pubyac listserv in the last week asking librarians how they deal with large groups of children in care situations who come to the library during the summer. This is often a tough seasonal situation for libraries who struggle with increased family usage; administering a summer library program and handling increased crowds at programs in too-small meeting rooms. It's tough because so many of us want to serve kids no matter what but physical limitations in our buildings and staffing make it a challenge when a large group of kids come in.
We have tried a couple of things that have helped us over the years serve both individuals and groups:
Group Summer Reading Program
We offer daycares; summer school groups and other organizations who work with groups of kids this option. This has eliminated long lines of kids waiting to pick up prizes when the whole group comes in and gives us more time to help the kids find materials and more time for kids to find quiet times to read.
This do-it-yourself-at-the-Center program is contained in a simple folder. The folder contains a large poster with spaces beneath the headings "Read"; "Write" and "Do a Creative Project; 200-300 tiny stickers; a sign-up poster for participating children's names and an instruction sheet. We ask that each time a child in the group does one of the three activities, the child puts a sticker on the poster. We also provide a prize for each child that the group leader can give out whenever they decide they are at the culminating point or end of their program. We reassure kids that if they also are in our individual program with their families, they can indeed do both programs (prizes are different in each).
Program Attendance Registration/Special Programs for Groups
When we have had certain care groups come to programs and had to turn away people because our room was at capacity, we have approached solutions in two ways. We have sent notes out in May asking care groups to pre-register for programs and letting them know that we can only accomodate a limited number of groups per program. This helped tremendously and we were able to shift groups among programs to balance out the numbers over the summer.
We also have created special group events just for our care groups that offered fabulous programs and could accomodate many groups. This worked out very well. And we are always willing to stop by a center and do a special program once during the summer if we can.
We ask groups interested in weekly visits to let us know when they want to come in order to help us provide great service. Although we don't always get advance notice, we work with the leader who comes in unexpectedly to explain how we can help them more with adequate staff and resources when we know when they are coming. The next summer, we usually get advance notice and can make sure we have good staffing.
Communication with Leaders
Probably most important in all of this, though, has been honest communication with the group leaders and teachers who use our services during the summer. We work with these folks to talk about what we can do for them; how they can help us; behavior guidelines and our expectation of their supervision of the kids; how we can assist them to create quiet reading times or provide extra materials for their classroom or center; the importance of scheduling visits so they can get maximum staff interactions; and ways to make their visits win-win for kids, library staff and care giving staff.
If we run into a prickly leader, we continue the communication into the school year and make sure we meet with their supervisor before the next summer to discuss mutual expectations and limitations. This has made all the difference in our success. We each walk in each other's shoes; we learn their challenges and they learn ours and we achieve (mostly) successful outcomes.
These strategies have helped us create a welcoming atmosphere for kids and providers. It is their library too and we want kids that may never come in with parents in the summer to know that we are just as glad to see them in this situation!
Image: 'Crowds' http://www.flickr.com/photos/59468038@N00/240903973