Are Library Event Calendars Useful for Patrons?

I was thinking about how there are no great event calendar solutions for library websites and it occurred to me that libraries, with their mega-lists of all events happening at all locations, are barking up the wrong tree.

Who on earth besides librarians needs an overview like that? Yeah, some calendaring systems let people deselect the types of stuff they’re not interested in but that can be a laborious and confusing process. I can imagine someone asking themselves “Am I interested in an early literacy program or a kids’ program? I don’t know the difference.”

I wonder how separate online calendars for each major section of a website would work. But wondering can only take us so far. We need data.

The important question is: has anyone studied how people end up at library events?

Because knowing about the process of attending a library event – from being made aware of an event through walking out of the library door after an event – would surely inform how a library website should support the behavior.

2 thoughts on “Are Library Event Calendars Useful for Patrons?”

  1. Great question. After asking recent interviewees what they would improve about our website and repeatedly hearing suggestions about our event calendar, I realized it’s time to put more thought into it. User research would be great and is something I plan to tackle (with my new staffer) in the coming months.
    We currently break the Kids and Teen events down on their pages but the feed from our calendar management system needs improvement.
    We have been asking people at events how they find out about them and have been interested to hear that many people discover our events through our monthly e-mail newsletter. We have a print calendar, print posters in the building, press releases (plus blog), a Facebook page, events feeds on 3 pages on the website, and it’s the e-mail that is doing the trick.

  2. Knowing how patrons end up at events is useful information. But if we agree that our online calendars don’t yet serve anyone well, then it’s hard to draw great conclusions. I’d start with the assumption that online calendars could be very useful. I’d go farther, actually. Besides hours/locations and the catalog, the events calendar is the only thing on a library site that’s regularly worth a patron’s visit.

    There’re a couple things that libraries need to do in this regard. First, we need to get onto better calendar platforms. Few of the products out there are both suited to library needs and, well, much good. We need flexibility, openness, and robustness. I worked on this question with San Diego PL for a long time and we are finally moving forward with Bedework, an open source calendar used mainly for university events. See for example: events.cornell.edu.

    Second, if events are the main thing that matters on the library website, we need to build our sites around the events calendar and not the other way around. I haven’t seen any libraries do this yet. Simplifying something like this would be a fine starting place.

    Finally, with the right attention, there are efficiencies to be had. If a calendar system is built right for us, it is the hub for the library site, for automated posting to Facebook and Twitter, for producing custom print calendars, for reminders, for (email) newsletters, for registration, statistics, room reserve, appointments, etc. etc.

    An aside about the “local” channels to awareness: in a large system the online calendar may be the only practical place for a patron to find happenings for a cluster of branches or system-wide. The local channels probably shouldn’t be trying to cover promotion for more than their immediately local events. (At SDPL, we have about 800 events per month around the system.)

    I understand the point you’re arguing and don’t disagree. But I don’t see attention to omnibus calendar systems as barking up the wrong tree. Besides being necessary, if we’d give them the attention (and budget) they deserve, they stand to provide a lot of patron value that we’re just dithering away right now.

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