Planning a Library Con or Pop Culture Festival

Elia Juarez, Teen Services Manager, Yuma County Library District (AZ) /
Yuma LibraryCon VR

Yuma LibraryCon VR Demo. Photo courtesy Elia Juarez.

Originally published on Librarian Recommended, republished here with permission from the blogger, Elia Juarez.

We hosted our library’s sixth LibraryCon on May 4 (with over 650 attendees!), and each year, we’ve learned something new about planning a successful event. We’re pleased to meet the needs of our community with a free, fun, all-day geekfest for the entire family, and an opportunity for them to experience the library in a completely new and interesting way.

Where do I Start?

The first place to start is deciding what type of convention you want to host. Will you focus on pop culture in general? Anime? Comics? Sci-Fi? Will it be an all-ages event, or will you be using it to try and attract a specific demographic? And how can you use the convention to promote your library, and most importantly, your library's services, to the type of people who are likely to attend?

Start by reaching out to your entire staff and asking the simple question of whether or not they identify as part of geek culture and what fandom they are into. Staff are your best resource when it comes to ideas for panels and activities at your event, and you may be surprised at who comes forward with something to offer.

Yes, your teen librarian is probably going to know a thing or two about anime or comics, but maybe the very-buttoned-up reference librarian is secretly a fierce and rabid Tolkien fan who might be able to host a killer pub quiz on all things LOTR (Lord of the Rings, for the uninitiated). Maybe the quiet guy from Periodicals has been collecting Star Wars figurines since they were 5 and has a completely KILLER collection of items that would make an amazing display piece (under lock and key of course!). Maybe that fashionable new girl in circulation is an absolutely amazing seamstress who could teach a session on how to read patterns, or on basic sewing tips for beginning cosplayers. (BTW, I work with all three of the aforementioned people, and would never have known they had these skills had I not mined their brains for purposes of this program!)

Then, once you know the secret talents and strengths of the geekiest of your staffers, expand your circle of geekery to your volunteers. These are people who not only are likely to have cool hidden talents and fandom preferences, but also people who ALREADY love to help the library and might have some free time to dedicate to your endeavor.

Yuma LibraryCon Craft Area

Yuma LibraryCon Craft Area. Photo courtesy Elia Juarez.

Once you have secured help from within, it's time to head out into your town to find local businesses that might be interested in helping you with your event. Local comic book shops, gaming lounges, or anime stores are obvious places to go to, but think outside the box here too. Would a small local cafe want to sell themed treats to your guests? Would the local craft store be able to do a sewing teach or a jewelry making teach geared at a specific fandom? Would the party supply place down the street be willing to lend or donate masks or other items for a cosplay photo booth? Do you know a local photographer who might volunteer their time to take pictures or do so for a discounted fee? We have been lucky to partner up with all the aforementioned types of businesses in the past, and now, in our sixth year they came to us to ask to be vendors at our event.

Last but not least, hit social media to seek out local fan groups who are looking to recruit new members at an event like the one you are planning. Do you have a chapter of the Madalorian Mercs, the Society for Creative Anachronism, Ghost Busters, or other historical reenactment groups? Do you have a group of local fiddlers who might enjoy dressing up as wizards, or Jedis or whatever and play a set for guests? Does your community have a local theater group, local live action role players, local Dungeons and Dragons masters, writer's societies, or artists guilds? No matter how small your town is there is always a group or two of aficionados of SOMETHING that would be interested in reaching a larger audience. It never hurts to ask them to take part.

What Should the Con Consist Of?

As someone who goes to about five pop culture conventions or festivals a year, here is a list of things I feel each these events should have, if at all possible:

A cosplay contest or showcase. No matter what type of convention you are hosting, it's a chance to encourage people to show up in costumes that fit the theme. Our library's cosplay contest has very loose rules:

  • Costumes can be store bought, handmade or a mix of both.
  • Costumes must fit the library dress code and be appropriate for a family friendly event. 
  • Props are welcome but all weapons must be clearly fake, and foam weapons are strongly preferred. 
    • All props must be checked by staff at the "peace banding" table where we put a zip tie around the item to show it's safe. 
  • There are four categories and each cosplayer may only sign up for one:
    • Kids ages 12 and under
    • Teens ages 13-17
    • Adults 18 and older
    • Groups. Must be 2-6 people max.
  • No skits are allowed; it's a walk-on presentation only. 
  • Judges are usually invited local cosplayers, special guests or staff members who were not involved in planning the event. We have found four judges to be optimal.

A guest author of some kind. 

  • They don't have to be mega famous, and you can do it via Skype (which is much cheaper or even free in a lot of cases), but if your budget allows this, authors are always a HUGE draw.

For an all ages convention, have at least one craft for kids and an ongoing activity.

  • Story times are awesome, especially if the presenter is in costume.
  • Lego building is awesome too and doesn't require a lot of setup or supervision from staff.
  • Some kind of scavenger hunt, drawing or coloring contest to keep the kiddies entertained for a good chunk of time.

Some kind of interactive panel where people can win something. 

  • Trivia is great for this and can be done in a ton of ways. We've done 'name that tune' style ones, Kahoot ones, pub quiz ones and more.

Other things that are cool to include:

  • Photo op areas with interesting backgrounds or props.
  • Special guests who are pros or semi-pros in their fields, such as well-known cosplayers, local artists who do superhero or comics, voice actors.
  • A cosplay repair station somewhere in the building. 
  • Tabletop and card gaming areas featuring weird games you have at your library.
  • Demos from local historical reenactors or live action role play groups. 
  • Panels on cosplay construction.
  • Believe it or not, slide shows and presentations from staff members who have traveled to or lived in in Japan or Korea have been MASSIVELY popular for us.
Of course, these are just some of my personal ideas. The great thing about these types of programs is that the sky is very much the limit for what can go into your programming for the day. Have a great time planning and participating in your event - I know your community will!