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Programming: Passive Programs


Passive programs are wonderful programs for libraries that have limited staff time or budgets for programming. They are informal and interactive events that occur over the course of a predetermined day, week, or month. The beauty of passive programming is that everyone who walks through the door is encouraged to participate. There is no registration required, and the set-up can be as minimal or fancy as you decide.

Programs can be themed around upcoming events and holidays like Valentine’s Day, the Olympics, or National Library Week, but you can also create your own themes that tie in with storytime or other library activities such as the summer reading program, community sports teams, or topics of interest. The main goal is to encourage kids to come to the library for more than books and movies, and to offer an out-of-the-box experience.

Babies and Children

Rubik'S Cube, Cube, Puzzle, Colors, Game, RubikGuessing jars: Fill a jar with beads or candy and encourage people to guess how many of the objects are in the jar by writing the number and their name down on a piece of paper. The jar can be set near the checkout desk so that all kids can participate while their parents are checking out materials. Winners may get to keep the jar full of candy or get their picture hung up on a bulletin board.

Voting Jars: Kids can drop a bead or token into a jar to vote for their favorite movie character, musical instrument, or animal. After one week, the library can share the results.

Out-of-the-Jar: Students can pick titles out of a jar when they “don’t know what to read.” Slips can even be color-coded to correspond with genre (green for mystery, yellow for adventure, etc.). Other similar programs include writing down a list of Dewey decimal numbers and having the kids find a title in that number range to check out, or having fun reading challenges on each slip. For example, kids may be challenged to read a book that starts with the letter R or that has an orange cover.

Craft Corners: Librarians can gather up coloring sheets and old craft supplies and allow kids to create from their imagination. Kids can design their own bookmarks or create holiday gifts for loved ones; the sky is the limit. This mini-makerspace is an excellent way to use up supplies from past programs and engage the creative side of younger patrons. 

Toddler Play: Transform a simple table into a play corner with bubbles, playdough, egg shakers, scarves, and puzzles. This allows kids and parents to make new friends at the library.

Search-and-Find: This includes scavenger hunts, iSpy games, and trivia in the library. Simply hide a picture of a puppet or popular character in a new place every week and have the kids report back where they find it. Children will look forward to searching for their friend every time they come to the library. ISpy bulletin boards take this same concept and amplify it by using knick-knacks found around the library to disguise the actual items they are searching for. Make sure to have a legend or guide of what they are looking for to alleviate frustration.

Checkout Project: There has been a growing trend in passive programming to create something with each book checked out. For example, for every five books checked out, a patron may receive a Lego brick to add to a Lego wall or a rubber band to add to a rubber band ball. Over the course of a month, patrons and staff can watch the growth of circulated items.


undefinedPassive programs allow teens to engage with the library on their own terms. Here are a few ideas to engage teens using passive programming:

March Madness: Pit books against each other in a bracket, and encourage patrons tovote on their favorites. As the winners move on, the competition will get more fierce until one book wins the prize. Voting can be online using social media, in-person in the form of tally marks on the bracket itself, or any other way you choose.

Craft Corner: The more crafty teens may appreciate stealth programming in the form of a coloring table with coloring sheets, rocks, and other medium to decorate. If you’re looking to encourage more participation, create a bookmark design contest. Patrons can submit a drawing of their bookmark, and the winner’s bookmark will be printed and given out to library patrons. This is a great way to increase involvement in summer reading programs and other themes throughout the year.

Perler Beads: Perler beads are small, colorful beads that are placed on a plastic template and then melted together using an iron to create fun objects that can be transformed into magnets, keychains, and more.

Minute-to-Win-It: If your library is in the mood for some healthy competition, dedicate an area of the library to minute-to-win-it type challenges. Contestants have 60 seconds to complete a challenge such as stacking cups into a pyramid, tossing rings around bottles, or transferring marshmallows into a new cup using chopsticks. The options are endless, and games can be found in bulk on the internet. These programs need little supervision as long as the instructions are posted. With rotating games, patrons will begin to look forward to a new challenge. 


Bussola, East, Nord, Sud, Ovest, Compass RoseFor adults, it’s important to show that the library is more than just a quick errand to run when they need a new book; here are a  a few passive programs adults:

Social Media Hunt: Hide an object or picture somewhere in your library and give out clues to those that interact with your social media posts or who ask for a hint at your information desk. This is simple to set up and many libraries offer a small prize (waive fines or extended DVD checkouts) to winners. You can also expand this program to nearby businesses or parks. When patrons discover your hidden item, they simply have to tell the librarian where it is to earn their prize.

Geocaching: This is a level up from scavenger hunts—consider creating a library geocache location. Geocaching is a popular pastime where participants use GPS and latitude/ longitude coordinates to find hidden caches. Create a cache box and register it on to increase foot-traffic near your library. (Note: traditional caches cannot be indoors, so it is best to start with an outdoor cache near your library.)

Games and puzzles: Provide board games, puzzles, coloring sheets, mind benders, Sudoku, crossword puzzles, and other word games in the reading room. Adults waiting for children to find their books can sit down and relax, and patrons that are using the library for reading materials or internet access may take some time to unwind in a comfortable environment.

Question of the Week: One way to increase community interaction in the form of a passive program is to hang up a whiteboard or butcher paper on a wall with a question written on it. Encourage your users to respond to the question, draw a related picture, or react to another’s answer. 

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Many of these resources and programs are funded under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.