Evolving an Early Literacy Area - Part 1

It is great fun to launch an initiative - the planning, the grant-writing/funding piece, the gathering of material, the publicity, the roll-out and then the public's happy (we hope) reactions.  This was definitely the feeling when, three years ago, we debuted our Early Literacy Area - Play Learn Read (PLR).

Careful thought and preparation went into it. Despite that, we immediately began tinkering to make it better, solve problems and navigate unexpected challenges. Things we thought would work, didn't and things we were sure would fail, succeeded. Here's a glimpse into our process of change!

Challenge 1 - Tables
We had plenty of small tables in the area. Since this was the first area people saw when they walked into the library, the tables immediately became coat racks (you might glimpse a coat pile on the right of this photo). They also became homework tables - despite their small size. People would put the literacy activity on the floor and spread out their stuff.
Solution: we moved all the large tables out and purchased tot-sized tables that let kids sit on the floor. No more coats. Fewer non-tots using the area.

Challenge 2 - Chairs
We had a few comfy chairs that began to be heavily used by sleepy men. Again, since this was the first thing people saw when they came into the room, older caregivers sat and snoozed while the children they were with used the rest of the Children's area. It was not an inviting sight and discouraged use.
Solution: we kept just one comfy chair and moved it into the corner farthest from the door facing into the PLR area. We added stools for kids and parents to sit on. No more sleepers; fewer non-tot/parent pairs using the area.

Fewer tables and one chair
Challenge 3 - Magnetism!
Planners were delighted by the thought of using baking pans as magnetic boards for children to interact with and to contain the pieces of the story. Sadly, the pans purchased were far from magnetic and so the point of having them was...pointless.
Solution: In an "aha" moment, planners finally just purchased a magnetic white board, mounted it on the wall and voila, magnetism for all the story pieces.

Challenge 4 - Many Ages
Even though we changed out chairs and tables to preschool-friendly size, we still would get bigger kids taking over the area - and by their presence, discouraging preschool/parent use.  Much like in the Teen area that adults would camp-out in (and that we finally designated middle and high school kids only to stop that), we felt it was important to establish a space for the toddlers
Solution: For a year or so, until the area became clearly marked in people's minds as a toddler early literacy area, we added a sign that simple said "Parent Tot Spot". It did the trick.

Challenge 5 - Frequency of Activities Changing
While we started out with a bang, changing out activities became a real challenge. Some pieces stayed the same for months; some changed out monthly; some were fragile and needed replacing bi-weekly.
Solution: We made a commitment to change out activities monthly, varying the weeks. So new puppets went into the puppet theater in week 1; new magnetic board story in week 2; new pillar activity in week 3; new bathroom activity in week 4.

Challenge 5 - Fragility of Material
The story pieces - even when done of card stock and laminated - turned out to be too fragile for the use they were getting. The delicate cutting to get the cow's legs cut out was all for nothing when kids bit them off.
Solution: We began cutting the shapes with a big circle of white space - without arms, limbs, and slender shapes sticking out the pieces lasted far longer.

Being open to evolving and changing an area or service keeps it responsive to reactions from the public and staff. It's fun to solve those problems! Please stop by for Part 2 over on Brooke's blog Reading with Red where she tackles more solutions!


Have We Got a Job for You!

Hey, come work with us!! We have a fabuloso-fulltime job opening here at La Crosse Public Library on our crack Youth Services team. Here's the ad. Now brush up that resume and throw your hat - or helmet - in the ring! But don't blink, it closes fast (we are eager to be back to full staffing)

Amaze us! If you’re hungry for challenge, and welcome the opportunity to network within the community to create amazing results, love collaboration and trying out new ideas, and are fearless in your approach to great service using tech and non-tech means, you may be who we are looking for!  We seek a motivated, dynamic ideas person to join our children’s services team in beautiful La Crosse, Wisconsin - someone who loves to work with kids and families; has outstanding customer service skills; is outgoing with a great sense of humor and has the ability to sell the library and literacy to everyone in our community.  Strong skills in programming, outreach and services for preschool through teen, excellent collection development skills - and a finger on the pulse of innovative youth services - are key as well as ability to create reality from blue-sky visioning.  Bonus consideration to those who can bend steel with bare hands! The successful candidate for this full-time position will have an MLS and two years experience working in public library youth services or the equivalent in education and experience.  In return, you will have the opportunity to work with a star team of professionals, be coached by the 2010 Wisconsin Librarian of the Year, receive an excellent benefit package, be in a strong professional development environment and transform traditional library services.  Salary negotiable from $46,000. For further information and necessary qualifications, please visit us at: www.lacrosselibrary.org. Electronic submissions only; interested applicants can submit a resume with references and cover letter to Youth Services Coordinator Marge Loch-Wouters. Applications accepted until May 2, 2014.

La Crosse is famous for its exceptional natural beauty. The city (metropolitan population 126,838 based on the 2010 census) is located on the east bank of the Mississippi River below towering bluffs. Abundant water and woodlands provide year-round recreation sites for hiking, biking, skiing, hunting, camping, and other outdoor activities. La Crosse is also home to two universities, a technical college, a symphony orchestra, excellent theatrical and cultural events, and superb health care facilities. The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge is a major flyway for migratory birds and boasts the longest river refuge in the continental United States.


The Story Behind the Story

We have blogged about our field trip adventures before - Library Stars for 2nd graders (now in it's third year), and our two new additions: Library Sneakers for 2nd graders and 7th grade tours.  These intensive field trips aim to introduce the kids to the library and its resources in a fun (but focused way) that is choreographed so expertly it looks like we are making it all up as we go. Let me talk about this from the perspective as a manager of our department.

The field trips take a ton of hidden-to-all-but-us work and preparation. We get class lists from the school, look up each and every student for fines and whether they have a card, drop off and pick up new card registrations, set a 2-month storytime hiatus to accommodate the twenty + tours, forgive all but cost-of-book fines for all children – and offer “Fresh Start” cards and forgiveness to parents of kids with COBs – create special bookmarks, write the scripts, recruit from among staff outside the department to have the 3 field trip leaders and desk coverage (and few, if any, twelve hour days or split shifts).

On the day of the field trip, each librarian guide knows her part and is committed to hitting their mark. Classes are split in three and rotated among the librarians (one does book talks, one does a YS intro tour, one does a “secret background”). If we stray off the clock, one group has to wait. Uh-uh. Not gonna happen. There is also improvisation (the group is late but has to leave at the same time; the kids can't focus so we decrease the time free-exploring the books and collections) that flows smoothly because the staff is ready.

The results are worth every bit of background prep - seeing new faces at the library, knowing kids understand just a bit more about how we work and the way accompanying parents and teachers get excited and look forward to these trips. We get an excellent rate of returns (kids who come back get book bags or a special star), the preschool parents who have to forego storytime are grudgingly understanding and staff throughout the library are super supportive.

Our first year was grant funded; our second funded by the schools and the third year our school coordinator and I had talked about the library splitting the costs. The financial pressures on the district are as keen as those we feel at the public library. It's a small thing to prioritize this support . Shall we spend, for each grade level, $500 of our programming money on busing that reaches 1200 kids or hire 3-4 performers for the same cost, far fewer in attendance and no message about libraries or what we do?  Hmmm. Snap! We know the answer to THAT!

And then you get this message below (in answer to our query on what we owe for half of this year's busing) from the school coordinator and every piece of this is even more powerful:

I'm so glad everything went well and that our families are finding value in our community libraries. I know you sincerely want to help with the cost, but it is not necessary. We budgeted for the buses and all went well. The time your staff spends with our students and staff at our elementary and middle schools more than covers the 'in kind' cost of traveling to get to the libraries! Your work with Central HS is also very appreciated and we're working on the ways to get you connected at Logan High as well for next year! This is how partnerships work, in our humble opinion. 

We'll budget for the trips again next year -- it is so worth it for our kids!

(and in a PS to our director, she wrote: I know that you are fully aware of the value of your staff, but I just want to tell you once again what a great group of professionals you have -- their commitment to our community is over and above most. If at anytime you want to highlight this partnership at one of your library board meetings -- happy to stop by and have our teachers/kids tell their stories!)

As a manager, I am intensely proud of my whole crew. I open doors and support their work, play devil's advocate to hone the process, help connect the right team member to the work or piece of the work that best fits their skills and talents. All the rest, ALL THE REST, is done by the team. To step back and see them all step up is what I am there for. And, as a manager, to read that support for their efforts from our school peers is all I need at the end of the day. Thank you Linda, Celine, Sara, Brooke and Emily (and my management colleague Jen) for what you do. 


On the Road with Unprogramming!

I love the opportunity to get out and share with library colleagues. But as many of you know, it's even more fun to get out of the library world and share with folks outside of libraries.

I'll be presenting tomorrow at the Wisconsin Afterschool Association conference in Lake Geneva. This two day conference is for providers as well as folks working in youth serving organizations like the Y and teen centers who work regularly with afterschool kids.

The fact that I will be at this conference is pure kismet. I was visiting a friend last fall and her dining room table was full of applications for presentations. Turns out she is the chair of this year's WAA conference. In our conversation, it was clear that libraries should not just be part of the association and conferences but also have a place at the table given our work with this demographic.

So "Book It! Creating Fun, Book Based Programs for School Agers" was born. Here's the description: Promote literacy and fun! Learn easy preparation ideas, how to adapt books to parties and tips on “unprogramming” (letting kids guide discovery). Best of all - leave with plans!

I'll be talking unprogramming ways to keep programs managable: collecting great sources from blogs and Pinterest; reasonable prep time; giving kids agency to discover and creating stations of stuff. The book party themes we'll talk about:  dinosaurs, Elephant and Piggie, Dr. Seuss and Diary of a Wimpy Kid programs. The Pinterest board is ready. So am I.

Let's meet new friends and potential partners and share the library good word!

Graphic courtesy of Pixabay


Elephant and Piggie Party!

I love programming with school age kids - both early elementary friends and older elementary. One of my all-time favorites is Elephant and Piggie from the delightful early elementary books written by Mo Willems. Why?

First, kids love this goofy pair. Second, I love this goofy pair. Third, lots of you out in the blogosphere have shared your wonderful programs. My Pinterest board is happily full of enough fantastic ideas to do this book-themed party many times with many different activities!

Finally, this program is is a perfect example of #unprogramming - lots of ideas stored away to use, capitalizing on strong kid interest, books to share with kids, children free to explore and interact with stations and extremely small preparation.

To begin we read three books:
We are in a Book
There is Bird on Your Head
I Broke My Trunk

I set up three stations of stuff for kids and parents to play with:
1) Elephant and Piggie paper bag puppets. Because we have a fantastic business manager, we just happened to have pink and blue bags to make this easier. We found the ideas and patterns here.
2. Bird on My Head Hat. Using a bowl, pom poms, crepe paper for nesting, yarn  and a pigeon cut-out, kids could make a nest for their heads. I mean really, who can resist this?!?! Thanks Abby!

3. Get Well Card for Elephant - markers, card sized sheets and stickers were all we needed.
Kids happily listened, explored and made for the entire program. My biggest job was taking a few photos to preserve the moment. When programs celebrate books, the kids feel like winners and this librarian feels like a superhero - connecting kids and a love of books!



#whylib Journey - Hmmm, Why Indeed?

Children's Book Week poster from my childhood

A Twitter conversation among school library colleagues grew into a call for Tell Your #whylib Story for School Library Month and from there, librarians from all types of libraries joined the conversation. Here is my "why" story.

Once upon a time there was a little kid who loved libraries and books and was an avid library user.

When, as a preschooler, she asked if she could run the cool ka-chunking check-out machine, her branch librarian said, “When you grow up and work in a library, then you can!” Hmmm.

As an elementary school-ager, she walked the mile to the branch library weekly - which actually was as good as the penny candy store she stopped at on the way back - both were full of good stuff but the library was free! Surrounded by  thousands of books, she imagined that working in a place like that would have to be heaven. Hmmm.

When she was old enough, she started taking the bus to the giant Main Library.  She was perhaps a little young to be using the adult section where the really interesting books were. She knew it because when she asked for help, the reference librarians turned a cool eye on her and always inquired, “Have you checked the catalog first?” (You Meanies, of course I checked!!) It struck that now pre-teen ager that perhaps she could make libraries a little more fun, a little less quiet and a lot less intimidating. Hmmm.

At college in the lovely '70s, she found the intermediate courses without prerequisites the best: Astronomy; Physics for Poets, Metallurgy (engineering), Old English, Old Norse, Medieval Lit, - well any lit for that matter, Scandinavian Mythology (not influenced by Tolkien, was she?), Theater, Art History, and the Development of Language and Writing. Nearing her graduation, she thought, "What all can I do with this disparate knowledge?" She looked at UW-Madison SLIS and thought, "Hey I could organize myself AND libraries!" Hmmm.

Once in graduate school, with an excellent children's services program, many future children's, teen and school librarians in her cohort , the CCBC just down the hall and more excellent courses to take on campus like Child Development and Creative Dramatics, she knew that work with children and families in libraries was exactly where she was heading. Hmmm.

When she got her first job as a children's librarian in La Crosse, she was encouraged by wonderful mentors like Avis Jobrack, Jane Botham, Nancy Elsmo, Pat Bakula, & Ginny Moore Kruse who taught her “Give yourself permission to be creative.” You had to believe them! Plus working with kids and in libraries was as good as she imagined. Hmmm.

From there she got active in state and national library association work, met tons of colleagues IRL and continues to meet and work with them virtually. She began storytelling and giving workshops and presentations and met even more people and saw where they all worked - at libraries very small to large.Each interaction with library folks has enriched her practice. Hmmm.

Throughout the years, the librarian learned something new every day from the kids and families who came through the doors of the libraries she worked at. They taught her that connecting the right book to the right child can have life changing implications. Hmmm.

And now, 57 years after trying to use the checkout machine and 38 years into my career, I look back at
all of these “aha” moments that led me on the path of librarianship. Reading the tweets and posts tells me the story I'm telling isn't unique to me. You all live it each and every day as you work with your communities. We are all awesome for the fundamentally important work we do in bringing information and literacy to our patrons. Despite tough economic times, our libraries and our work with the kids is vital and more important then ever. Yes!

Our happily ever after IS the work we do. And that is all the why I need!


Them's the Breaks!

I was so excited to see the issue of breaks in storytime being addressed over at Lisa's blog Libraryland. She and Mel are posting results and discussing implications from a recent survey on storytimes and workload.  I was as surprised as Lisa that almost a third of survey respondents didn't take breaks or weeks off in their annual storytime schedule.

I have often wondered what motivates people to raise storytimes (or let's face it, any program for kids, teens or adults) up to a no-break model. Is it:
  • administration requiring 52 week schedules
  • tradition - that's how it was when I came
  • fear of losing participants
  • service-to-the-community-above-and-beyond ethos 
  • love those little munchkins and need my weekly fix (the mutual "I can't do without them; they can't do without me" syndrome)
  • concern that patrons will complain 
  • anxiety that patrons will leave and use another library
  • or what?
I have seen alot of trepidation and tradition that keeps people from building in time for re-energizing, CE, conferences, service to other age groups,vacations, introduction of new types of early literacy programs etc. In order to keep up the pace, youth library staff take program preparation work home, only do storytimes as their program focus and often don't have the creative energy to develop their programs or services for other age groups or to serve the many families with preschoolers who cannot attend storytimes.

If storytimes are to entertain, than fear of losing the audience might be real. If storytimes are to model and help provide parents with the early lit support they need to be their child's first teacher, it seems that breaks are easily incorporated since parents have the tools that you provided to keep modeling awesome early lit work with their kids!

Once library staff start to take breaks, most see that their concerns were unfounded. Patrons do return. Time spent away from a routine helps create time to tackle other projects and plans that enhance services.

We are just off a ten week storytime hiatus (wait,  make that 13 weeks, I forgot we stopped mid December!). What happened? All but one storytime filled up when we re-started after the break. We had to add an additional storytime because of the demand. A poorly attended storytime that we morphed into a preschool "maker program (art and STEAM) filled up immediately (we could have added five more sessions based on demand). Staff and families came back refreshed, excited and happy.

What if YOU want to take breaks but your administration or co-workers are reluctant? 
  1. Share the thinking (like Lisa's post above) going on in the library world about breaks - here and here are two examples.
  2. Come to discussions prepared with a concrete plan for one thing you will use break time for (begin development of 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program; attend a conference or Roadtrip CE or have another staffer who covers desk while you are in storytime attend; develop a new type of tour or outreach; develop a program or series for an underserved age group or meet with school/daycare colleagues to start planning service partnership ideas).
  3. Honestly discuss what the programming philosophy of the whole library is and look at comparisons between service to other age groups and other staff responsibilities in this area. Sometimes, coworkers or administration don't see the efforts that go into storytime (Storytime Underground's "Literacy is NOT a luxury") - once they come to understand what is happening, they can more easily see why breaks to re-charge, offer other types of programs and etc are necessary.
What if YOU want to take breaks but your patrons are reluctant and pushback? 
  1. Thank them for their support and love of your programs.
  2. Tell them what will happen during break that will help make your library even more uber (I will learn more to serve you better by attending training; other age groups will be served; you will still be coming in often for books and to say hi; we are excited to take the time to write a grant to create an early literacy area, etc)
  3. Consider adding a  simple "transition" activity - Book Bundles, Preschool Dance party, coupon book; stealth or DIY activity station; more frequent change-out of flannels or activity boards in early literacy corner - that makes parents want to keep up weekly or bi-weekly visits during the break.
  4. Let parents know you have been their stealth personal guru, equipping them with the know-how to be storytime ninjas themselves at home!  Ask them to be mighty and let you know how they do over break.
  5. Encourage them to use the break to get an extra level of 1000 Books Before Kindergarten finished.
  6. Introduce them to an Early Literacy calendar that has lots of activities for parents and kids to do together.
Breaks work. Storytimes continue strongly (and sometimes stronger!) after a pause. Really, try it, you will definitely like it!


It's a Wrap!

It's time for a report-out and a shout-out because we finished the six-week online UW-Madison CE class: Power Children's Programming - on a Budget! Although I organized the information and loaded it up on the platform, I can tell you that each and every student made this a deep, useful (and...krikey I don't have enough praise-worthy adjectives to express the phenom that happened) course.

From the start, the class of 24 librarians from libraries of all sizes in WI and across the country jumped in and shared, cared, supported and explored programming. There were "Aha!" moments, "Oh no!" moments and discoveries about programming made everywhere.

At the beginning of the course, I told the class I didn't have the answers, only the questions everyone should ask themselves when we begin to put our programs together. And I asked everyone, no matter their circumstance or experience, to share generously in the discussion boards their own journeys, program ideas and discoveries. And did they ever. It was nothing to see 200 substantive posts a week, chock full of deep thoughts and great program ideas.

A huge thank you to the library folks in class for making this the experience that helped me learn so much more about programming and your libraries than I ever dreamed I could. I am so wealthy after these six weeks that's it's hard for me not to be all
(Thanks to Sara Bryce, my blog is sporting it's first gif!)

We didn't use a textbook. Rather, the class went through blog posts related to our content written by many of our thoughtful colleagues. So a gigantic high five goes out to you, my blogosphere friends and colleagues. YOU made this course as well:  Abby at Abby the Librarian,  Amy at Catch the Possibilities , Amy at the Show Me Librarian,  Angie at Fat Girl, Reading, Anne at so tomorrow,  Beth at Beth ReadsBrooke at Reading with Red,  Carissa at Librarymakers, Cen at Little eLit, Julie at Hi Miss Julie, Leah at Keeping Up with Kids, Lisa at Thrive After ThreeMel at Mel's DeskSara at Bryce Don't Play, Tessa at Growing Wisconsin Readers and the many contributors to the ALSC blog who shared programs.      

The sharing of ideas sparked by the blog posts and the class made it a totally worthwhile trip. And now that the CE teaching bug has bit, what should I teach next?!?!                


Happy Birthday 1000 Books!

This month marks our third year of doing 1000 Books Before Kindergarten in La Crosse!!

It has been an amazingly fun journey.

Over 850 children have joined the program (in our community of 51K) and 172 have reached the 1000 books goal.

So far over 257,200 books (yes...over a quarter of a million!!)  have been read to kids in our community as a result of this program. 

Our program was built so it could evolve to adapt to how parents and children react to the materials and incentives. Here is how we've changed:

Materials: Our first recording sheet asked parents to write down every title read. Then it morphed to bookmarks with 100 seeds to mark off. It has settled comfortably into a sheet with seeds, ten lines for favorite titles to be recorded and little literacy tips on each sheet.

Incentives: Stickers are king and queen for the kids and their most treasured part of each return visit. Kids still receive a nursery rhyme fingerpuppet at 500 and a book on completion. When we first started our focus group encouraged us to give out  logo-infused incentives to parents at 300 (lanyard), 500 (window cling), 800 (fridge magnet) and 1000 (book bag) levels. We soon realized the parents didn't care. So now, the book bag is given out at sign-up and that is the most prized parental possession (as well as great advertisement for the program around the community!)

Inclusiveness: The program was designed for 1-5 year olds because we wanted the kids to realize the excitement of what was happening. But what about the babies?!?! Our new early literacy librarian Brooke Rasche came on board a year ago and immediately developed and wrote a grant to fund Baby Book Bees to dovetail into our garden themed 1000 Books. With their first 100 books read, graduate Bees have a head start by the time they join 1000 Books. We have 44 babies in this new program!

We continue to talk the programs up, include them on our program flyers and distribute posters to daycares and schools to alert families to what's available. It has been a win-win program for our community and is one that more and more libraries are adding.

If you have added a 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program at your library, please let me know in the comments and I will make sure it gets pinned to my 1000 Books Pinterest board and get it on the google map. And if you are thinking of adding the program, please stop at this blog post for resources, history, research to support grant or funding requests and more!


Happy 50th Anniversary CCBC!

I've always consdered myself one lucky duck to work in the same state as the Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) in Madison. This book examination center headed by K.T. Horning and womaned by an amazing staff that includes Megan Schliesman, Merri Lindgren and Emily Townsend (as well as a stellar universe of former librarians who continue to shine out wherever they are employed - and hats off to Ginny Moore Kruse for her work in developing the CCBC into a national as well as state force) has been a touchstone throughout my career.

There have been a number of celebrations this year around their 50th anniversary, including a recent one at the Friends of the CCBC annual meeting. I was thrilled to be asked to be part of a panel presenting on ways in which the panelists used the CCBC resources in their work. Our panel was comprised of a research university prof; an author/historian researcher; a university prof/researcher/writer...and me!

Here are my actual notes for the talk I gave. Lots of laughter when I showed the audience what I was speaking from. The catalog card is significant for many reasons not least of which the CCBC has meant so much to me and my practice of youth librarianship that I only need a hint to share the good stuff.

Library School Student - the CCBC was just a hallway down from SLIS. As a youth focused SLIS student I could access the newest books and get to know the breadth of children's literature and research on it with the best reference desk. I got strong.

Collection Development - the CCBC was a must-go early in my career as I honed my collection development chops. I would bring down stacks of old catalog cards with titles jotted on the blank side to look at and decide if we REALLY needed that particular title. And I found great unreviewed material like books in the incredible Small Press Collection to add to the collection. I could go back to my director with a stack of cards of what we didn't buy because I actually had the book in hand. He made the connection, and always funded these quarterly, 8-9 hour round trips to Madison.

Colleague Connector - the CCBC was the unsuspecting facilitator of some of my strongest connections with school colleagues. My favorite connection happened with Judy, our district reading coordianator. An invite to experience the CCBC with me and spend those 3 hours commuting resulted in big ideas and a lasting connection that informed our amazing partnership work for twenty years between the library and schools.

CCBC Advisory Board - I served on the board twice and I learned even more about the resources and the many ways both school and public libraries accessed the collections and information. It helped me hone my leadership skills as well!

Book Discussions - the time I spent participating in the monthly book discussions taught me how to truly learn the art of careful listening and powerful advocacy for books. National level book award committees use the CCBC Discussion Guidelines for a reason. They work! Eveything I am as a reviewer for SLJ and in my award committee discussion work I owe to the CCBC and that modeling and training and experience.

Intellectual Freedom Service - not many people outside of our state know, but for decades the CCBC has helped WI librarians navigate book challenges by providing, in complete confidentiality, reviews and other support materials to help answer a challenge. Ably run for the past twelve years by this year's WLA/WEMTA Intellectual Freedom Award winner Megan Schliesman, this service has helped me twice in my career. And I appreciate it.

Multicultural Focus - The CCBC , with its annual CCBC Choices publication and long-running observations and discussions of muticultural issues in publishing, has helped me hugely in creating a collection that reflects our world. Conferences, speakers, authors and illustrators have been brought to me as well through their work in this area. They helped me develop a strong collection early on.

I was honored to be asked to represent a working librarian's perspective on the panel (and I tell you humbled by the company I was keeping!). Congratulations to the CCBC on their 50th and many, many more great years to you!


Dynamic Dinosauria!*

Any day or time is a great time for a dinosaur program. While I love doing them for any age, I especially enjoy doing these programs for school agers - the non-fiction elements are just too good to pass up and it's a wonderful STEM opportunity.

Here is how we did our most recent dinosaur program:
Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins.  Barbary Kerley; Illus by Brian Selznick
This Caldecott honor is great to book talk. Two hundred years ago, people hadn't the slightest idea on what dinosaurs looked like. English artist Hawkins studied the bone fragments and structures and used his own knowledge of animals to build life size models of what dinosaurs looked like. He held a dinner party in a hollowed out dinosaur to create excitiement and eventually created a huge garden to display the behemoths to the public.

Bones Bones Dinosaur Bones. Byron Barton
This is a great short picture book on archaeology and fossil hunting.

Activity: Have kids glue dry penne pasta (bones) onto a dinosaur outline. Doing it early in the program gives the glue plenty of time to dry. It also gives us a chance to talk about how hard it was for scientists to figure out exactly how all the fragments theyuncovered fit together. Imagine putting a dinosaur skeleton together without an outline. What bone connects to what bone?!?! Thanks to Sunflower Storytime for this much used idea here at LPL!

How Big Were the Dinosaurs. Bernard Most (very humorous) OR
How Big Were Dinosaurs. Lita Judge (great contrasts)
Read either of these books that examine and compare the size of dinosaurs.

Activitiy: Have a ball of string or yarn 130 feet long (don't tell the kids how long). Tie it at one end of the room and have kids take turns unrolling it as you "measure a dinosaur.  This was the size of a diplodocus. Lots of ooohs and aaahs along the way. Then bring the kids and string back and have them measure how long the string is with yard stick and tape measure. Talk about what else they think might be that long around the community.

Unrolling the string
Activity: As the final ending activity, I cannot resist asking kids to be fossil hunters. We talk about the painstaking careful excavation of fossils and dinosaur bones with small picks, trowels and even brushes to carefully reveal small fragments. Everyone receives a chocolate chip cookie and a toothpick. We ask each child to carefully excavate one chocolate chip from the cookie with the toothpick - and then gobble up the results.

With lots of non fiction books on display ready for check-out this is a sure fire hit and an easy way to do science with fierce fans of dinaosaurs!

* a huge tip of the hat and genuflecting reverence to Sandy Berman who back in the day fought mightily - and often successfully-  to push LC subject headings from the academically bizarre to the practical, useful and reality-reflecting modern day. As a young librarian, there WAS no such thing as a subject heading called "Dinosaurs". No my friends, it was really, really truly "Dinosauria". Here's to Sandy and his amazing leadership that still stands us in good stead.


School Age Power!

So happy to see some action in the blogosphere with school age programming content.  Some recent news:

A brand new blog from Library Village with school age content called Librarian Out Loud. The very first post is a winner breaking down how to be fabulously successful with a rainbow band loom.

Thrive Thursday, a movement to share school age content started by Lisa Shaia, has officially grown  into a monthly blog hop hosted by different bloggers on the first Thursday of each month. Lisa hosted the first monthly version in February and Jennifer at Jean Little blog just posted the second hop last week. Be sure to watch for these gatherings of school ideas. Upcoming hosts and blog hosts include Annie at sotomorrow, Sara at Bryce Don't Play, Amy at Show Me Librarian and even me at Tiny Tips. Be sure to share your programs!

Drop by and check them out!


On the Road in Arkansas

Today I join colleagues at the Arkansas State Library Children's Services Workshop in Little Rock. I'm sharing presentations on Unprogramming, Stealth Programming and Dynamic Partnerships (including Schools!) and many of the programs I refer to can be found on these Pinterest boards. My Arkansas friends are also sharing ideas on science, makerspaces, and 1000 Books Before Kindergarten and sharing weather that is far more spring-like than anything I expect to see for some weeks home in Wisconsin. What could be better? If you don't do Pinterest, below are links to some of the resources that are described in today's workshop.

And while I'm on presentations and workshops, I want to encourage everyone to read this vital post at Storytime Underground by Amy Koester about your own power to share your good work with each other. I am a working librarian like you who does just that. So keep on standing up, sharing ideas and feeling your power!

Space Trip
Library Camp-out Fun
Dr. Who Party
Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Stealth/Passive Programs
1000 Books Before Kindergarten
Free-quent Reader Club
Cookie Club
Gnome Hunter's Club
Reading is Key Club
Story Action Pods

Dynamic Partnerships
Global Friendship Fair and Science Festival
Marsh Meander and Library Camp
Experts: Check out an Amphibian, Fencing, Yoga
Arts and Artists
School Collaboration


So Seuss-ified

We like to do a little Seuss fun around his birthday and the national efforts surrounding Read Across America Day. As Sara pointed out as we were planning our spring (ha!) programs, that day serendipitously fell on a Sunday this year - program - better yet, #unprogram!!

Over the years of my active storytelling (semi-retired from that freelancing now but it helped pay off my student loans!), I always got lots of bookings around this time at schools. I have a bagful of goodies to create Dr. Seuss fun so I am always up for all things Seuss especially when there is a larger national effort to spotlight his books.

I remember the days when his books flew off the shelves all the time. In our community, Seuss books are shelf sitters for the most part during the year. There is a flurry of action in February leading up to his birthday (we put limits on numbers of Seuss titles checked out by any one patron at any one time during this time). Then during the first few days of March everyone remembers the good doctor again and, with the spotlight on, a program of Seuss fun is always welcome and always well attended.

Here is my sure fire success recipe for the Dr. Seuss program for ages 3-8 where the focus is firmly on the books and their inherent goofiness. Hope you can use it too!

I Wish That I had Duck Feet by Theo. LeSieg
The funniest "I-didn't-know-that-was-a-Dr.-Seuss" book. I love to talk about how Dr. Seuss' real name was Theodore Geisel and that he loved to play with words and letters in his books and in  his name too. I point out that LeSieg is his last name spelled backwards. If we do a related activity with this book, I have them write their first or last name backward and come up with their own pen name!

I "tell" this book rather than read it although I use the book to show the very fun pictures. I have props I use to represent the deer horns, whale spout, tail, duck feet and elephant nose and often have kids come on up from the audience to hold on to them during the story. It is a screaming easy story to use and always kicks off the program with a bang.
I mine the book Sneetches: and Other Stories for two of my favorite stories. The first is one of the shortest and most unknown stories Dr. Seuss ever wrote: Too Many Daves about the unfortunately unimaginative parent who named all her offspring Dave and now wishes she had given them more unique names. I have little cards I make with all the 23 names and give them out to kids in the audience - well, and grown-ups and babies too (Babies get "Stinky" and an adults get "Oliver Boliver Butt" and "Paris Garters" and no one's feelings are hurt). Everybody loves this.

The second one is the scariest, spookiest story Dr. Seuss ever wrote: What Was I Scared Of? about a particularly ominous pair of pale green pants - with nobody inside them! We dim the lights a bit and off we go.

Stretch: One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish Dr. Seuss-y
I make up red fish cards and blue fish cards and kids get one of each. To the tune of the hokey pokey, we put our one fish out, then two fish, then red, then blue fish. Great fun for the kids and a nice link to the book that we have on display.

Goodbyes: kids always get a star sticker on their belly.

That is our half hour in a nutshell. I usually pick up a Read Across America packet at the ALA conference and copy an activity sheet or two for kids take home and sometimes have a giant birthday card to sign. It's a great easy way to link into a national PR effort, create fun with almost no preparation effort and celebrate books - a perfect unprogram event!

Don't Forget the Databases

We are big believers here in using a variety of program types to fill out our dance card. By combining active, DIY and stealth/passive programs, we create time in our schedule to

  1. serve all ages 
  2. incorporate more outreach to schools and daycares
  3. do stronger collection development
  4. blue sky and write successful grants to support new initiatives
  5. provide time for CE time for staff (PLNs, webinars, in-person attendance and networking)

So just what are these program types?

Active programs can be simply characterized as programs a staff or volunteer present or lead: storytimes, afterschool workshops, parties based on book characters or popular subjects, STEAM

DIY programs can be thought of as times or spaces devoted to kids in the library that allow them independently to manipulate materials. Think of scavenger hunts, art and craft materials set out for kids to make things, Story Action Pods, imaginative play stations for any age.

Stealth programs are those that, once prepared by staff, are totally powered by the kids and families. They provide the reading or return visits to the library. SLP is a great example we all do. 1000 Books Before Kindergarten is another great example.

We keep track of how participation/attendance is in all the programs. How many kids used the story action pod (based on number of sheets of paper used); how many bags of legos were give out at check-out for Lego Tower Build; how many children attended storytime; how many return visits were made for 1000 Books Before Kindergarten this month? These stats help us stay informed of the usefulness of each effort.

We keep a fairly simple database of our programs and numbers to help us track participation. At some libraries, an excel spread sheet works; others use a paper copy. By keeping statistics on our programs – and referring to and studying them for patterns and trends - we make informed decisions on what programs should be continued, when to end programs and the types of programs that fit best within our budget, staff time and community needs. This analysis and evaluation becomes second nature and gives us the support we need to expand, delete or add programs based on hard facts rather than supposition.

These statistics not only inform us, our director and our board, but we also report out these numbers to the state library for the state annual report. Sadly, for a long time, although we did this mix of programs, only our active program statistics and SLP participation were reported to the state for the annual report. Winter reading program? Too bad.  Lego Build effort - no way. Cookie Club? You dreamer! 1000 Books Before Kindergarten? Nope.

That was a problem. In our state youth librarians started working hard to change that dynamic. Our state library folks could see the efforts and time that went into DIY, reading programs beyond summer and passive programs that brought children and families into the library. They became champions of change in the reporting of youth program statistics. To get a peek at the results of that work in Wisconsin, check out this PDF of the new reporting system and definitions for programs.

Now ALL.THE.THINGS.COUNT. It makes it easier as a manager to justify our hard work. And it makes me glad we have our database of program stats for all types of programs that shows what happens when we reach outside the box of traditional programming and bring it to our community!