Small is Beautiful

The last few weeks have given me a chance to celebrate and network with librarians working in small libraries at two special events that reminded me again of my abiding respect and enthusiasm for those working in libraries serving small communities.

In September, I was one of the teaching facilitators for an intensive three day Wisconsin Youth Services Leadership Institute. Twenty-five library staffers involved with youth work, almost all from small libraries, were selected from over sixty applicants.

At the beginning, many felt that they didn't deserve to be called librarians because they lacked a master's degree. Over the course of the three days, through workshops on history, advocacy, leadership and more; through many individual and group conversations and expressions of mutual support for each other; and through some eye-opening goal setting, all the participants claimed their title as librarians and leaders doing great things for their communities in libraries.

Then I attended the recent Association of Rural and Small Libraries conference. I had long heard that this was one of the best library conferences out there and I can't disagree. Fifty-nine break-out session presentations; five major speakers at meals throughout the 2.5 day conference; and plenty of support for everyone to network and talk together during breaks, dine-arounds and receptions. The organizers made sure everyone felt welcomed.

I heard over and over people talking about colleagues they met from all over the country with similar situations (both triumphs and tears) and how great it was to touch base and connect. The focus on issues and concerns specific to the those working in small libraries had alot of meat for people from larger libraries and I found myself tugged between many great sessions scheduled opposite each other (eight programs per time slot!!).

Perhaps my favorite part was how many presenters were from small libraries sharing their expertise. It was great to hear new voices and ideas and perspectives and worth the price of admission. When I go to conferences, I love to hear from people working in many different library situations and my favorite panels are those that are made up of voices from multiple libraries of various sizes and regions.

As a longtime freelance storyteller in my state, I had the opportunity to go to many, very small libraries over the years. Each time I learned some new cool idea, some tip or trick, an arrangement of collections or services that was, well, completely brilliant. The creative librarians at many of these libraries became my role models, my go-to inspiration and pals.

Their work was echoed again in these two conferences and reinforces one of my deep and abiding beliefs. We are all librarians - regardless of education, all community advocates, all dedicated altruists who believe in the power of reading to change lives and that librarians from medium and large libraries have a TON to learn from our colleagues in small libraries.

Small is beautiful!


Passive Program Palooza

Time is a precious commodity for us all in libraries. One way to create tremendous bang for our buck is by incorporating passive (or, as I like to call them, stealth) programs into our programming offerings.

I think of these programs as "stealth" programs because they subtly invite our kids and families into the library and help us do our work of literacy support through the effort the families put in rather than having library staff front and center directing.

"Active" programming (hosted/presented by staff or volunteers; taking place at a specific date/time/place) is often the most common type of programming found in libraries. Think storytimes, afterschool workshops and clubs, one time special events, field trips, etc.

But passive/stealth programs can present great opportunities to stretch time, budget and staff in ways that give agency to the children and families involved. These programs take some initial planning to set up but once in place are easily administered by staff. The families and kids provide the "power" on their own time and these types of programs encourage frequent return visits to the library.

Examples of stealth programs that we all do? Summer Library Programs! And 1000 Books Before K Clubs* that many of us do are also great examples!

What are some other examples of these types of programs?

Check-out Clubs - these initiatives which can last from 3 weeks to 8 weeks or more encourage kids to check out materials and do a "thing." Great examples of these include Lego Check-Out club, BackPack Buddies, Ice Cream Club, Free-quent Readers and Smart Cookie club.

Scavenger Hunts - whether inside the library challenging kids to discover book collections or beloved characters or outside the library tying into larger community efforts, these often short-term initiatives are a perfect why to program during school breaks or to quickly have something ready is school is cancelled. Examples of these include Dinovember, Book Character Hunts, Gnome Hunt, and Undercover Spy Club.

DIY Stations - these ongoing efforts (or short duration!) invite kids to create, write, draw, imagine and make that require minimal staff effort. Some paper, markers or crayons easily changed writing/drawing/creating prompts and challenges support multiple literacies. Examples of these include Stories in Action tables, exploration stations, or check out Amanda Struckmeyer Moss and Svetha Hetzler's book DIY Programming and Book Displays (Libraries Unlimited, 2010) for a year's worth of easy and delightful DIY ideas.

Whether you are doing passive programs for Teens or kids, this Pinterest board is chockful of great ideas from librarians around the country to make passive/stealth programs as easy as pie!

*I'll be doing a "how-to" 1000 Books webinar on Oct 21. You can register for this free webinar here


Giving a Little Love to NF

Sometimes, when we think of promoting or handselling books to kids in our reader's advisory work, we concentrate overwhelmingly on our fiction collections. But it's worth giving some attention to non-fiction as well as we help kids. It not only increases circulation in that collection area but also is eye-opening and interest-opening for kids.

There has been so much attractive non-fiction published over the past ten-twenty years, it's easy to put kids and information books together. Just looking at the bright, attractive wealth of independent non-fiction titles, there's alot to promote.

[[True confession: I am seriously addicted to non-fiction. It has long been my favorite collection development area as well as the type of reading I am most passionate about.]]

We have had success highlighting non-fiction over the years that has tempted kids into trying -and liking - these dewey-ed books. Here are just a few ways:

NF Book Bundles - 3 or 4 non-fiction books on a subject that includes a bright label (Big Teeth; Strong People: Heroes; Science; Let's Build) let's us mix and match attractive NF from different subject categories together. These mini-bundles are fun to create and popular with kids.

Booktalks - when we booktalk to groups or at schools we always mix nonfiction and fiction titles together, often looking for a common subject theme. It's a great spot to include poetry and biographies as well!

Face-out Displays - Lots of it! As staffers work their way through non-fiction, I always encourage them to bypass the formulaic, series non-fiction and instead look for interesting subjects; eye-candy covers and titles that might pique the interest of kids. The more we replace a book in empty spaces, the better it is - it means kids are grabbing the good stuff!

Class or Day Care Collection Packs - putting non-fiction with fiction selections in packs that go out to daycares or classrooms is a great way to promote information books. I always look for short books with easily digested info-bits to tempt readers to pick up a non-fiction.

Stealth/Passive Initiatives - we make sure non-fiction gets a space in these. Whether it's pick-a-stick, gnomes on both fiction AND non-fiction collections, or NF included in Mystery Read bags, we make sure we don't stay fiction-centric in our support of great books.

Reader's Advisory - when kids are looking for books, we also check with them on subjects they are interested in and head over to non-fiction as well as fiction. Kids who love fantasy books often gravitate to medieval history books; steampunkers see how inventions are linked to their genre love; etc. And when fiction and graphic novels can't satisfy a reluctant reader, delving into a non-fiction subject area of interest often does the trick to spark some reading enthusiasm.

What has worked for you to highlight your non-fiction? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!


Eight is Great for Tiny Tips!

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I am amazed to celebrate the eighth birthday of the blog this week.

From it's humble beginnings to an overwhelming 420,000 views later, I am so happy you have joined me to think about youth services over the years.

Thank you, dear readers, for sharing this journey with me. I can't promise my blogging schedule will increase (retirement finds me laying back and smelling the roses lots more) but I can promise that thinking and writing about youth services won't be ending!


On the Road - Storytime Mojo

I'm in my hometown of Green Bay WI (yes, home to the Green Bay Packers and booyah) sharing some storytime history (did you know that storytimes for preschoolers in libraries didn't happen widely until the 1940s and 50s?), considerations and tips and hearing back from participants on what works best for them. 

I've presented over 3,000 storytimes for kids since the mid-70s and it's given me a long-eye view into the always vibrant early literacy adventure that is "storytime". Today's presentation includes some of my experience but also, more recently, that of colleagues at libraries I've worked in as well from those around the country and across the border (*waves*).

The following list of resources shared at the workshop is just the tip - the very tip - of the iceberg in creating strong storytime content. It contains lots of links that help readers explore further into more blogs, websites and research supporting our role as early literacy gurus for our communities.  Have fun exploring!

A Few Blogs with strong storytime content:
Mel’s Desk         


Upcoming Webinar:
 Successful Programming for Babies and Toddlers – September 22, 2pm CST – Info People. Free 


Check it Out!

Ice Cream Club glory
Over the years, we've done alot of playing with "Check-Out Clubs," special stealth (passive) programs. These clubs encourage frequent visits back to the library even if there isn't any program tempting kids in. And it encourages continued robust check-out: if kids check out, they get to do a "thing". The "thing" most likely adds to a "group build" that is eye-catching and a fun incentive for kids to add to.

We run these clubs during slower times when kids are less frequently in the library or we are on program breaks. When are those quiet times? They can be almost anytime of the year. For us, it's been:
  • August - when kids have finished the SLP, the pools close and families are looking for additional activities. It's often a time of heavy staff vacations. 
  • September  - when school starts again and the focus of families shifts away from the public library and staff continues to catch some well-earned vacation. 
  • December and January  - when holidays and cold keep people at home and bundled up from the WI cold and programs are sparse and sparsely attended. 
  • May - when kids are getting ready to end their school year and staff are busy doing SLP promos at schools.
Our other goal with the clubs is to make sure whatever we plan is exciting and interesting for the kids. By and large, they have really worked for our community and we've been super pleased with the results - both the enthusiasm of the kids and the resulting check-out. 

Free-quent Reader Club was created based on the concept of frequent flyers earning bonuses and air miles. Kids in this September/October club would earn a book. We also used this club for secondary goals like encouraging kids to bring their cards with them or increasing attendance at a specific program by offering double stamps. 

Smart Cookie Clubs have been popular doldrums December-January events. Each year we changed the character that kids got to add cookies to - Pete the Cat or Elephant and Piggie. We used our large storyroom doors as bulletin boards and kids added a cookie each time they checked out. 

Ice Cream Club is the new model of Smart Cookie Club. We used it this year in January and February when we are doing massive K and 2nd grade tours and cut back our programming to accommodate these intensive eight weeks of tours. Kids who checked out could add an ice cream scoop to our "build". Sweet!

Fire Up with Reading Club - we ran this September club to culminate during Fire Safety Week in October. Each time kids checked out they could fill in a raffle slip to win a "day with the firefighters." It was great working with the Fire Dept on this one and we had good participation.

Lego Check-out Club, Bryce's long held dream that fruitioned two years ago, was uber the first year and even better the second year when we lost the bags and just handed out the legos and had a new desk big enough to accommodate the organic build (rather than being closed away in our porthole). It has made December a much sought after "return to the library and check-out materials" month.

Back Pack Buddies - staffers were interested in having a brand new backpack raffle for kids in August. We figured rather than our usual scavenger hunts, it would be fun to get kids excited about school and the possibility of winning one of six fully-loaded backpacks. Kids who checked out could enter a raffle to win a backpack and put their name on a pencil to add to our "build." THIS was a big one!

Some of these clubs were one shot deals or needed some tweaking. Backpack Buddies was far more intensive than we realized - not just because of high participation but also coinciding with a time of short-staffing, SLP wrap-ups and general craziness. Our Undercover Spy Club started off with a bang - we handed out beaucoup spy buddies to kids to explore the city and report back but had very few return visits. Our Firefighter winner had to cancel a couple of the dates to go to the fire station making it far more complex for the firefighters. All of these were learning experiences and just gave us more ideas on how to run our next club a little better!

We've had far more ups than downs doing these clubs. As passive programs they bring in added excitement and return visits and better check-out. What's not to love?


Talk it Up: Promo Power

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I've been thinking lately about how promotion of our services can really make a difference in the public's response to our efforts.

There are traditional methods of promotion in getting the word out: flyers, handouts, posters, press releases to the media and youth serving organizations, online newsletters, social media, email blasts and so on.

Then there is the more subtle - and I might suggest more successful - methods of simple word-of-mouth advocacy.  The information we relay while on the desk working with patrons AND wherever we see our community members - at the grocery store, place of worship, gym, bar, 5K, trail or across the fence - becomes a personal invitation that's hard to turn down.

I've seen some great examples of this over the years:

  • An early literacy librarian who inevitably found her way to each new parent she saw (whether at the library or outside in her civilian life), cooed over their baby and personally invited them to baby storytime. She always carried a business card with the days and times of our storytimes to leave with the family. Our storytimes never lacked for attendees.
  • Desk assistants who, while checking people out, always mentioned upcoming programs of interest to their various children. They relayed excitement and a hint of the fun to come. Our programs were always full of eager kids.
  • Storytime presenters who, when interest in 1000 Books initiative started to falter, promoted the program in their sessions. Sign-ups and participation perked up again.
  • Librarians attending community meetings chatting about our programs and services with tablemates and putting our literacy efforts out front for people to discover. Amazing opportunities resulted.

Like any kind of advocacy, these personal conversations and invites work best if they are ongoing and consistent. Once word-of-mouth promotion becomes a habit for staff, it's as easy as falling off a log to promote services, programs and initiatives. And the results can be amazing!


Taking the Time

June and July are crazy busy times, amirite?

Sometimes the busyness goes right into August. But if we're lucky, there is a week we can steal to take a much needed vacation and break to relax and recover and gather our strength before heading into fall.

My holy grail that has kept me chugging through SLP annually was (and is!) a not-to-missed weeklong Canadian wilderness canoeing-portaging-camping trek in Quetico Provincial Park. For over 20 years our group of six paddlers has gathered in a celebration of wilderness, cooperation, and sheer delight in nature and the wonder of the wild.

A crazy 10- 17 hour drive (depending on launch points in Champaign IL, Madison , Milwaukee and La Crosse in WI) brings the six of us together in Atikokan ON. From there, it's seven days of alternating relaxation and challenge that puts crazy SLP times far, far away. The company of these five women, the amazing sights and the realization that age doesn't stop our strength and sense of fun and adventure makes this a much savored 9 day trek.

I always come back feeling powerful, relaxed and sure that no work challenge is harder than what we faced in the wilderness. That's a powerful panacea.

Whether we choose time in the backyard on the deck, at the beach or cabin, spending extra time for a roadtrip with the family, hiking or biking or fishing or luxuriating in reading three books, a little downtime after SLP is a cure we children's librarians can truly appreciate.

So go ahead, take that time! You'll never regret it and the boost to your readiness to tackle the next work challenge is worth every moment away!


What We Did on Summer Vacation

We made some fun changes and adjustments to summer this year that worked out swell. Here are a few highlights:
  • We again went weekly-prizeless for preschool & schoolagers with positive results. We had robust registration and return visits despite no doo-dads. Instead of building a robot, this year kids got a sticker or two to cover a life-size Darth Vader cut-out. They loved the concept of "defeating" the villain by covering him completely. With three more weeks to go, we expect full coverage-defeat!
  • We lengthened our program to a full ten weeks. While it has definitely made the summer months feel longer, we are still seeing outstanding return visits and a longer chance to use the library - earn the ultimate book prize.
  • We changed our preschool SLP from monthly activity cards to weekly activity cards. This has definitely brought in more families for return visits and the younger kids have loved stickering up Darth Vader (or themselves!) more often.
  • One of our gamecard activity choices was for kids to be superheroes by bringing in kid-nummy boxed meals for donation to our neighborhood food pantry. Summer is traditionally a very low donation time for food pantries and they often have to expend precious cash reserves to keep shelves stocked. We were gratified with the number of kids participating (we've delivered over 300 pounds of food "for kids, by kids" so far this summer) and the deliveries have been greatly appreciated.
  • While we definitely had plenty of fun active programs, we also used plenty of stealth (passive) programs to engage kids - Craft of the Week for preschoolers, Kid Lab and paper-covered tables with writing/drawing prompts for schoolagers and DIY activities weekly for daycare groups. It helped keep the libraries a "destination" for fun activites to engage kids no matter what time of day they came by.
Finally, rather than a completely stealth August "continuation" program, we decided to offer a "Backpack Buddies" program. We have six fully-loaded backpacks for different ages. Each time kids check out books in August, they can enter their name in a raffle to be a lucky winner. We are excited to see how this goes!

It will be fun to see the final results of all this change when we shuffle our stats out but all looks great so far!!


Summer Check-in - How Are We Doing?

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Our friend Abby the Librarian  commented on Facebook that even though it wasn't a terribly busy day, summer is so intense that she finds herself worn out. We all have that moment(s?). We are there too!

Summer and summer reading just means more. More of everything. More intensity in that everything. More constancy in the more. More fun. More kids. More ickiness. More questions. More answers. More stress. More crankiness. More splendid moments. More small defeats. More unbridled delight. More success. More chaos. Just more.

Whether we are in the midst of a six week, four week, ten week, twelve week or sixteen week program, the more-ness swirls up around us. At times it takes on the intensity of a blizzard we are trying to walk through (are you with me here, oh Midwest, Northwest friends?). Can we make any headway?

No matter how much we have scaled back our SLP to make it kid and staff friendly, still it is intense. No matter if we KNOW it will be impossible to do anything except SLP during these weeks, it wears us down. Wouldn't it be great to do a little of our other work. Nuh-uh. It's summer!

Is there a cure? Hmmm, getting into another line of work is a possibility. But most of us really don't want to do that.

Is there a cope? Yes, I think there is. It has to do with self-care. We each have a secret way to recharge. A sure knowledge that the end of the intensity is in sight. A welcome adult beverage at the end of the day. That extra piece of chocolate or favored fruit or cracker or cookie or nut treat. An eye on the horizon of the last day and maybe a little time off. A long bath at the end of a tough day. Some TV zoning. A deep immersion in a well-loved book. Some gaming time. Some quality pet/family snuggling time. A small and special day off filled with friends and fun - or even a lunch away. Some time outside.

Self-care is important. Whatever happens, coping and staying even means taking some time to recharge ourselves daily. Remember, each day we make a difference for kids - and for our coworkers. Taking care of ourselves means we can have energy to do this remarkable kid-filled summer reading thing each and every day.

Hang in there, my friends. The end is in sight!


Exhibits Power

ALA is many many things to librarians - a place to effect solid innovative change for librarianship; an opportunity to work on behalf of all librarians to fight the good fight on legislative issues, universal access, bridging the digital divide, IF and advocacy. It's a place to learn, to share and to network. Warm greetings and hellos from colleagues old and new, a chance to discover a little more IRL than we have time to on our social media accounts. There is time for committee work and attending Notables, leadership opportunities and division board meetings. Informal lunches, after hours get-togethers and hallway convos keep the crazy days interesting.

One of my favorite parts of the conference is always the exhibit floor. While some spend time queuing up for author's signatures or advanced reader's copies - and I've snagged my share - I like to spend some quality time really looking at everything children's publishers have out AND up and coming in the next publishing cycle.  I like looking not just at the large publishers but also smaller publishers that publish for a smaller niche market or larger publishers that publish primarily in countries outside the US. This is where you can often find hidden gems of diversity that celebrate different cultures and countries.

In the past,  these presses and publishers were often relegated to the last two or three rows at the end of the exhibit floor. But this year at ALA, there is a welcome change. The small press tables can be found at the end of rows - rows that put them next door to some of the biggest names in publishing, ILS systems and other national vendors. You won't have to go far to find a first time exhibitor like Karadi Tales, a publisher in India who has two books recently honored by the South Asia Book Awards - The Rumour won the young people's award in 2013 and in 2015 A Pair of Twins was on SABA's Highly Commended list. The books that are on exhibit from this publisher are delightful and easily open up our collections to needed diversity.

This new juxtaposition of large publishers near smaller or more diverse publishers means that it will be easier than ever to take a few steps and discover presses outside the mainstream houses we know and love. So if you are coming to ALA, take some time to chat with these publishers from smaller presses or publishers from different countries and discover the true richness of our publishing world. Your community will thank you!


Digital Power!

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I am excited to see the publication of two milestones for those interested in bringing digital literacy in to the library for kids and families.

One is the publication of the full Young Children,New Media, and Libraries:A Guide for Incorporating New Media into Library Collections, Services, and Programs for Families and Children Ages 0-5This book has been written as an online serial over the past year or so by some of the true movers, shakers and thinkers on this issue in the nation. It can be downloaded or accessed online.

The second is ALSC's new White Paper on Media Mentorship in Libraries Serving Youth. This paper was adopted by the ALSC board in March and is now available for downloading. It is a straightforward, well-reasoned, well- researched and helpful guide that places libraries and librarians squarely in a digital literacy role we so beautifully performed with print and nonprint literacy over the years. It is available on page chuck full of information on the many ways libraries are working on media mentorship.

While some see attention to digital literacy and evolving our roles in libraries to include being media mentors as THE.DEATH.OF.LOVE.OF.BOOKS.AS.WE.KNOW.IT, I remain remarkably sanguine.

Could be I've seen four decades of growth, evolution and radical change in libraries since the heady days of the 1970s. Could be I think that Ranganathan's Fifth Law posited in 1931 (The Library is a growing organism) is actually true. Could be that transliteracy and the remarkable resiliency of libraries to meet the community's needs trump any fear we might have of change. Could be I just like change.


I welcome the great work being done nationally, regionally and locally to embrace digital literacy and media mentorship and applaud everyone who is stepping up and on. Go you's!!!


Thrive Thursday - June

It's high time to celebrate a little pre-summer and SLP school age programming. What's up this busy month?

May Stuff
Holly over at the new blog Let the Wild Rumpus Begin has a great post up about robotics in her Maker Monday series.

Miss Molly the Librarian loves cosplay so Free Comic Book Day was just about the best day ever.

Jennifer over at In Short I am Busy has two programs to share: Raising Chicks and her highly successful 1-3rd grade book club (a 3-5th grade version will launch in fall).

Brytani at The Neighborhood Librarian did a Fancy Nancy party just before Mother's Day. Oooh-la-la!

Summer Stuff
Jennifer at In Short I am Busy is going a new direction with her summer program and also shares her superhero masks passive program win.

And Jenna, well known for her ALSC advocacy work guest posts on Tiny Tips and reminds us of what is really important in summer.

To learn more about Thrive Thursday, check out the schedulePinterest board, and Facebook Group.


SLP - Breathe Deep and Go Forth

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Today we have a guest post from Jenna Nemec-Loise, ALSC advocate extraordinaire and hardworking wisewoman/youth librarian/teaching adjunct in the greater Chicagoland area. You can reach Jenna at alsc.jenna@hotmail.com or follow her on Twitter @ALAJenna. Take it away Jenna!

For all my friends kicking off Summer Learning tomorrow, a few sage words (such as they may be):
You might not feel ready, but you are. You're ready to dazzle kids and families by making them feel welcome, wanted, and valued at the library. They're coming to see you, not to see if all your programs are planned, if your bulletin boards are done, or if all your decorations are up. (Mine aren't.)
Put aside those holy-cow-I-still-have-so-much-to-do lists that feel impossible because they are. That stuff pales in comparison to those little faces glowing with excitement and wonder about summer at your library. I don't know about you, but I'd much rather look at them than at mountains of paperwork, forms, or ungodly spreadsheets of numbers and statistics.
You hardly need the reminder, but nothing and no one is more important than the child standing in front of you or little one sitting next to you. If your library kids know that, you're doing a kick-ass job with SLC. Everything else you "have to" do is secondary or even tertiary. (Trust me. It'll all get done. It can all wait. Kids can't and shouldn't have to do the same.)
All you "have to" do is make the library a fun and magical place this summer, and you do that by simply being present and available for your kids. Greet them. Smile at them. Love them. And for heaven's sake, GET AWAY FROM YOUR DESK and have an amazing time with them.
At the end of the summer or years down the line, kids won't remember the stuff they got by being part of your SLC. They'll remember the time you spent with them and how important you made them feel. Those are the real prizes, both for you and for them.
Need a reality check at any point in the next 8-12 weeks? You know where to find me (alsc.jenna@hotmail.com or Twitter @ALAJenna .

Love to you all


It's Almost Thrive Thursday Time!

Hey all, whatcha got doin' for school age kids?

It's almost time for our monthly compilation of all the good stuff you've been doing (or about to do for summer) for school age programming on Thrive Thursday. Because we have the summer thing going, we'll post the goods on Thursday June 11.

If you have a program to share, please leave it in the comments.

I can hardly wait to see what all you've been cooking up!