exchange party had 185 participants, which is an impressive number for any library program!
Bellingham Public Library, in Washington, offers a similar series with a twist. They call it SkillShare. Community members come in and teach a skill—from ukulele, to tai chi, to using basic tools. The basic tools session was so popular it became a recurring event all summer long. This program has been a multi-generational success.
If your library has a limited budget or little staff time to devote to programming, there may be community members happy to pitch in with their expertise. Scout leaders, nutritionists, county extension employees, a local mechanic, vocational colleges, and that blue-ribbon canner in the Friends group may be willing to lend a hand or have ideas about what has worked with groups in the past.
While these programs may get your brain humming and offer myriad ways to cross-promote book titles, there are a few planning considerations. You know what works best in your community. What would you name this program? Some librarians consider “Adulting 101” insulting. Instead, you could try “Cash in Your Pocket” or “Adult University”— or soften it to “Beyond Ramen: Adulting 101.” The way you structure your schedule and descriptions can make a huge difference. Some libraries report 2-5 attendees, while others have had 20-plus.
Now it’s your turn. Has your library offered a program similar to Adulting 101? How did it go? Tell us about it!
For further examples and ideas of how to promote this type of program:
After spending many years as a children’s librarian and collection development specialist at Denver Public Library, Gwen joined Brodart to share her passion for children’s literature with as many different libraries as possible. Click here for more.