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Charlotte Mecklenburg Library's Strategic Approach to Programming

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Charlotte Mecklenburg Library's Strategic Approach to Programming

Charlotte Mecklenburg Library

Operations & Management | 2012 | Top Innovator

Innovation Synopsis

Library programming is often where libraries have opportunities for tremendous impact. Following dramatic budget reductions, in early 2011 Charlotte Mecklenburg Library was challenged to create a library programming plan responsive to recommendations of the Future of the Library Task Force, including more focused programming and full costing of program delivery.


Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s programs have long been recognized as outstanding, and over time our program offerings expanded greatly to meet changing community needs. The Library’s innovative staff developed award-winning programs across 24 locations; but there wasn’t always consistency in sharing programs among branches, and at times it was difficult to clearly articulate the impact of disparate program efforts. Following our funding crisis and the loss of 180 staff, the closure of four library facilities, and greatly reduced library hours, the Library was forced to reconsider which programs were most critical to the community, as well as to consider new ways of planning, delivering, and evaluating programs. In response to the funding crisis, our funding partner, Mecklenburg County, assembled the Future of the Library Task Force, charged with exploring a myriad of options for the sustainable library of the future. In total, the Task Force made 39 recommendations, including areas such as development/fundraising, organizational management, our funding partnership with Mecklenburg County, and library programming. During the Task Force process, the community members struggled with understanding how we might best use the library’s limited resources. At that time, we couldn’t give definitive answers to questions like “How much staff time is spent on programming?” and "What is the full cost of developing and delivering programming?” The Task Force also challenged us with further programming recommendations: • Programming should be related directly to core mission. • Board of Trustees (BOT) should approve an annual programming plan prior to beginning of year; this should be followed by an annual year-end program report to BOT. • Programs should be fully costed, including staff time. • Programs should be scalable and accessible to other branches to improve efficiency. • A leader should be identified to review and approve programs offered for the first time.

Key Elements of Innovation

Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s new programming plan is innovative in many ways. First, much of the plan was developed using data from the Program Portal, a cloud-based database accessible by all programming and management staff. The portal -- developed by a library consultant -- allows staff to plan, fully cost, and evaluate programs. The programming plan features: • Streamlined, focused programming, with three current focus areas: literacy, educational success, and workforce development. • Programming that continues to be responsive to community needs, both within library locations and through outreach programs. Programming is informed by staff understanding, census data, and county projections. • Scalable programming, adjusting to size and ages of audience. Increased emphasis on family programs allows families with children of different ages to participate together in programs. • Improved accessibility, by sharing program templates and kits. This means that a program can be developed once and shared across 20 locations instead of being developed in 20 different locations. • Programs that address emerging community needs that arise throughout the year. • Initiatives that allow the Library to pilot and further develop significant new programs such as sensory storytimes for children with autism and other special needs, and the Teens Reading to Tots program that trains teens the basics of reading stories to young children. • Unique programming assets of the library system: o ImaginOn: The Joe and Joan Martin Center, recognized nationally as an exceptional library facility for youth, is an epicenter for program development for children, teens, and families. o The Job Help Center, located at Main Library, is likewise a center for development of programs related to job-seeking and workplace skills. o The Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room is recognized as among the best local history and genealogy centers in the country, and provides programs and exhibits that illuminate local history. o The Humanities Endowment of the library, which provides funding for humanities-based programming.

Achieved Outcomes

The evaluation of the FY12 program plan includes outputs (what we did), outcomes (the difference it made), and stories of impact (personal stories of success as a result of library programs). Examples of outputs include number of programs presented, program attendance, and costs per program or attendee. We plan to present about 400 programs, replicated 13,089, reaching almost 526,000 customers; programming represents about 5% of available staff time, at an average cost of $2.19 per program attendee, including staff time. Outcomes are measures of a change in behavior, skill, or attitude as a result of library programs; for example, parents may report that children spend more time reading each week as a result of involvement in the library’s Summer Reading Program. The library worked with the Larry King Center in Charlotte to develop outcome measures for key programs: • Parent-Child Workshops (PLA’s Every Child Ready to Read) • Operation College Launch • Technology Programs for Adults • Technology for Seniors (Outreach) Additionally, as a partnership with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, the Library is working with an elementary school to measure the impact of the 2012 Summer Reading program on reading levels of students. The school has agreed to share end-of-year and beginning-of-year reading levels for students, so we will be able to see the impact of Summer Reading on reading levels for participants compared to non-participants. Stories of impact convey personal stories of success from library customers, and often provide a face to the outputs/statistics; for example, a customer who was jobless for almost two years used the resources of the Job Help Center to improve his resume, workplace skills, and interview skills. He is now employed and on the management track for his new company. Finally, the experience of planning a full year of programming with this new model has allowed the library to create system program catalogs for children, teens, adults, and outreach, with descriptions that articulate the intended impact of programs to our customers.