A Program is a Program is a Program?

If you work with kids, you know that creating, planning, booking and doing programs takes a chunk of our work life. Because it is such an uber-part of our time, I can't help thinking about it and asking why it is we do what we do. Why, really, do we program? Is it to entertain?  Is it to educate? Is it to get people to the library?

I'm pretty old school about it.  For me, we create programs at the library to draw people into our buildings, to create a pleasant library experience and to highlight our collections, increase check-out and support literacy. Thinking about programs this way helps me plan realistically, create breaks for patrons and staff rather than program year-round and helps focus our energy. If programs are doing what they should, our usage and circulation should be directly affected in a positive way.

I like programs that relate to books and literacy and our collection (storytimes and book parties, I heart you). I like programs that piggyback onto pop culture interests of kids and debuting media that allows us to ride a popularity wave while relating back to our books and collections. I am less impressed with clowns, magicians and other performers that our community kids can see any and everywhere around here. I'm not saying we never book them, but I always wonder how it relates to what we are doing in a larger sense. 

I've also been thinking alot lately about the non-traditional program initiatives we're involved in and we've read about at other libraries  - 1000 Books Before Kindergarten, Summer Library Programs (yep, we all do SLP's but do we realize they are "programs" in and of themselves?) Story Action Pods (here, here and here) , Free-quent Reader Club, Between-Storytime Coupon Books,Winter Reading programs, etc.  These initiatives are often run over a long period of time and fit all my definitions of programs listed above. What is their place in our program sphere?

Every time we plan and create one of these initiatives, we see people flocking in, circ increasing and interest in books and literacy skyrocket.  Yet we don't necessarily "see" them as programs or count them as programs in terms of attendance.  I think that's a mistake.

What I love about the above initiatives is that beyond the initial planning and very minimal daily administration, they take little staff time. They allow much greater staff-child interaction in the most pleasant way than almost all our traditional programs ("Wow, look at all the books you listened to!"; "Which one of these activities did you enjoy most this week?"; "What's going on in this picture?").  Much of the interaction leads to conversations about reading and books that are fundamentally important in creating a feeling of comfort and worth for these kids.

Yet, we barely count them as programs and the statistics are almost hidden.  We know and report how many kids sign-up for Summer Reading Program - but if we looked at participation (how many times did kids return to the library) - an initial participation rate of 521 kids skyrockets to over 2,000 return visits made to the library by these readers.  But that is usually a lost statistic.  Same for 1000 Books Before Kindergarten Club.  400 kids are being read to but we've had over 1,100 return visits to the library.

These initiatives - passive programs in a way or value-added programs in another light, or perhaps, best of all, stealth programs! - create just as much, and often more, response and participation than our traditional programs. We find ourselves in times of shrinking budgets turning more towards them. Since our state required program statistics only recognize traditional programming stats, we are discussing at our library how to recognize the importance of these unreported statistics that correlate to huge circulation increases and much busier Children's area.

We think they are programs.  How about you?

Image: 'Juggler'  http://www.flickr.com/photos/69444890@N00/404640681


1000 Books Before Kindergarten - 6 Month Update

So how goes this initiative after the first 6 months?

We are happy to have over 400 kids in the program; with just a touch under 50% working actively and returning to the library to trade in their 100 book-level sheets. We have twelve kids who have reached 1000 books and as you can see from the picture, our garden is starting to fill up with color as kids add dots as they finish levels (The 100-400 levels are on the bottom and getting the most color so far!)

We have had over 1,100 visits to the library by participating families during the six months of the program. Our circulation of Picture books, Board books and Easy Readers has gone through the ceiling with an average increase of 20% over last year (usual increases hover at 2-5%).

Parents have been enthusiastic participants and the kids are pretty avid as well. As usual with preschoolers, the congratulatory stickers and  stickers to put on the giant flowers are the big hits for them. The fingerpuppet and book at the 500 and 1000 levels don't quite compare to those sticker treats along the way. Parents do appreciate their little "thank you" rewards (lanyard, window cling and date-due slip magnetic holder) as they go along. But I think even without those parental rewards, they would be on board!

Publicizing the program is ongoing. We talk it up at storytimes. We have sent info to kids in area daycares.  Our schools have been enthusiastic supporters of this effort and we hope to keep reaching out and growing the program as we go along. We were invited to many of the schools during Kindergarten orientation and talked about the initiative and encouraged parents to read alot before the kids start school in fall. We are connecting with the Reach Out and Read program at the health clinics and providing posters and bookmarks for parents at "Well Baby" check-ups. We present at service clubs and organizations in our area.

How is it for staff?  One of our staffers keeps her eye on supplies. We planned for 1000 participants so all that material is ready when we need it.  Otherwise, it consumes very little of our time and the reward for a "passive" program and quality time encouraging kids and parents on their great job is worth every minute spent at "check-in" when they trade in their sheet. Everyone loves the extra time and interaction with the kids and parents and watching them beam as we praise them.

We think we are off to a great start...and more importantly, so are the kids!!

To find samples of our materials, check out our Winding Rivers Library System Youth website and scroll down towards the bottom of the page!


How'd We Do This Summer? - Deconstructing an SLP

Abby the Librarian has a great post up at the ALSC Blog assessing their library's summer reading program. I love it because it is one of my favorite things as SLP ends.
We try to do a wrap-up meeting as soon as we are finished to look at the positives and negatives.  We keep notes and incorporate any changes into our plans for the following year.  It's easy, it's fun and it makes sure that the programs remain fresh and serve the needs of the community and the staff!  Although our wrap-up meeting is a week away, I can share some of my thoughts on SLP 2011 efforts.

This year we introduced our Rubber Ducky Club for kids birth to 35 months that stressed pre-literacy skills and it was a huge success. Families were asked to return twice in the summer  - once for a rubber duck reward and once for a book.  We were pleased with the results of this program - so were the parents - and will definitely do it again.

Our elementary school Passport program with activitiy bookmarks (including reading; library book check-outs; attending programs; playing literacy games; using writing) went over great. I was pleased to read about the efforts at the Darien CT Library that Gretchen Caserotti wrote about in the Libraries and Transliteracy blog and felt like we are going in a good direction. One of my marvelous co-workers created a new early literacy activity area called "Story Action Pod" that encouraged kids to use art, writing and imagination to enhance their experience of books (you can read about it here at her fun new blog: Bryce Don't Play.). This too was an activity that counted towards completing a bookmark and was a real hit for K-2 kids.

We had lots of return visits to the library which was a huge goal and people used the library more consistently throughout the whole program. Our print circulation stayed robust because we encouraged use of the collection. And parents and kids really loved the program and let us know. I think kids liked the stamping of their passport as much as getting a little "surprise" and they love the culminating book prize they are picking up now.

Our Teen program (whoa! I forgot to blog about it!) experienced a resurgence.  A key piece was adding a chance for kids to get a USB drive or $5 off their fines coupon (you can guess what 90% of the tweens and teens picked!) after 15 hours of reading/volunteering/program attendance and a book after 25 hours. In the past they had a chance to win a weekly prize but no guarantees that kids would receive a prize. So they were inspired to participate. They were also pumped about final raffle prizes: $75 gifts cards from B&N, Best Buy and Marcus Theaters.

We cut down on events and still had lots of usage - enough to consistently double staff our public service desk throughout the 8 week program - a first for us!  Despite the increased circ and usage and piloting new SLP formats, we had time to do reader's advisory and chat with kids and parents.  That was best of all!

Image: 'Pumpkin carving'  http://www.flickr.com/photos/99472898@N00/5127099146