Edith here, bringing back our Ask the Expert feature.
Sue Nakanishi is head of Programming at the Langley-Adams Public Library in Groveland, Massachusetts. It was my home library for five years, and I’ve been Sue’s guest as an author several times. Sue runs an active program of speakers, bringing in an impressive number and array of authors. I invited her here to answer some questions.
How long have you been a librarian, and how did you train for this job?
Thank you for saying I do a good job hosting speakers. I do my best. This is my 20th year of being a librarian. I majored in HPE and Sociology in college. I also have my MAE in special education. During the summers, I worked in recreation in the Cleveland, Ohio area, which is where I first got “programming” experience. Programming is more than having authors come and speak. Being a high school Health teacher, I always was inviting guest speakers (Suicide Prevention, and so on). Later I was a K-8 PE teacher. I would team up with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Indians, and others for special programs. It wasn’t until I became a school librarian in Maine that I started having authors. Later I began working at Langley-Adams Library in Groveland. Scheduling programs is just one part of my job, and I try to invite a variety of speakers, not just authors.
My first year here was hard. Luckily, three book clubs were already in place, as well as Scrabble Fridays. Inviting authors was a no brainer. I try to have at least two evening events a month. I also began doing what I call “movie Fridays” at various intervals during the year. Three years ago I helped establish an Italian Conversation Group with one of our regular patrons (for which I have made a connection with IAM books located in the North End of Boston and discovered more local authors).
How big is Groveland? The town’s population is around 6700. We estimate seventy-five percent are regular patrons.
Do new people come to listen to talks who then return? Yes! Do they come just for authors? No.
How do you find speakers? Good question. Other librarians, co-workers, patrons, newspapers, book fairs, IAM Books, conferences, authors reaching out to me, and…lots of luck. Sometimes while cataloging a book (that I know my patrons will be interested in reading), I see that the author is local. So I reach out to them.
Do you pay authors? Most of the authors who come do not ask for an honorarium. They realize that we help their careers and we have limited funds. At the same time, I feel bad if hardly anyone attends a program for someone who is here pro-bono. I want everyone to have a good audience and a positive experience.
You’ve hosted Bruce Coffin from Maine. How did you learn about him? Small world. His mother was the Middle School librarian in the town where I lived and also worked as a school librarian. His mom was my mentor. I bought a copy of his first book-partly to support him but also because…I love mysteries. I instantly knew my mystery book club would enjoy his book. So, I went out on a limb and invited him down here. Luckily, he took me up on my invite. Bruce was a big hit! I then turned around and let other libraries know about him.
What have been some of your most popular programs? Besides my outdoor concerts, Former FBI undercover agent Michael McGowan (Ghost: My 30 Years As An Undercover FBI Agent; I had him twice and both times were standing room only), documentary producer & author Rick Beyer (Ghost Army), and Hank Philippi Ryan are my record holders to date! A couple of summers ago we did Jane Austen themed programs-which also were well attended. The historian from Friendly’s had a full house. I am sure the fact that she provided ice cream helped, ha! Mystery authors do well here because of our mystery book club (it’s 25 members strong and I had to cap it), and the fact that the majority of the books that circulate from our library are…mysteries! Our library has a designated mystery section with over 3000 mysteries.
The The Haverhill Life newspaper has been a great help in increasing attendance at our library! They consistently print our upcoming events. Lately when I have noticed new faces and ask them how they heard about our program, it is because they read about it in The Haverhill Life.
What are some tips for how authors can be good library presenters? Talk about why you got into writing and how you came up with the idea for your book. Share what you went through in getting it published. If you write series, share how you created and are developing your regular characters. If you read, keep it brief – just a taste to hook them into wanting more. Also, don’t depend on the Q&A being the bulk of your time. It’s better to overprepare content and leave some out if you run too long. Finally, please know that I and most librarians will do everything on our end to promote your program (and we talk to each other). Let us know what you will need ahead of time. Your success here is our success, too.
Sue, thank you for joining us!
Readers: Who has been your favorite speaker at a library? If you are a librarian, how do you find authors to feature?