Monday, April 22, 2019

Planning a Library "Con" or Pop-Culture Festival - Part 3: What Should the Con Consist Of?

Here is a list of things I personally feel (as someone who goes to about 5 pop culture conventions or festivals a year) every one of these events should have if at all possible:

  • A cosplay contest or showcase. No matter what type of convention you are hosting it's a chance to encourage people to show up in costumes that fit the theme. Our library's cosplay contest has very loose rules. 
    • Costumes can be store bought, hand made or a mix of both.
    • Costumes must fit the library dress code and be appropriate or a family friendly event. 
    • Props are welcome but all weapons must be clearly fake, and foam weapons are strongly preferred
      • All props must be checked by staff at the "peace banding" table where we put a zip tie around the item to show it's safe. 
    • There are 4 categories and each cosplayer may only sign up for one:
      • Kids ages 12 and under
      • Teens ages 13-17
      • Adults 18 and older
      • Groups. Must be 2-6 people max.
    • No skits are allowed, it's a walk-on presentation only. 
    • Judges are usually invited local cosplayers, special guests or staff members who were not involved in planning the event. We have found 4 judges to be optimal. 
  • A guest author of some kind. 
    • They don't have to be mega famous, and you can do it via Skype (which is much cheaper or even free in a lot of cases) but if your budget allows this, authors are always a HUGE draw. 
  • For an all ages convention, at least one craft for kids and an ongoing activity.
    • Story times are awesome, especially if the presenter is in costume.
    • Lego building is awesome too, and doesn't require a lot of setup or supervision from staff.
    • Some kind of scavenger hunt, drawing or coloring contest to keep the kiddies entertained for a good chunk of time. 
  • Some kind of interactive panel where people can win something. 
    • Trivia is great for this and can be done in a ton of ways. We've done name that tune style ones, Kahoot ones, pub quiz ones and more.
Other things that are cool to include:
  • Photo op areas with interesting backgrounds or props.
  • Special guests who are pros or semi-pros in their fields, such as well known cosplayers, local artists who do superhero or comics, voice actors etc.
  • A cosplay repair station somewhere in the building. 
  • Tabletop and card gaming areas featuring weird games you have at your library.
  • Demos from local historical re-enactors or live action role play groups. 
  • Panels on cosplay construction
  • Believe it or not, slide shows and presentations from staff members who have traveled to or lived in in Japan or Korea have been MASSIVELY popular for us. 
Of course these are just some of my personal ideas. The great thing about these types of programs is that the sky is very much the limit for what can go into your programming for the day. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

Planning a Library "Con" or Pop-Culture Festival - Part 2: "Ok, So... Where Do I Start?

I suppose the first place to start is deciding what type of convention you want to host. Will you focus on pop culture in general? Anime? Comics? Sci-Fi? Will it be an all-ages event or will you be using it to try and attract a specific demographic? And how can you use the convention to promote your library, and most importantly, your library's services to the type of people who are likely to attend?

Start by reaching out to your entire staff and asking the simple question of whether or not they identify as part of geek culture and what Fandoms they are into. Staff is your easiest resource when it comes to ideas for panels and activities at your event, and you may be surprised at who comes forward.

Yes, your teen librarian is probably going to know a thing or two about anime or comics, but maybe the very buttoned up reference librarian is secretly a fierce and rabid Tolkien fan who might be able to host a killer pub quiz on all things LOTR (Lord of the Rings, for the uninitiated). Maybe the quiet guy from Periodicals has been collecting StarWars figurines since they were 5 and has a completely KILLER collection of items that would make an amazing display piece (under lock and key of course!). Maybe that fashionable new girl in circulation is an absolutely amazing seamstress who could do a teaching panel about how to read patterns, or basic sewing tips for beginning cosplayers. (BTW, I work with all 3 of the aforementioned people, and would never have known they had these skills had I not mined their brains for purposes of this program!)

Then, once you know the secret talents and strengths of the geekiest of your staffers, expand your circle of geekery to your volunteers. These are people who not only are likely to have cool hidden talents and fandom preferences, but also people who ALREADY love to help the library and might have some free time to dedicate to your endeavor.

Once you have secured help from within, it's time to head out into your town to find local businesses that might be interested in helping you with your event. Local comic book shops, gaming lounges, or anime stores are obvious places to go to, but think outside the box here too. Would a small local cafe want to sell themed treats to your guests? Would the local craft store be able to do a sewing teach or a jewelry making teach geared at a specific fandom? Would the party supply place down the street be willing to lend or donate masks or other items for a cosplay photo booth? Do you know a local photographer who might volunteer their time to take pictures or do so for a discounted fee? We have been lucky to partner up with all the aforementioned types of businesses in the past, and now, in our 6th year they are coming to us to ask if they can be vendors at our event.

Last but not least, hit social media to seek out local fan groups who are looking to recruit new members at an even such as the one you are planning. Do you have a chapter of the Madalorian Mercs, the Society for Creative Anachronism, Ghost Busters, or other historical reenactment groups? Do you have a group of local fiddlers who might enjoy dressing up as wizards, or jedis or whatever and playing a set for guests? Where are the local theater groups, the local live action role players, the local Dungeons and Dragons masters, the writer's societies, the artists guilds? No matter how small your town is there is always a group or two of aficionados of SOMETHING that would be interested in reaching a larger audience. It never hurts to ask them to take part.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Planning a Library "Con" or Pop-Culture Festival - Part 1: Why Do We Do It?

May 4th 2019 will mark the 6th year my library system has hosted a LibraryCon. Our particular event always coincides with Free Comic Book Day, mainly because when we first launched the event, getting free comic books was the major "draw" for the community.
Our city does offer its own festival of Geek culture, but we honestly feel ours is better, for a few reasons. First, ours is free while the city sponsored event costs $12 per person for a one day convention.

Yes, $12 is cheap when compared to the big, big conventions, like San Diego (up to $66 dollars per day and nearly impossible to get), Wonder Con (about the same as San Diego) or even the Phoenix one (our state capital, which is actually pretty "cheap" at $75 for the whole weekend) but when you consider that our county has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, and many households have multiple children, that's pretty cost prohibitive for families with kids.

Second, community feedback tells us that the city convention has been declining in "bang for your buck" recently. Up until last year, the convention had been planned and run by city employees, including a couple of people who have worked for our library district before or since. They were able to bring a pretty good mix of vendors, panels and entertainment to the event. Actually, the first two years the city convention was held, our library participated with panels and booths. In fact, the last year we participated we provided the event its entire complement of child-appropriate attractions.  As of last year though, the city contracted the convention out to a third party and the decline was immediate.  Our governing board decided that our library could no longer participate in any event that charged an admissions fee, even if it was something as small as $1. This took us out of participating in the city convention, as well as our local Renaissance Faire and a variety of other events we had participated in previously.

Consequently, the city convention lost just about all of its child-friendly components. Feedback after last year's event was that there were very few panels, and the convention mostly consisted of a lot of vendors and people milling around in Cosplay taking pictures with not much else to do.

Finally, considering that this thing is basically planned by two people (myself and one of our reference Librarians) we have a much wider variety of programming to offer than the city convention. Offerings at our convention have included a Cosplay Contest (virtually mandatory for a convention of this type no matter WHERE it is held), guest authors, guest artists, Virtual Reality demonstrations, 3D printing and other technology demonstrations, children's story times led by "special guest" characters, skits, trivia contests, art shows, crafts and more.

So basically, the reason we host a convention (aside from showcasing our beautiful facility and all the cool stuff we offer our community) is that our community really wants and needs a free, fun, all-day geekfest for the entire family that gives them an opportunity to experience the library in a completely new and interesting way. Even the people who wander in not knowing the event is happening tell us they are amazed at how cool and interesting it is, and how glad they are they stumbled upon it.
But mostly, we do it because we're geeks. We're proud to be geeks, and GEEKS RULE ALL!