3 January 2022
Crowd at Fall Fest

Pandemic Programming – Baby Goats, Churros, and Pumpkins

Like many public libraries, the Lisle Library District has been challenged to provide new, primarily outdoor events for our community in response to the pandemic. Annual inside pre-pandemic events had included Harry Potter Day and Star Wars Reads Day – both of which entailed a full house of hundreds of patrons enjoying treats, crafts, and games. Now, with large inside events on indefinite hiatus, the time had come to try a new outside event or two in addition to the Summer Read Kick Off event which has traditionally been held in the parking lot.

The result was LLD’s first-ever Fall Fest held in 2021! Since September brings Library Card Sign-Up Month, we wanted to offer an event where people could sign up for, or renew, their library cards while enjoying a festive evening outside with safety protocols in place. Staff involved in the planning and implementation of Fall Fest included Adult Services Director Elizabeth Hopkins, Adult Services Programming Librarian Xavier Duran, Youth Services Director Will Savage, and LLD’s Assistant Director Beth McQuillan.

Initial brainstorming yielded the following ideas: baby goats, churros, and pumpkins – all of which became central to the event. The distribution of tasks included the following:

  • Xavier booked the Churros Y Chocolate food truck and the petting zoo
  • Elizabeth acted as the central point person for Fall Fest. She coordinated with all Library departments to make sure tasks were evenly distributed and the event was fully staffed
  • Will and Youth Services staff developed a seasonal craft for kids
  • Beth assisted with decorations including hay bales, mums, and pumpkins
  • Fall Fest was publicized on social media, the print newsletter, email blasts, Patch, the Daily Herald, and with flyers and posters throughout the Library

The most stressful part of planning a large outdoor event is, of course, the uncertainty of the weather and the inability to move things like a petting zoo inside, both logistically and due to Covid concerns. Unless the weather was hazardous, staff was prepared to proceed outside – even in rain. Fortunately, September 17th turned out to be quite warm – it felt like 90 degrees, especially during the setup period before the event began at 5:00 p.m. Another difficulty was that vendors were in high demand and it took quite a while to hear back from them to confirm their attendance.

When asked what surprised her the most about the event, Elizabeth said, “The 650 people who showed up! Truly I was shocked by the attendance. I was expecting 400-500 people, which is our average for large Summer Read events.” Xavier was also surprised by the attendance, “It was absolutely larger than expected. We contracted for 350 churros and we blew through that quickly. Luckily, the vendor was able to make more.” For Elizabeth, the best part of Fall Fest was that, “We noticed a lot of friend groups and extended families meeting up at Fall Fest for a Friday “night out” together. That was especially memorable for me.” Xavier enjoyed “the baby cows, churros, and the unexpectedly large crowd.

Things to keep in mind for the next Fall Fest include preparing for likely high attendance by offering more activities in order to distribute the crowd more evenly and shorten waiting times. Building on the success of Fall Fest, the Library held a primarily outside Winter Read Kick-Off Party on December 3rd with a reindeer petting zoo, hot chocolate, crafts, and more. Patrons were able to go into the meeting rooms to sign up for Winter Read and to browse some winter-themed materials, but the bulk of the activities and people were happily outside in the parking lot. Attendance for Winter Read was also surprisingly high at 600 attendees.

The popularity of recent outdoor events like Fall Fest and the Winter Read Kick-Off Party demonstrates that demand is strong for family-friendly programming held outside, even in fall and early winter, and that these events offer a great way to bring the community together at the Library.