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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » The little darlings » » Tips from a Librarian (1 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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pickin_grinnin
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I'm not sure if this will be useful to anyone, but thought I might post it just in case someone can get some benefit from it. It's adapted from a set of general tips that I give new children's performers who have approached me in my role as a library director (and hence a potential client for them).

Librarians - typically Library Directors and Children's Librarians - usually get approached by hordes of children's performers each year. Hundreds, sometimes (I'm not kidding). The "approaches" are typically done via mail or email, which is really the best way to communicate with most librarians outside of your home town. Phone calls are generally not encouraged; in fact, many of us won't accept cold calls, by phone or in person. If we did, we'd spend half our time on the phone listening to pitches.

When I'm approached by a magician, I generally want to know up front:

1) How much the show costs, including travel.
2) How long it is.
3) What age group it is designed for (for family shows, what the best minimum age would be).
4) If there is an upcoming performance I could come watch.
5) For those who primarily do Gospel Magic, whether or not they will have trouble adapting their show to a secular one with no moral lessons or mentions of anything religious.

If all of that fits our needs, I'm willing to talk more and look into possibly hiring the performer. Those are my "gatekeeper" questions. Public schools, churches, and other venues often have different ones, or are looking for different answers. For example, schools typically want an educational component, and churches often want a moral lesson to be taught. I primarily just look for programs that kids will enjoy and that will make them want to come back for other programs.

When it comes to advertising materials, I generally want to get a sense of what types of tricks the magician does (in a very general way), what type of persona (s)he uses (if applicable), and other basic things that will give me a sense of the general flavor of the show. It doesn't need to be extensive, but I need more information than "I am a children's magician" with no other descriptive text. Believe it or not, I get a lot of those.

I don't care whether I get information from a letter, an email, or a website. At the very least, though, I want to see a picture of the magician as (s)he will appear in the show. A video is even better - it doesn't have to be a long one, just a short segment in front of a group of children so I can see how well the magician interacts with them. I would rather hire someone who is great with kids but has mediocre magic skills than the reverse. If I have dozens of possible entertainers, I'm going to check out the ones with actual performance videos first.

There are a lot of benefits that can come from public library shows. Magicians that do them end up in front of a crowd of parents who may want to hire them for birthday parties or other events. Since it can be hard to find children's entertainers who do a really good job with the kids, it's not uncommon for a library to hire a good one over and over again, and to enthusiastically spread the word to other libraries in the area. Children's librarians in particular trade performer names quite frequently. Unlike birthday parties, libraries are more controlled environments - they tend to hire performers more often than schools do, but the kids tend to be more restrained than they would be in an environment where they are hopped up on birthday cake sugar and antsy to go play in a bounce house.

In my area (Dallas-Fort Worth) the going rate for most public library shows is $200-300 for 45 minutes, give or take a little. Spring Break and summer are the two biggest hiring seasons, but many libraries also hire performers on and off throughout the year.

When I hire a performer, I generally ask for some descriptive text and at least one good picture (digital) that I can use on advertising materials and on the library website. I also ask about what we need to supply in the way of tables, chairs, etc., and what configuration to put them in. I always make sure to ask how much space the performer needs (in all directions) and how far back the children need to sit so we can put blue tape line down in the right place. I also want to know how much setup time the performer needs, so I can have everything in place before then. If you get a library gig and the librarian doesn't ask you these things, I would strongly recommend volunteering the information.

Some library regions have "performers showcases" once a year. When I was a Children's Librarian I used to attend one in my area every year. They typically let each performer get on stage for 10-15 minutes to pitch and demonstrate their programs. A lot of the performers ended up filling their entire summer booking schedules over the course of that single day. They don't have those sorts of showcases everywhere, but if they do in your area it would be worth looking into.

When it comes to looking for children's performers in general, librarians have to consider how many people are likely to show up for the event. I am an experienced storyteller, and have done performances in a wide variety of situations (including overseas), but I'll be the first to admit that storytellers are the least likely to draw a big crowd of kids in a public library and are the most common type of performer. Since many librarians are experienced storytellers, too, they are often competing against the idea of simply having a staff member do the show. Capable magicians who work well with children are much harder to find, though, and tend to draw in better crowds, so in a sense they are more "valuable" in some instances when there is a limited number of performance slots to fill. I'm not sure if that is the case everywhere, but I suspect it is.

In general, the important thing to stress when making a pitch for a gig at a library is how well you do working with kids.
Dynamike
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That is a great lecture. Thanks for sharing.
danfreed
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Thank you very much.
Danny Kazam
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What about fitting a theme? I would think most librarians would be interrested in a magic show around a specific theme, or at least one that would encourage children to use their local library more, and read more books. I know in my area, libraries are not as popular as they once were. I have performed for several library fundraisers that requested I do something relating to reading books, and using the library. I have created two shows just for that. Libraries are not a big draw where I am from. Not to sound conceded, but libraries need us more than we need them. Library shows themselves don't pay very well, but fundraisers for libraries pay pretty good. This is my experience.
Keep your dreams alive. Understand to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hard work, determination, and dedication. Remember all things are possible for those who believe.
TommyJ
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Thanks for taking the time to share this info Smile
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harris
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Harris Deutsch
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Tips from a performer:

You may have a regional Library Association.

They of course are interested in the great stuff above.

You just have to get it to fewer places.

An example is Mid-Continent Library System, has 29 branches in my area.

Harris
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Bazinga
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As someone who was doing 70+ library shows for several years (I'm not working as much now due to health,) I can say that pickin_grinnin's, Danny Kazam's and Harris's posts are right on the money. There's a library performers course that was being sold for around 100 bucks a few years ago. Those posts boiled most of it down to the main points for free.

In my area, the theme is paramount. Some will hire you without it, but not 70+ every year. I'd also add that the easier you can make it for the staff, the more they'll appreciate you. Moving furniture, sweeping the floor, and of course having everything you need and not making them get things for you all go along way.

One more thing: Some librarians, especially those who have been there a long time, are VERY set in their ways. If they want to talk first, let them even if you have the greastes prerecorded show beginning that doesn't work well with that. I made that mistake one year and am out of that 3-library system until that person is gone. You've got to be flexible and let them tell you how things are going to be. I lost two libraries because I won't work outside. They loved my show and accomodated me twice each but it's hard for them to find an indoor space large enough so they can't have me back. Sadly, I know for sure that they cancel without rescheduling if there's bad weather on the show day because they insist to be outside.

Oh, yeah, and you have to have a good show.

This is the best thread I've read here in a while. Thank you pickin_grinnin for getting it started.

Bazinga!
harris
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Good Stuff here.

Read and learn...and do....
Harris Deutsch aka dr laugh
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Mr. Pitts
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David Pitts
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Hey Pickin Grinnin', thanks! This is pure gold. As a library performer myself (here in Texas too) I spend a lot of time trying to build this market. Letting us in on what you look for as a librarian is priceless.

Danny, I do think libraries as a market for entertainers varies a lot from region to region, but here in Texas it's a very big deal for children's entertainers. Working to build a good relationship and reputation among children's and youth librarians can bring a good performer many good paying shows every summer, so it's nothing to sneeze at.

Here in San Antonio and across this region they seem to be pretty healthy and have good user-ship. Every library show I've performed over the last few years has just been packed, so people do still love their library.

I have noticed less and less interest on the part of librarians in the 'theme', at least here in Texas, especially since we no longer have our own Texas theme. I'm picking up on what you said, Pickin, about just bringing something unique and entertaining to the kids, something that will bring them in.
David Pitts
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harris
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Harris Deutsch
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Another tip from a performer...

If you have low attendance due to

A. Town fishing derby on the same day
B. To good of weather
C. To bad weather like snow or rain storm that did not close the library

Don't phone the show in.

I have played to 5 people during a rain storm.

The librarian was extremely pleased with my work, stating some performers had blamed the library when attendance is low.

Another tip..Don't get there 5 minutes before show time.
Librarians don't like to be nervous.

Harris
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Michael Baker
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Pickin_grinnin, welcome to The Magic Café! Thanks for starting this thread. Many people should benefit from it.

To the others here in general... Regarding themes - By my experience, all libraries appreciate at least some good reference to reading, benefits of using a library, etc. (I work some of that into my own shows). But mostly, they want a quality show. sadly, I've seen plenty of performers who stick to a theme like glue, but the shows don't captivate the kids... or the librarians.

Again regarding themes, what is the general opinion here on specific themes for that year's summer reading program? Typically, there will be an umbrella theme such as "Dig into Reading", where their programs center on say, archeological expeditions. "Reading Round-up", "Under the Big To with Books", etc. are those types of themes.

How many change their shows each year to fit those themes? I never did, although many in my area would. I never noticed any difference in the business that I did, which was quite a lot in my area.
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Danny Kazam
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What about fitting a theme? I would think most librarians would be interrested in a magic show around a specific theme, or at least one that would encourage children to use their local library more, and read more books. I know in my area, libraries are not as popular as they once were. I have performed for several library fundraisers that requested I do something relating to reading books, and using the library. I have created two shows just for that. Libraries are not a big draw where I am from. Not to sound conceded, but libraries need us more than we need them. Library shows themselves don't pay very well, but fundraisers for libraries pay pretty good. This is my experience.
Keep your dreams alive. Understand to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hard work, determination, and dedication. Remember all things are possible for those who believe.
harris
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Pickin_grinnin

Gotta ask, what do you pick? Mandolin ...Guitar....ukulele....

Side note...other than magic magazines and books, would you consider yourself a current reader?

I know some don't use books anymore, in the age of iphones and kindles and tablets. (OH my with apologies to Lions and Tigers and Bears)

Harris
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Dynamike
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Arthur Stead sells a great disk dealing with how to build a theme on a topic with magic tricks.

Ken Scott has great library marketing material. Jim Kleefeld sells great library marketing material too: http://www.jimkleefeld.com/JWKbooks.html
Bazinga
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Quote:
On 2014-02-20 11:03, Michael Baker wrote:
To the others here in general... Regarding themes - By my experience, all libraries appreciate at least some good reference to reading, benefits of using a library, etc. (I work some of that into my own shows). But mostly, they want a quality show. sadly, I've seen plenty of performers who stick to a theme like glue, but the shows don't captivate the kids... or the librarians.

Excellent points Michael. As Harris said in another thread:
Quote:
On 2014-02-20 10:50, Harris wrote:
When we listen to our audiences, we grow.

Sometimes it can be very easy to rework a popular trick with a new routine to match the theme. And you are right on about referencing not just reading but using the library. Often the summer reading shows are rewards for the kids who participated in the summer program, but I think all the libraries I work for allow everyone attend. Sometimes our shows are the first introduction some kids have to a library, so we're in a position to really help the library there.

Bazinga!
pickin_grinnin
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>What about fitting a theme? I would think
>most librarians would be interrested in a
>magic show around a specific theme, or at
>least one that would encourage children to
>use their local library more, and read more books.

Themes are great. They can also make it easier to put up a relevant display of books outside the performance area, beyond a simple display of magic trick books.

Most of the magicians I have hired have made it a point to tell the kids that they learned some or all of their tricks from books, and told them to check out those displays.


>I know in my area, libraries are not
>as popular as they once were.

A lot depends on the area, the way the library is run, the income level of the patrons, etc. Many libraries have seen a real upsurge in usage during these hard economic times. The most successful ones have librarians who have learned to market themselves well, carry movies and games, and have worked to become community centers of a sort, rather than just places to check out books.

>Not to sound conceded, but libraries need
>us more than we need them. Library shows themselves
>don't pay very well, but fundraisers for libraries
>pay pretty good. This is my experience.

Just out of curiosity, what do they pay in your area?

Pay rate, popularity of the library, etc. can vary considerably, even within a limited geographic area. There is a library 10 miles from us that never hires performers because they barely have enough money to buy books. They don't have staff members who can do performances, either, so a LOT of their patrons come to our library for shows, events, and the Summer Reading program, while continuing to check out books there. Another library 15 miles in the other direction has multiple performances a week, because they have a talented staff AND the money to hire outside performers. That town is a rich enclave, while the other is from a tiny farming community.
pickin_grinnin
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>Some librarians, especially those who
>have been there a long time, are VERY
>set in their ways.

Absolutely. It's a real problem within the profession, to be honest.

Inflexible librarians can be a real drain on the libraries they work for, and are more common than they should be. As with all professions, you get certain personality types that tend to be drawn to the work (ex. authoritarian types often migrate to police work). In the past, library work tended to pull in people who were relatively quiet and liked routine. The nature of library work started to change in the 1970s, and the rate of change has accelerated ever since. You still get folks who have been around a long time who haven't learned to be flexible, and you still get some people who are drawn to the profession with those old attitudes. Luckily, there are a lot of library directors out there who have learned to watch for that sort of thing and address the problem directly (or not hire those people in the first place).

Since I have done a considerable amount of storytelling and other performances in libraries, schools, and other places over the past decade, I have the benefit of having experienced some of this from the performer's viewpoint. There are some places that I won't perform anymore because they are simply too uptight.

When I hire a performer, I generally do talk to the kids (very briefly) before the show. I mostly just say "remember to stay behind the blue line" and then tell them we have a great magician for the day and get them to clap. If a performer were more comfortable with not being introduced, though, I wouldn't do it. I trust our performers to be professionals who know what they're doing.
pickin_grinnin
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>Don't phone the show in.

>I have played to 5 people during a rain storm.

>The librarian was extremely pleased with my work, stating some performers had blamed the library when attendance is low.

That's an extremely good point. I know how disheartening it can be to have a small crowd, since I have experienced that when storytelling. A performer who remains professional and still puts everything into the show will really impress most librarians, many of whom do weekly storytimes and such themselves. We don't usually have small crowds, but when it has happened (mostly due to weather and such) and the performer still does a great show, I remember that, and make sure to hire that person again in the future. There are a lot of children's performers in general who don't alway act professional - those who do are like gold.
pickin_grinnin
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>Again regarding themes, what is the
>general opinion here on specific themes
>for that year's summer reading program?

Most libraries in Texas used to follow a theme established by the State Library, but that is starting to fall by the wayside (long story). A lot of the area performers would adapt their show each year to fit the theme, and some libraries really liked that. In the end, though, I think most of us have tended to hire whoever we think will most appeal to the kids. When the kids have a good time, they will want to visit the library more.
pickin_grinnin
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>Gotta ask, what do you pick?
>Mandolin ...Guitar....ukulele....

Banjo. Badly. Smile

>Side note...other than magic magazines
>and books, would you consider yourself
>a current reader?

I read a lot, on a wide variety of subjects. Most of what I read doesn't appear on bestseller lists, but I read constantly. At last count (about a year ago) I had roughly 2,000 books at home.

>I know some don't use books anymore, in the
>age of iphones and kindles and tablets.
>(OH my with apologies to Lions and Tigers and Bears)

When it comes to library patrons, I have found that even the ones who love ebooks also end up reading a lot of print books. I can't really speak for the general population, but the ones I see every day who are carrying kindles and iPads around generally also pick up print books, too, at least on occasion.
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