What is so special about performers? The person you hire for your library program could be any patron walking by you in the street. They are strangers, for the most part, who want to get paid for entertaining and educating. Sometime the services they offer are what any librarian can do: crafts, activities, movement programs, and educational activities. Other times they truly do satisfy a need that the librarian would not dream of having the budget or storage for: theatre productions, Lego mindstorm, live-animal shows, and more. Librarians have no problem with a lack of performers; the issue we deal with is a problem of too many. What makes a library with a healthy budget for programs do about the flood of people who want you to hire them for one time or more?
The process for finding performers is usually extremely chaotic. Performers have a variety of ways of finding your email address, mailing you postcards, and calling your department’s phone. Over this year I have discovered that some of the most established performers never even use email. They call you just like so many other performers and it is not until you have researched them or seen them perform do you realize you’ve found something amazing.
This can be problematic because librarians want every performer they bring into the library to be something amazing, but even if the only part of your job was sorting through performers, most librarians have no opportunity to look at every single performer’s full profile. We work off recommendations and past experiences and an eye-catching brochure. A phone call may be the most effective way for a performer to hook a library, but it is by no means assured. A librarian on the phone is like a mother with seven children asking for help and a fire in the kitchen. If a performer sets a date with a librarian with no paper trail of discussion, oftentimes this date can get lost in the shuffle. The performers with the most experience call during the times they know a library already has their budget and when a library is ready for summer reading and planning it. Then this experienced performer follow up with a letter of intent (full price quote included), a confirmation of the date and time that must be signed by the librarian and returned to the performer, and, only if the librarian has said, “Please send me your invoice,” an invoice.
The paper trail is everything to a librarian and their accounts manager. We do not like unexpected charges. If your performer does these things well in advance of the performance date, you are in good shape. After all, the librarians have their own paperwork to do to make sure the performer gets paid!
At my library, we can have up to 6 special performances a month and that is only the people who get paid individually, and mostly are those who are fairly cheap regulars. We also have experienced volunteers conducting programs, partnerships with local organizations, and then our own performances to work out between the coordinating staff. This can mean up to 50 programs and performances with over 500 attendees a month.
Anyone with experience in a library can tell you, “And that’s not all!” But we won’t get into that now.
Some performers become regulars (see above for Little Shanti Yoga!). This is usually a very special and unique relationship between the library and the performer. It means that librarians and the performers still have to fill out all the paperwork multiple times in a month. It means scheduling maybe 6 or 7 months in advance so that they have the priority in the library’s schedule and the librarian is able to work any one-time performers around that standardized performance. These performers then become a partner.
Libraries everywhere tout the importance of community partnerships: organizing things with local nonprofits and organizations, creating Friends groups, bringing in local businesses to support Summer Reading. The same can go with performers. Someone may do a single show for free to advertise their services as a teacher or musician, but that can just as easily turn into a regularly attended performance. Even better (or worse) is when a patron, who regularly uses the library wants to do a program or supplement an existing one. As long as they are reliable, it truly can become a beautiful partnership.
The one thing we can never forget is this: if the community interest isn’t there, don’t try to keep doing it!