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Centralized Programming

San Jose Public Library

Problem Statement

SJPL has a long history of providing top-quality programming to customers throughout San José. Under the old, decentralized model, librarians at each of our nineteen locations independently planned and presented programs, often with a great deal of duplication built in. For example, librarians across the system spent about 76 hours per month preparing for preschool storytimes, and 38 hours per month planning ESL Conversation Clubs – just preparing, not delivering! We sought a model that would reduce planning time while maintaining the high quality of programming we have always offered, and enabling our librarians to spend less time in the back room and more time directly interacting with customers.


The Library’s new centralized programming model launched on September 1, 2010. To support the new model, we created the Unit for Programming Services (UPS). Each month, UPS releases a menu of program choices from which our branches and public service units can select the right mix to meet their communities’ needs. Programs may be delivered by a UPS librarian; sent to the branch/unit in a physical or virtual box to be delivered by local staff; or presented by a community partner, engaged volunteer, or paid performer. Storytimes are done entirely from our forty themed storytime boxes, routed to our nineteen locations on an annual rotation. The boxes, with themes like Dinosaurs, School, Weather, or Healthy Eating, feature books for a variety of age groups; puppets, flannelboards, fingerplay props, and other manipulatives; a CD of classic favorites and songs that match the theme; and laminated handouts with song lyrics, Mother Goose rhymes, and more. Each box also has a virtual component providing links to videos that demonstrate fingerplay motions, and an online forum to allow frontline staff to give us feedback on the individual boxes.


Six months in, we’re delivering 25% more programs than we did under the old model, even though branch staffing and open hours decreased 17% during the same period. Some 70,826 customers attended our 2,728 programs systemwide in the fourth quarter of 2010. The best outcome is that customers have not noticed any change; they experience the same high-quality programming as always.