(At Least) 21 Programming Ideas for Women's History Month

Posted Wednesday, February 10, 2010 - 12:35

Promote healthy conversation. In every community there is someone (a physician, nurse, pharmacist, physical therapist, etc) who can address women’s health issues. Plymouth (Mich.) District Library worked with the speaker’s bureau of the local hospital to present an exercise and nutrition program. Ask a local physician. That’s what the Bartholomew County (Ind.) Public Library did for its “Living Younger for Women” program, which focused on dealing with such medical conditions associated with women's aging such as osteoporosis and menopause, as well as what women can do to live longer. Or volunteer to prepare a brief bibliography that local groups can distribute when they sponsor talks about women’s health outside the library.

Contribute. Gadsden (Ala.) Public Library sponsors a yearly Breast Cancer Luncheon featuring breast-cancer survivors as speakers. A small fee is charged, 100% of which goes to the foundation for Susan G. Komen for the Cure (formerly the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation).

Celebrate your library’s history as Houston Public Library did in 2004 when its centennial celebration featured programs on the women who founded HPL, including members of the Ladies Reading Club, the Women’s Club, and HPL’s first librarian, Julia Ideson. There are bound to be women who played a prominent role in the founding of your library as staff, volunteers, or advocates. Do a program, a display, an oral history. Get school history classes to research your library’s history.

Create cooperative exhibits. Contact local women’s organizations including church groups or local women-owned businesses. Ask each group or business for a one-page description of what they do and their history, and to loan an artifact and a few photos. Do the same for cooking. Ask patrons for the loan of old cookbooks and kitchen utensils, feature family recipes with a photo of Aunt Jane whose potato salad recipe is the best. Or exhibit period aprons, diplomas, purses, gloves, hats, and jewelry; the list of women’s artifacts and their stories associated with them are endless.

Display your collection—and not just in the library. Feature a different item about or of interest to women each day in March. Do small displays in area businesses or on your library’s website. Feature female detectives, romances, biographies, famous heroines in literary fiction. Women are everywhere in your collection.

Interview local women: the oldest woman in your community, athletes, businesswomen, educators, cheerleaders, and others. You can either conduct the interview or get a volunteer, teen, or local celebrity to do it. Or create an oral history, catalog it for your library’s collection, and give a copy to the local historical society.

Honor military women (veterans and their wives, mothers, sisters, daughters). Military Women Veterans Yesterday–Today–Tomorrow offers ideas about women’s wide-ranging participation in U.S. military history.

Show a film from your collection or rent one for a public program. Women Make Movies, a distribution service with over 500 films available for sale or rental for institutional showings, can assist with selections, as can WAVE: Women’s Audio Visuals in English, “a database maintained by the University of Wisconsin System Women’s Studies Librarian’s Office, which lists documentary, experimental, and feature-film and video productions by and about women.” Create a filmography of films in your collection that were scripted, edited, produced, or directed by women or that feature strong women characters. Don’t forget films with women in production positions such as costume design, lighting, or special effects.

Feature local history, as did the Monroeville (Pa.) Public Library, which offered “Common Lives of Uncommon Strength: the Women of the Coal and Coke Era, 1880–1970,” a program on the role of women in southwestern Pennsylvania during the second industrial revolution, or the Bartholomew County (Ind.) Public Library, which featured the authors of More than Petticoats: Remarkable Indiana Women.

Use your library’s website. Annotate and list books, DVDs, and CDs. Link to women’s history websites. Feature reading recommendations from area women. Blog your women’s history interests, as did New York Public Library in 2009.

Highlight the often-unnoticed work of local women; showcasing unsung heroines will bring the library many new friends. Ocean County (N.J.) Library has presented programs on the diverse work women do in the community, including a children’s event that featured a woman pilot. Look at women’s role in labor history. Check the Women’s Labor History Links offered by AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees) for background and ideas, or consider starting replicating Evanston (Ill.) Public Library’s “Reboot!” support group for women “who are not currently pursuing full-time employment, but want to keep their skills current.”

Make music by booking local women musicians or a female singing group. You could also present music by women composers or performers. Ocean County (N.J.) Library offered tributes to the jazz and blues queens and the Queens (N.Y.) Library presented “Divas of Jazz” and “Divas of Our Times."

Hold contests and quizzes. Stair Public Library in Morenci, Michigan, established a Red Hat Society (Morenci Millinery Mavens), a social group that brings mostly women into the library for a weekly discussion group as well as field trips and potlucks. The group has sparked friendships across generations.

Start a writing group for memoir, poetry, or fiction, such as the Herstory Writers Workshops of Middle Country Public Library in Centereach, New York, or the “Writing Your Story” program at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Public Library. Attendees of the latter continued to meet as a group on their own after the program concluded. Look for local women writers who would speak to the group or do a public reading.

Ask academics. Omaha (Nebr.) Public Library has partnered with the Program for Women and Successful Aging group at the University of Nebraska in Omaha. Community outreach is a part of most women’s studies programs. For example, the Women’s and Gender Studies Department at California Polytechnic State University sponsored a spring monthly speakers’ series at San Luis Obispo (Calif.) Public Library.

Host beauty and fashion programs, which are popular with all ages. Find a hair stylist to talk about the latest trends, using patrons as models. Do as the Willingboro (N.J.) Public Library did: an “extreme makeover” with an audience volunteer and an African hair-braiding and wrapping program. Follow the lead of the Houston Public Library, which sponsored a series of workshops in spring 2009 on “Prepping and Perfecting Your Prom” with a focus on creative low-cost ways to achieve glamour. Sponsor a body-image program, as did Gadsden (Ala.) Public Library, whose event featured Body Drama author Nancy Redd; although the event was aimed at a younger demographic, women of all ages attended.

Ask a local media personality to participate; sometimes they charge a fee but often they appear for free, especially a newswoman or a DJ. In 2009 the Monroeville (Pa.) Public Library celebrated Women’s History Month with a presentation by award-winning Pittsburgh journalist and radio talk–show host Lynn Cullen.

Invite local women artists to exhibit and/or talk about their work. The Women’s History Project at the Southwest Harbor (Maine) Public Library sponsors an annual NWHM art show and Chicago Public Library is seeking artists who are willing to exhibit their works in neighborhood branches in March.

Start a book discussion group for works by and about women. Cleveland (Ohio) Public Library called their group “Women Reading Women.” You can develop a theme such as coming of age, women and aging, immigrant women, or a host of other possibilities. Alternatively, hold a program where well-known local people read aloud short stories or poems by women.

Honor local girls for achievements in sports, academics, the arts, and science. Post their pictures or have a reception in their honor. Broward County (Fla.) Public Library helped start a local Women’s Hall of Fame. Offer a program about mothers to which attendees bring a poem, picture, or story about their mom. Better yet, ask them to bring Mom along.