Storytime Basics: Registration

For my first Extended Play Storytime Posts, I am just going to talk about the basics of how we do storytime at my library district. Every library is different, but each library often has the same types of problems (registration, arranging space, prep time, etc), and it’s always good to look around and see other ways of resolving those issues. I hope you will share in the comments your thoughts and experience!

Yesterday’s post covered our schedule. Today I’ll talk about how we register for storytime.

Who Registers

Parents and caregivers are asked to sign up their kids every week for storytime. Adults are required to stay with their children for Baby, Toddler, and Family storytime, and strongly encouraged to stay for Preschool storytime.

For Baby, Toddler, and Preschool storytime, though, we only register the child who is attending. For Family storytime, we register everyone who attends: parents, grandparents, whoever, and each child.

How We Register

We have eVanced at our district, and families can sign up for storytime in 3 different ways. They can sign up online, themselves, through our programs calendar. They can call our call center, and ask one of the staff to sign them up. Or they can ask for help from a staff member in the library.

When We Register

Registration for each storytime opens up one week prior to storytime, and closes just before that storytime begins. Families can only register ahead one week, but they can register for as many open storytimes that week as they’d like.

Why We Register

We try to maintain storytime limits at 15 babies, 20 toddlers, and 25 preschoolers in each storytime. For Family storytimes, our limit is 40 people, adults and children combined. We like these limits because we feel we can offer a better storytime experience if there are controlled group sizes. Also, some of our storytime areas just aren’t that big! Registration helps keep our attendance on a more even keel.

But it’s sometimes hard to be consistent across our whole district. Some branches don’t attract the numbers that make registration a necessity, so “enforcement” of registration can be a little lax. At branches that do attract larger crowds, some staff feel very comfortable enforcing the limits, and turn families away if storytime is full. Other staff don’t feel comfortable doing that, and occasionally or even frequently let drop-in families attend, even if it puts them over their attendance limits.

It’s a tough question: which is the better customer service? Not turning anyone away, or restricting access to ensure the best quality storytime?

Do you register families for storytime? What kind of system do you use if you do? What do you feel is the best customer service for your families?

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10 Responses to Storytime Basics: Registration

  1. Abby says:

    Our baby and toddler storytimes are drop-in and we’ve battled the crowd “problem” by opening up additional sessions during the week (also drop-in). It kind of works. We still ending up getting larger-than-ideal crowds on some days, but I feel pretty strongly that we shouldn’t turn anyone away if we can help it at all. Our preschool fall and spring sessions are registered and we do cap registration at 25 kids per time slot, but we are pretty flexible about allowing unregistered kids to attend if they happen to show up.

    We’re a pretty small library, though, and our program attendance isn’t always great. We’re working on building it up!

  2. Melissa says:

    I *hate* turning people away from storytime. Hate it!!! It’s always good to be flexible if you can. And when you’re trying to build up numbers, you want to say yes to as many families as possible. But what if you’re in a library that IS getting a lot of attendance? And you have too many people for some kids to see the book? Or too many for your firecode? Or not enough room to do shake your sillies out? This is such a tough problem. I love to hear from other people about it. Thank you!

  3. Jessica says:

    We do registration, which I think is great both ways. The cap keeps things manageable and it also lets a keep track of what events are poorly attended and keeps us from making the same scheduling errors month after month. (We also occasionally have to cancel activities because only one or two kids sign up).

    As far as walk-ins go, I tend to be lenient for first time “offenders”, but try to impress upon them the importance of registering. Some of my co-workers are less lenient and this is probably due to many negative experiences with people who make walking-in a habit. (I am the newest member of the department and the youngest). We also point out our walk-in story time which we have every Friday when story time is in session and every other Friday in between sessions.

  4. Pretty much all of our programming is drop in – with the exception of a couple of special programs that we need to know how many to prepare for. We’re a pretty big library and we can get pretty big numbers, but we only turn people away if the room limits are being exceeded. I like registering in idea but apparently in the past when we’ve registered for storytimes we’ve gotten less than half then numbers we do now.

  5. Melissa says:

    Jessica, I love the idea of having both registered AND drop in storytimes on a regular basis, so you can reach both types of families–those whose schedules work with signing up, and those who love to come when they can. Do you have any confusion from your patrons about which storytime is which? I do think it’s important–and VERY HARD–to get everyone on the staff to be consistent about rules. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Melissa says:

    Susan, we’re a large library too and have decided to go with registration, but we struggle with no-shows and how to add drop-ins at the last minute if there’s room. I think families are super busy these days, and registration, no matter how easy it is, can be a barrier to coming at all. “I have to remember to register–oops, I forgot to register–oh fine we just won’t go–oh, we just won’t go to ANYTHING at the library.” If families know they can just come when they can, it can feel very welcoming and psychologically more do-able. Thanks for your comments! I love hearing everyone’s details.

  7. Nicole says:

    We always run our storytimes for 6 week sessions. We used to register the children for the entire 6 weeks, but our attendance was going down and other people that wanted to come weren’t able to. Just recently (June) we switched to drop in ST. I made some passes to give out at our children’s desk and we give them to the kids that will be attending in that age group (20 for preschool and toddler, 15 for babies). This is great because it lets families be flexible and they aren’t tied down to every week, which they rarely attended anyways. And it doesn’t interfere with our craft supply because we only prepare 20. I’ve actually found that I don’t have as many wasted crafts lying around, which is nice. There has only been one ST where we’ve had to turn people away because it was full and this is due to the fact that we had to cut our STs in half (budget isses). All of the families were very understanding and just made sure to get here earlier the next week. We also use Evanced for other programs and it is amazing, I love it!

  8. Melissa says:

    Hey, Nicole, thanks for sharing about your ticket system! It seems like a workable compromise between registering in advance and making sure your group size and craft supplies are appropriate. I am wondering if it would be too crazy at the desk for a large branch with multiple storytimes, but it seems like it might be worth the effort to make it work. Thank you!

  9. Jessica says:

    Melissa,
    We have the occasional confusion from new patrons who come for a walk-in one week and then show up for a “by-registration” the next week expecting to be able to attend. Our walk-ins are always on Friday, though. And we are a fairly small library with a pretty large core group of regulars, so, in general people know what’s going on and plan accordingly. We try to make it clear on the calendar, both online and in print what events require registration.

  10. Melissa says:

    Thanks! I think the advantages of offering both kinds of storytimes outweigh the occasional mix-ups. Lots of communication is key, though we know that no matter how much we publicize and explain, some patrons will always miss the message!

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