Getting a Kids-Eye View

The idea of making Children's areas truly easy for kids to use has been on my mind alot over the years. Periodically I like to walk into my place of work, sit down in the entrance or lean against the wall and just take a good hard look at the things that first greet me as I walk in. I imagine myself as a child just coming into the Children's area for the very first time.

Then I ask myself some questions:

* Are the materials reachable by people under 5' tall?
* Is it clear where the different categories of age-appropriate material are kept?
* Do signs use language understandable by 7 and 8 year olds?
* Are the books tattered, old, crowded, falling down on the shelves?
* Does the staff smile and greet kids when they come into the room?
* Is the entrance so crowded that there is no space of welcome for the kids?

The answers to these questions give me goals and objectives to work on making the room more kids-friendly. It points me to leaving the top shelves empty on stacks created for adults in mind to make sure books can be reached by kids. It helps me streamline and simplify signage - and even use objects with no wording needed (a football for sports books; a dinosaur; a firefighter's hat) to help pre-readers and early readers locate books in favorite dewey subjects.

It helps me help staff freshen up collections by weeding and sparkle them up by straightening them on their shelves and pulling their spines out to the shelf edge and out of the dark cavern at the back of the shelves. It reminds me to keep the fun in my attitude on desk and encourage staffers to maintain friendly behavior with the public. And it helps us all focus on ways to open up the space in our Children's area - even if we are in a crowded space ansd may never see a new building or remodel to give us more space.

By keeping that kids eye view, we can continually improve our space and service. So hunker down and see what you can see!


Here Comes April Poetry Fun

April is always a favorite month because (trumpet fanfare!) it is National Poetry Month! I love poetry of all kinds and do what I can to excite kids who come into the library about the wonderful poetry books we have.

Whenever we get subject requests for book packs from teachers and daycare providers, I make sure there is a book of poems included in the pile of books we select. There are so many amazing poetry books that are themed: cats; dinosaurs; seasons; mice; wetlands; nature; chocolate; bugs; weather and so much more. By including a poetry book along with fiction and non-fiction on the subject we can extend - and beautify -the subject for the children in the classroom.

And using poems in storytime is another favorite way to share the love. There is a wealth of picture books in rhyme to share with tots. Plus there are plenty of delightful single poems that are perfect for storytime use. Rob Reid, he of "Rappin' Rob" fame, has a number of great books that suggest perfect pairings of poem and storytime themes: Family Storytime (ALA Editions); More Family Storytimes (ALA Editions); Storytime Slam (Upstart Books)

If you want to celebrate all things poetry in April, stop by GottaBook beginning April 1 for 30 Poets/30 Days and enjoy a new unpublished poem by a different poet everyday. Plus it looks like Gregory will be posting links to other great children's lit poetry resources. Let's make way for poetry!


Stuffed Animal Sleepover

Ok, here is a program I have done every so often over the past that is tooooo much fun! I learned about it from my colleague Ann Hardginski over at Menasha (WI) Public Library when we worked together (Ann is now Head of Youth Services at the Kimberley/Little Chute (WI) Public Libraries). And I bet she may have stumbled across the idea from the "Great Brain" of the pubyac listserv, my go-to listserv for ideas, discussion, support and rants on all things public library children's and teen!

Here's how it works. You hold a storytime/sleepover for kids' favorite stuffed animal. Plan to hold it in the evening or late afternoon 60-90 minutes before closing time. If you are in the mood and do pre-registration, make simple nametags for kids and critters or wing tags with address labels. Find a sheet or blanket and a few pillows and set up in your story area like a bed. Read a few stories to the kids (I used Don Freeman's Corduroy and adapted Megan McDonald's When the Library Lights Go Out). Then we tucked in the animals and read Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon in big book form. The kids kissed their friends good night, we turned off the lights and out we went.

Once the families left, we used a digital camera to take pictures of their stuffed animals having fun in the library: peeking in the bookdrop; in a display case; reading books on shelves; answering the phone; checking out books and generally having fun. In addition we posed all the animals together being read to by my "Teddy Dragon" and posing with a big stuffed animal we have at each library. Then we quickly printed a page for each child that had the two group shots plus a photo of their very own friend.

The next morning when the kids came back to pick up their animals after the sleepover, they were given their photo sheet and were absolutely bug-eyed thrilled. It is a simple program that yields great results. Ambitious programmers could also add a little diary of events for the kids to make it even more special.


Fear of Fines

7-Imp has a great Day 4 Share a Story-Shape a Future conversation between Jules and Adrienne Furness from What Adrienne Thinks About That about making libraries work for patrons. She touches on a number of issues that often keep people from feeling comfortable about using the library - and fines is one of them.

I have thought off and on about fines and their impact over the years but didn't think too much about the impact it was having on people's feelings about the library. Then one day, I was talking with a parenting coach about how we can increase library use. She said that many families she worked with were afraid to use the library because of fines. That caught me up short. I can understand not liking fines or the idea of fines. But fines as a self-made choice to stop using the library. Whoa! My eyes popped open!

I asked her if she thought her families purchased books, DVD's or CD's. She said yes all of the families she worked with owned materials in their home. I talked a bit about how a family's fines on a monthly or semi-annual basis rarely equaled the cost of a new book or CD or two or three. The fines help with our budgets and do help get materials back to us. And we are always willing to negotiate when we can to keep the materials flowing from the library into people's hands. I also mentioned that no family could afford to have the variety, depth and breadth of materials that their tax-supported public library provides.

It gave me an opportunity to think about what libraries provide and a chance for my colleague to consider some other information to provide to her families to encourage them to conquer their fear. And it humbled me to think about what a barrier those darn fines can be. It started me sharing with patrons my own fine-filled life (oh, like fines on most of my stuff all the time - except now I'll be better with Library Elf thanks to Adrienne!) and that it was ok not to be perfect on that stuff. And it points me in the direction of what to say to non-users to ease their fears at least and have them thinking about using us.


Finding Great Kids Books - Read, Talk, Share

Over at Share a Story-Shape a Future, the fab blog tour for literacy is on a roll! Day One was all things about creating environments that nurture raising readers. Today it's about how to select great reads. Each thought-provoking post deals with a different aspect of the theme written by a different blogger. And for all of us working out in the field of children's librarianship, these posts are worth keeping.

As I read through today's writings and picked up great tips, reinforcement and many reading gems, it got me thinking about our role as Children's librarians in leading kids and parents to books. All of us may not have access to ARCs but we do read reviews widely - both in print journals like SLJ, Booklist, BCCB, Horn Book, Kirkus and more; and via the many children's lit blogs. These sources give us a tremendous "heads-up" on what is new and how this or that title is a perfect fit for individuals and groups in our community.

And then, like Christmas morning, when those newly ordered books come in, we take them home to peruse, read and think of more kids to connect them to. We consider titles that will be perfect for our infant or baby or toddler storytimes; books that will sparkle interest during a class visit; books to share with our school library colleagues or teachers; books that will tempt that reluctant reader to try something new. And we'll talk about the books - with other staffers; in our book groups; to parents and kids; in programs; in the grocery store; over a cup of joe or tea with a friend.

And, most important, we'll share the love - our enthusiasm and knowledge gained through knowing the books and knowing how to find great book suggestions. Parents and kids want to know what to read or hear what we are excited about. By sharing our knowledge and connecting kids, we encourage reciprocal sharing. So when kids and parents ask us "Do you know a good book I can try?"; when teachers ask us "Can you suggest anything for my students?", it is easy for us to answer yes and put books in hand!


ARCs Across the Sky

Staffers and I are still hip deep in ARCs (Advanced Readers Copies) that we picked up at ALA Midwinter in Denver in January. These uncorrected proofs give readers a pre-view of upcoming books by new authors, sequels in series and books that editors & marketers are especially excited about. Over the years, these sneak peeks have allowed me to read eventual Newbery winners; put my hands - and eyes -on hot commodities and be happily alerted to fine new voices in Childrens and Teen literature. It is always a privilege to pick these up and often a wonder to open the pages.

I've been engrossed in manga; Susan Patron's Lucky Breaks, sequel to the Higher Power of Lucky; Ellen Tarshis' quirky heroine's return in Emma Jean Lazurus Fell in Love; Kate Thompson's Highway Robbery; Don Calame's Swim the Fly; an Emily the Strange novel; Lisa Graff's Umbrella Summer plus a whole lot more (at my bedside yet!). Many more are spread around to readers who love youth lit throughout the library.

Once we've passed around and read these ARCs, we can hardly wait to get many of these titles on order. Some people have asked me over the years if we could just add these ARCs to the collection. The short, long and medium answer is no. Even with tight budgets, we cheat the authors and publishers of the small profits they make by selling books. When a library adds these "preview" books - often not the final, edited version - it means that we satisfy our perceived budget shortfalls by making it hard financially for book creators. Unless an author specifically puts their content out for free, we owe it to them to purchase the book for our community so that author and publisher can keep producing more great reads for kids. So please read ARCs, but don't add them - order the book when it is published!


TV & Teeny Kids

A study just published again emphasizes that TV for tots (under the age of two) has no brain-boosting power. Although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television viewing for children under age 2, it is surprising how much TV that researchers have found these little ones watch. Stop here for a Web MD article on the study results. Thanks to my co-worker Abigail (aka The Hedgehog Librarian) for the link!