No Magic Trick

I have a new gig (as the Head of Youth Services at La Grange Public Library). But before I left my old gig (Lisle Library District), I agreed to do a program for the adult services department on duct tape. I didn't think much about it until about a week before the program actually came up. I mean, really. I've been programming for years (let's say over a decade) for kids. How different could it be to do a simple old craft program with adults? To quote Tina Fey, I breezed in "With the blithe confidence of a moron."

Well, turns out programming for adults is actually kinda different.

Here's the reason I work with kids: they are at the most enthusiastic part of life, and that is so much fun to be around and find ways to support. While you will occasionally bump into resistance when it comes to trying new things, kids will usually go with it. If something's not working, kids don't judge you too harshly. You just switch tactics and they're okay with it.

I walked in expecting pretty much the same attitude to that adult program, and it didn't go quite like that.

The patrons seemed happy enough to be there. We were making a Duct Tape Magic Wallet, and there were about 40 people there. I'd had the foresight to create a powerpoint with the step by step instructions up on the projector so nobody would get too lost, and people also had directions at the tables. The thing that struck me the most was that everybody was afraid to get it wrong. At the end of the program, even if it was a little ugly, everybody would have a magic wallet. They would have learned a little design trick that they could show a friend. At some point, I felt the energy of the room was kind of "cramped", for lack of a better word. I reminded everybody that there that nobody would fail the program, that there are no grades at the end. They chuckled and kept going, but only by walking around and encouraging folks on what they were trying to do did they eventually loosen up. If a step didn't go perfectly, or I didn't explain it "properly", it tended to lock people up. 

A million things can make a program go off the rails. It may have been an off day, or might have been the wrong kind of program for the audience. It's hard to program without knowing your community, and though I'd worked at that library for 5 years, I couldn't have said that I really knew the adult population, just the kids. Looking back, here's what I think I'd have done differently:

* Limit to a smaller group. 40 adults is just too many for something so detailed. If we'd been doing an open art project or something, then it would have been fine for a larger group.

* Left an example on each table. This goes against all of my feelings toward process oriented art for kids, but for adults trying to create a very specific project, it's okay.

* Set the tone for the program right away as something just fun. When people get frustrated by something tricky, they have to redirect themselves. Let them know it's okay to mess up and try again. 

And that's sort of what tinkering and making is all about. It's not about being perfect and getting it done right the first time. We make our way toward understanding and eventually, that tricky little design makes sense.