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Volume 16, No. 5 • July/August 2002
• Cover Story •
Throwing a Party to Meet All of Our Patrons' Needs
by Lisa Lavoie

Every August, the librarians at Tunxis Community College in Farmington, Connecticut, gather to corroborate on an interesting party theme for the campus community in celebration of the upcoming fall semester. Working at a small suburban campus that serves approximately 7,000 full- and part-time students each semester affords us the opportunity to invite the entire campus community to our parties. Our director, Judith Markiewicz, not only encourages staff to be creative in the design of the party theme, but also inspires us to the next level—and finds the funding to pay for our inspirations! The cost of the parties is covered by what we call "discretionary funds," representing monies accrued through small donations to the library and book sales held throughout the year.

We see our library parties as a way of not only garnering collegial spirit, but also of innovatively sharing the newest and most exciting acquisitions and services of the library. In the fall of 2001, we hosted a Maslow's Needs Hierarchy Party, based on sociologist Abraham Maslow's famous pyramid-shaped hierarchy of basic human needs—as well as on the library's mission statement: "We make your life easier." When we looked at Maslow's list of required needs—which begins with food, drink, and shelter and moves up to safety and comfort; belongingness and friendship; self-esteem and recognition; the need to know and understand; the desire to explore art, literature, and nature; and finally the culminating human process of self-actualization—we librarians knew that, with a trip to the Tunxis Library, our patrons would find them all!

Need Anything? It's in the Bag!
We decided to make the party and all its accoutrements based on a white, clinical theme. We were, after all, clinicians in a veritable spa of services. Extolling our virtues as "the place where all your needs are met," we sent personalized invitations to 250 members of the campus community, including the college president, deans, administrators, full- and part-time faculty, college staff, maintenance and janitorial crew, and the cafeteria workers, to come to the party because, as the invitations read, "You BELONG here!" The invitations were white prescription bags decorated with a graphic of Maslow's pyramid of needs stapled to the outside.

Each bag included a white stress ball imprinted with our library mission statement, a custom-made white fortune cookie with a library-oriented quote inside (e.g., "I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library" ­Jorge Luis Borges), a white candle, a poem by U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins ("Reading Myself to Sleep"), white candies, a white pen, and our own home-designed Tunxis Library bookmarks (which were, of course, white!). The stress balls were easy to come by, as the Internet is rife with sites featuring discount advertising novelties. We chose Garrett Specialties as our vendor ( and purchased 250 balls at $1.25 each. We felt we hit the jackpot with the fortune cookies, which we also found on the Internet, as they were fresh, individually wrapped, and delicious. The vendor, Fancy Fortune Cookies (, creates them in many different flavors and colors (FYI, white is coconut), and for approximately $100 you can get 200 cookies. For a small additional cost, you can select up to five different fortunes to be inserted into the cookies.

The cost for the entire booty of goodies in each bag was offset to a great extent by the willingness of library staff members to spend their own time and ingenuity in either designing the bag contents and invitations or in finding cheap novelties to insert—all of which were based loosely on the various components of Maslow's list, as well as on our innate need to show our invitees that we care. The fortune cookies and candies represented the "food" tier of Maslow's pyramid, the stress balls were the "comfort" tier, the pens and candles met Maslow's "friendship" need, and the poem was included as fulfillment of the "literary" need. Really, all the contents of the bags were accumulated to make their recipients feel special and recognized by the library staff (which represents Maslow's level on "self-esteem and recognition"!).

A week before the party, we librarians took early-morning turns delivering the bags to each person's desk or doorway; the personalization on each one made it easy to ensure that no one was left out. The students were invited via two large posters that we designed to look like the party invitations and placed on easels. We placed one in the main lobby of the college and the other on the sidewalk outside the library.

Creating the Right Party Atmosphere
Over the years, the library staff has developed a reputation for doing whatever it takes to make a party festive. For the Maslow's Party, we wore white lab coats, festooned the library with white balloons and white tablecloths and napkins, made coffee flavored with white chocolate and French vanilla, rented a white champagne fountain (we used Sprite), and served a large white cake that read, "At the Tunxis Library, You Can Have Your Cake And Eat It Too!" We also had a creative variety of white foods baked and bought by staff in friendly competition, such as white popcorn, white cheese and crackers, white cookies, white doughnuts, white sandwiches, and white brownies. Librarians worked as caterers, taking turns serving, replenishing, and hosting. We played environmental and new age music and added water sculptures to create the sight and sound of the event. And white twinkle lights abounded.

For those party attendees who felt the library might have missed anything, staff created a white box labeled, "Write Your Needs and Drop Them Off Here!" and left a white pen and paper beside it. Several humorous notes were dropped into the box, all in good fun, but predominantly based on the individual's need for love and romance (as well as various other needs more prurient). We offered answers for that need in our bestseller collection! In fact, books representing each level of Maslow's hierarchy were labeled according to the various needs from the pyramid and showcased.

In a theme-based party such as this, the focus was on meeting the needs of the patron, and none of us (however exhausted) strayed from that concept from start to finish. In the pre-party housecleaning, we put our newest and most unusual offerings in the party set-ups—little areas of food surrounded by the latest bestsellers and books on tape; a champagne fountain bedecked by books on love, romance, and relationships; a coffee setup neatly organized around books about friendship and self-esteem; etc.

Reaping the Rewards of Our Success
Our reputation for hosting great parties paid off with the Maslow's Party, as almost everyone we invited attended the 2-hour afternoon event. We knew this by some in-house tallying as guests from each department arrived—usually together. When a department was missing, we phoned! It may be the free food, or the humorous pre-party e-mails we send, but people do arrive in droves and stay for the duration.

Our circulation goes way up during these parties and in the weeks immediately following. This is apparent by the wide, empty spaces created on the display shelves, the stack of registration applications for new library cards, and the increase in walk-through traffic by staff and faculty who needle us for "what's new" in the library. We become an intellectual cafe and a happening place, and even faculty and staff who have been office recluses start finding their way back to us. It is a purely social event, despite our subliminal advertising of new acquisitions, and people do look forward to seeing what we will cook up each time.

Though we host our big event each fall, we drop everything whenever a party opportunity knocks. Past celebrations have included the Faculty Survival Kits Party (based on the TV show Survivor), the French Café Party (a paean to books and coffee), the College Authors Party (which was a formal, black-tie affair celebrating any Tunxis staff or faculty member who has published anything), and the We Look Different Party wherein we used furniture rearrangement in the library as the inspiration to have a costume party. Our unique events not only draw in the masses, but they also give us a means of breaking a few traditional librarian stereotypes: Here, people can talk in the library, be loud, eat, drink, and not see a single librarian wearing a button-down sweater or orthotic shoes.

The students enter the library parties warily at first; when they see the librarians out of their traditional places, wearing unusual costuming, and noshing and toasting with their professors, there is a slight hesitance to join the fray. It does not take long, however, for the scent of coffee and various sweets to coax even the most timid students to join us, and the librarians will deliver coffee and cake to those students studying in the carrels and at the study tables. It only takes the visual of a few students mixing it up with the college staff to lure other students walking by the library or within the library to join the party—with or without the large posters as invitations. Though the student population at the Maslow's Party ranged from 50 to 60 students, we have a gut feeling that those students will spread the word that the Tunxis Library does, indeed, rock. Our greatest advertisement is word of mouth.

Continuing to Meet Patrons' Needs Well into the Future
We are already starting to think about this fall and possible themes we can play upon to posit our maxim that the library is not only an information resource for our patrons, but also a place to have fun and socialize. And already we are getting silly thinking about costume ideas. So far, we have on the table a Come to the Library Where Everybody Knows Your Name party, based on the television show Cheers; an Evolution party with an ape/caveman theme; and a Get Lucky in the Library! party, where the slogan alone would be sure to get the college community's attention (though of course we mean "luck" as in "superstitions": black cats, mirrors, ladders, etc.).

All in all, the library staff has as much fun designing parties as it does being at the events themselves, and the requisite return on investment (our patrons' compliments, the chance to strut our excellent stuff, and the increased circulation in books and traffic) is always worth the financial cost and staff sweat equity. Faculty, staff, students, administration, and community users get to relax and celebrate the warmth and goodwill of the librarians and to revel in a world of books, friends, and coffee ... and the library staff, well, we just love to show off just how serious we are in making our users' lives not only easier, but also richer.

Postscript: Tunxis Community College will be doubling the size of its campus in the next 3 years, with a new, larger library as the architectural centerpiece. We are already imagining what interesting cultural events we'll be able to host in the new space, with its small art galleries and comfortable public meeting areas, and we can already hear the hissing of the cappuccino machines in our new cafe—ensuring that we continue to draw in the college community and to meet its every need.

Lisa Lavoie is an information services librarian at Tunxis Community College in Farmington, Connecticut. She holds an M.L.S. from Southern Connecticut State University and is working toward her Ed.D. at the University of Hartford. Her e-mail address is

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