Putting the Summer Library Program to Bed

Ahhhhh, my favorite day of the children's librarian year- the day after the last day of SLP.  Our nifty new database produced our stats in two minutes flat:
  • over 10,200 hours read (we challenged kids to read at least 8,670 hours - a year of 24/7 reading - and they far exceeded that goal 
  • 958 kids in the in-house program with 55% active during the course of the eight week program
  • 452 kids in the outreach group care reading program
  • 350 kids earned a free book by reading at least 20 hours over the summer
We had a very rainy and, therefore, very busy summer.  Our programs (all 113 of them!) here and at our branch locations were creative, fun and well-received.  We had enthusiastic teen volunteers; we sent staffers off on vacation throughout and, though busy, we came out sane (I think) at the end!

We'll do a report to our co-workers everywhere in the library; to the board and most importantly back to our principals and LMC colleagues.  Our plans for 2011 are already perking along and with a little design work after de-briefing on this summer, we'll be ready to head out for our trip around the world next summer. Wake uuuuuppppp!

Image: 'Asleep at the Wheel'  http://www.flickr.com/photos/34653106@N00/64368770


You CAN Do It!

There is an interesting set of posts up: one from Emily Lloyd at Shelf Check about how a library as institutional hierarchy can stand in the way of creative workers and an adjunct post by David Lee King (who is mentioned in Emily's post as an example of someone whose library lets him shine) about how to create a space and place to be creative.

Both posts give ample food for thought.  Having worked in small, flexible and nimble libraries during my entire career - where yes is heard more than no - I haven't faced the challenges folks have in larger institutions, where hierarchies and rigidity are constant concerns.  When I went for a week in a staff exchange to our state's largest library I ran smack up against those layers. "Wow!" I thought.  While I appreciated the level of staff support (in our small library we pretty much did a little of everything) at the larger library, I also liked how quickly we could hatch and do creative projects at our place.

On the other hand, no matter how big or small the institution, creating your own path to success is possible by working to create buy-in for your ideas by keeping co-workers, supervisors and decision-makers well informed and in the loop. David Lee King speaks eloquently to that point. As a manager he has alot of flexibility for his own work and for people he works with.  But he always makes sure that people are in the loop and know where he is going.  His success builds in a better chance of permission as he goes along.

You can start small.  Build trust in that you will do what you set out to do - without drama; with good communication; with honest evaluation and with an eye on making the case that the idea or project that you are working on enhances the overall goals of the institution. Show your competance and rewards will follow!

Be prepared to explain, demonstrate and patiently grow your project.  Each time you show success and get the buy-in of managers, other departments and co-workers, you are just that much more likely to have an easier time with your next idea.

Most important, if you are in a rigid organization that gives workers few creative outlets, think about how long you really want to stay there.  There are many libraries, directors and managers that encourage the best of their folks.  Think about a change - my friends and colleagues who have done so have been much happier in finding places to work that encourage and nurture their creativity.

If leaving isn't an option, get involved in the larger library world: your state and national library associations; the Library Society of the World; social networks full of clever library types.  Nurture your inner einstein there and share your goods!  My Galaxy Quest mantra:  Never give up!  Never surrender! 

Image: '093 - Death in a Hierarchy'  http://www.flickr.com/photos/27888428@N00/4737579655

Box Town

The following is an idea and article from my amazing colleague Lucy Freeman. As outreach librarian and early childhood specialist, she makes me and all her colleagues look soooo good.  Below is one of  her delightful ideas that has developed a life of its own. It is inexpensive and easy to replicate anywhere where young children come to libraries.  Here's Lucy:
While I love doing story time and think it provides many valuable experiences, skills and knowledge, I also feel that children don’t get enough free play time. Remembering many fun hours playing with boxes when I was a child, I wanted to re-create that experience for the toddlers in my story time group.

Since I also host a monthly training program for child care providers, I decided to involve them also. A local appliance store provided refrigerator boxes for free. They also provided other sized boxes and some interesting packing materials that the child care providers used in very creative ways. Glue guns, gorilla glue, cloth scraps, wood and plastic spools, plenty of knives and scissors and yarn were used to fashion the boxes into wonderful playthings.

The child care providers had a great time using their creativity but also thinking just what their center and their children would like and use. One group grabbed a large hunk of bright yellow felt and used it to cover a long box. With the addition of wheels, steering wheel and fold-out stop sign a simple box became a darling school bus. Fancy shaped wooden dowels inspired another group to make a castle, complete with marker drawn vines on the walls.

The participants, about 30 people from 11 different centers, worked for almost two hours on their creations. They wrote their name or center, along with the address, on their box. This was so I could deliver them to the appropriate center once I was done using them with my toddler story groups.

I arranged the boxes into several “stations” adding appropriate props to go with them for play. One corner was the kitchen with a stove, refrigerator and table and chairs, all made from boxes. A few pots and pans, plates and glasses, hot pad, cookie sheet and spoons made for some great imaginative play opportunities.

Another corner was the bedroom with a cradle, book shelf and toy box made out of boxes. A few books, stuffed animals and dolls and this spot was a hit with the tots also.

The school bus, along with an RV, was put in the center of the room for the children to climb into and pretend to drive. A wonderful hot dog stand with a window to make orders at and outside seating to eat your meal just needed a few plastic baskets, napkins, glasses and play money to make for lots of interaction between the children.

One huge box turned into a castle with vines curling on its “stone” walls and purple fabric draping its doorway. The children dragged my story time unicorn into the castle and imagined themselves princes and princesses.

Probably the most popular box was simply a house with plastic flowers to water outside, windows to peek out and blankets inside to cuddle in. At one point the children gathered every stuffed animal I had placed around the room and put them all to bed in the house, carefully tucked in under the blanket.

I also put out a display of books emphasizing imaginative play, hoping that the parents would read them and be further inspired to welcome free play into their children’s lives. One mother spent a lot of time reading, not only to her own child, but to several other children. A list of the books is shown below.

Three toddler story groups had a chance to play at “Box Town” along with another group at a neighborhood center. Then the boxes were loaded on our library van and delivered to the various child care centers that made them to be used by their children.

We have so many events for children where everything is structured and there is little chance for individual imaginative play or creativity. Even in story time, I sometimes regret the special little moments that I have to pass by because of the needs of the larger group that I am responsible for. Sometimes those little questing minds have to be quieted so that the story line continues for the larger group. But in free play, those curious minds are liberated to ask questions, transform boxes into cars, and start to imagine their futures.

It was wonderful watching the children play with such simply made and cheap props. While they were mostly two year olds and didn’t really know each other, they played with very little supervision or direction. Their imaginations created countless scenarios as they made dinner and served it to their dad, or drove children to school in the bus or charged $15 for a hot dog and gave back $100 in change! Watching the imaginative and peaceful play, many parents planned on going home and making their own version of “Box Town.”

I recently visited one of the day care centers that participated in the program. They are still using the boxes they made back in March but have added some new ones. One classroom just had the children paint apple boxes and then they called them boats and sailed around the linoleum floor. In another classroom with smaller children, the teachers made a darling boat complete with a sail. The children were sitting inside waving their Fourth of July flags and rowing with the paddles, sticks with cardboard paddles taped on the end!

Book List
Six Sticks by Molly Coxe
A Box Can Be Many Things by Dana Meachen Rau
The Gift of Nothing by Patrick McDonnell
The Saucepan Game by Jan Ormerod
Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran
The Can by Rita Golden Gelman
What Good is a Tree? by Larry Brimner
Not a Box by Antoinette Portis




Oh, sorry about that.  I just had to shout.  What we in the children's library work world have known since we started our careers has now been studied and reported out by the widely anticipated Dominican Study: Public Library Summer Reading Programs Close the Reading Gap. This three year study, administered by Dominican University GSLIS, was an evidence-based investigation into the impact of summer reading programs on student acheivment funded by IMLS; conducted by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Summer Learning and partnered with the Colorado State Library and the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

And the results are in. You can read the whole study at the link above. But let me skip to some of the execuive summary results:

  • Students who participated in the public library summer reading program scored higher on reading achievement tests at the beginning of the next school year than those students who did not participate and they gained in other ways as well.
  • While students who reported that they did not participate in the public library summer reading program also improved reading scores, they did not reach the reading level of the students who did participate.
  • Students who participated in the public library summer reading program had better reading skills at the end of third grade and scored higher on the standards test than the students who did not participate. 
  • Students who participated in the public library summer reading program included more females, more Caucasians, and were at a higher socioeconomic level than the group of students who did not participate.
  • Families of students who participated in the public library summer reading program had more books in their homes than those families of students not participating.
  • Students enrolled in the public library summer reading program reported that they like to read books, like to go to the library, and picked their own books to read.
  • Parents of children enrolled in the public library summer reading program reported that their children spent more time reading over the summer and read more books, were well prepared for school in the fall, and read more confidently.
  • Parents of children enrolled in the public library summer reading program reported that they would enroll their children in a summer reading program at the library again, made more visits to the public library with their children, and read more books to/with their children over the summer.
  • Teachers observed that students who participated in the public library summer reading program returned to school ready to learn, improved their reading achievement and skills, increased their enjoyment of reading, were more motivated to read, were more confident in participating in classroom reading activities, read beyond what was required in their free time, and perceived reading to be important.
  • School librarians observed that students who participated in the public library summer reading program returned to school ready to learn, improved their reading achievement and skills, increased their enjoyment of reading, were more motivated to read, were more confident in their reading abilities, read beyond what was required in their free time, and perceived reading to be important.
  • Public librarians observed/perceived that students who participated in the public library summer reading program returned to school ready to learn, improved their reading achievement and skills, increased their enjoyment of reading, were more motivated to read, were more confident in their reading abilities, read beyond what was required in their free time, perceived reading to be important, were enthusiastic about reading and self-selecting books, and increased their fluency and comprehension.
The study's final recommendations:

1. Recognizing that public libraries play a significant role in helping to close the achievement gap in school performance.

2. Promoting the powerful role that public libraries play in the education community in helping children maintain and gain reading skills.

3. Engaging families in public library programs to promote early childhood literacy.

4. Investing more money in summer reading programs—especially in public libraries that serve children and families in economically depressed areas.

5. Marketing to parents of school-age children so they understand the importance of their children participating in summer reading programs and other out-of-school library activities.

Kudos to my peeps Susan Roman and Carole Fiore and to Deb Carran who authored this great report. It is just what we out on the front-lines need!

Image: 'Start Your Summer Reading Early'  http://www.flickr.com/photos/47823583@N03/4664379890


Are Libraries the Next "Big" Thing?

Over at NPR's Monkey See blog, Linda Holmes has a tongue-in-cheek speculative piece on whether libraries are on the verge of a ubiquitous surge of love and approbation.  You got me.  But we sure have been in the news in good and bad ways over the past couple of months.

The bad ways are are in the teeth-grinding, sweat-inducing budget horrors going on around the country ("Oh, yeah, we'll close ya down every Monday"; "Money for the library?  Nah, better we give it as a loan to a for-profit professional sports team to keep 'em in town"; "We don't need so many stinkin' branches").  They are in the stupidity of a local Fox affiliate "reporting" that no ones uses the library and it costs money.

The good ways - in advocacy organizations like Geek the Library, I Love Libraries, Save Libraries. And in the stream of amazing and very funny videos that have absolutely gone viral on libraries (I don't think I have to link you to the Old Spice guy or the New Spice guy which have been everywhere in the blogosphere in the last week) like Librarians Do Gaga and more. Humor is always good!

Good and bad news puts libraries front and center in the public's perception.  And it forces people to think about whether a shared, public, community resource (whether school, public or academic library) is worth keeping in times of real struggle.

I hope we are the next pop-culture phenom.  Libraries are there for all.  And we need to keep it that way!

Image: 'picture'   http://www.flickr.com/photos/58428285@N00/3122529077


Saying Yes

Abby the Librarian has a wonderful post about the importance of giving library users a positive experience when they use the library.  Saying yes is soooo much more fun than saying no.

Sometimes it is just finding a way of saying things that accentuates the positive rather than the negative. For instance:

New Library Card Check-out Limit on Materials
Negative: We know you are going to steal us blind so we only want to lose these 3 items.
Positive: Just for this first check-out, while we process your info, we ask you to just check out three items.

Parents Insisting Kids Attend Program They Are Too Young For
Negative: We have strict age limits and no one is allowed in unless they meet our age requirements
Positive: Kids need reading skills for this particular event.  We also have this and this event perfect for your younger child. And if you want to drop by and observe, come on in! If your child gets bored or fussy though, you can take a break out in the hallway.

Too Loud in the Area
Negative:  Be quuuuuiiiiiieeettt!!!!!!!!!!!!
Positive: I'm going to ask you to quiet down a bit - I can't hear the questions. And that's what I do best- find answers.

What other ways can negative be spun into positive gold?

Image: 'it's in your hands' http://www.flickr.com/photos/40892749@N03/4657652249