Geek on the Cheap

Programming low-budget, geek-friendly events for teens

June 27, 2016

Batman Day masks
DC Comics made free masks available to venues that hosted Batman Day parties last September.

Successful geek programming for teens can be a costly endeavor. But there are shortcuts.

At Geeky Programming on a Ramen Noodle Budget, Sarah Bean Thompson, youth services manager, and Valerie Bogert, young adult librarian at Springfield-Greene County (Mo.) Library discussed how their small library stretched dollars to create vibrant events for their young geek patrons without sacrificing quality.

Thomson and Bogert work with a very small annual programming budget—only $700 for an entire youth services department—but they’ve learned how to get maximize results from minuscule funds. Pre-planning, flexibility, and thoroughness are essential, they said.

They stressed the need to know your audience’s tastes. If a library is going to engage in geek programming, librarians must know the ins and outs of the geek world. If they don’t, they’ll quickly lose credibility with the kids. Use surveys, both online and on whiteboards, to find out if your teen patrons are Doctor Who fans, Star Wars geeks, or what comic books they’re reading. They also suggested keeping abreast of upcoming films, TV shows, publishing themes, manga, anime, and online stars.

Colleagues can be the best resources, they agreed. Reach out to any geek-friendly staff members—they may be able to provide extra guidance or even host specific geek events.

Once your audience has been established, there are many avenues that can be taken to find cheap (or free) geek-related stuff for your events. Publisher websites, fandom sites, and birthday party blogs often offer free downloads of materials or offers for free buttons and other swag. Teen Services Underground, YALSA, and Teen Library Toolbox offer valuable party-planning tips as well. Thomson and Bogart also suggested reaching out to local businesses to donate food and services for your events.

Flexibility is key to successful geek programming on the cheap, they said. A Star Trek-themed night might be nice, but if there’s only one or two fans at your library, event turnout will be low. Thompson and Bogart said that broad themes like a Marvel Comics night or crossover events like a Doctor Who vs. Sherlock Holmes party can draw bigger audiences.

Thompson and Bogart rounded out their talk by presenting several of their library’s success stories. These events, ranging from a Batman Day and a Tolkien Fest to a large geek con and a cosplay prom, cost very little to produce but reaped major rewards, both for patrons who were able to enjoy their favorite fandoms in the library and staff who learned how to program for pennies.


Desiree Alexander and Valerie Tagoe

Programs for Diverse Teens

Entertaining session gives pointers on how to give teens control and make them feel invested in their libraries