Blow Out the Candles

Exactly four years ago, I was involved in a wonderful experience late in my career. My library system, along with two others in the state worked together to create Project Play. The multi-week, online course was set up over two semesters to help library staffers learn about the potential and reality of 2.0 technology and apps. Week 2 immediately challenged us to set up a blog. I did and Tiny Tips for Library Fun was born!

I didn't have a fancy-dancy name for it. So Tiny Tips it started as and Tiny Tips it remained. I didn't know quite what I was doing . There were already so many blogs reviewing kids and teen books so I didn't really want to go there. And then it struck me! I just wanted to talk about children's librarianship and how we run our libraries good..

Now 199 posts and 32,000 page views later, I am happily blabbity-blabbing along, thinking about why we do what we do and sharing with and hearing from my peeps near and far (hello my Australian and New Zealand friends).  I am so grateful for the work my Wisconsin colleagues did to create this learning opportunity for us and so grateful to learn so much to help me navigate technology with ease. Thanks all of you for coming along for the ride!


Caution - Rut in the Road

Even the most committed youth staffer runs into stale times in creative-land.  Burn-out can happen after a long string of successes.  It can hit when you're working in a non-supportive library. It can leap at you when your energy reserves are just plain low. It can descend on you when you feel isolated in a one- or two-person library. It can sneak up on you for no reason you can think of.  What do you do?

For me, staying fresh and involved is a basic part of what makes work fun for me - and keeps me out of a rut.  I need something new - a new way to create efficiencies; a new way to reach out to kids; a new conversation with a youth colleague (whether they are old friends or new acquaintances); a new thing to learn; a new program; a new approach....a "new"!

I have been roundly chastised by some for that changeability and malleabilty.  Working with me can be a crazy experience...perhaps it can be compared to trying to walk on quicksand or through a temblor. Verrrry tricky.  If stability and an even keel is what you're looking for, I am not the co-worker for you. But change keeps me fresh.

Short of driving co-workers insane, though, what can you do to stay out of a rut? There are lots of great ways to get inspired when inspiration seems out of reach. It can be as simple as looking for a new blog to inspire you (check out the ALSC blog -it has reinvigorated itself and is chock-full of ideas or Keeping Up with Kids); joining a listserv like PUBYAC or getting in touch with a colleague near or far to pick their brain. With email, IM, Skype and Facebook, everyone is close. Or check out the #libchat on Twitter Wednesday evenings (7-8:30pm Central time). Ideas will flow and something might sparkle for you. That's where I got turned on to a great post by Meredith Farkas of Information Wants to be Free that addresses ways to stay bright and involved when you work with, well, slackers.

Heading to system level workshops, continuing education and conferences are other fan-tab-ulous ways to get re-invigorated.  And its not just the content of the sessions that can do it.  Time spent talking to people next to you at lunch, in the hallway, before and after the program can introduce you to new folks who love to share ideas and work they are doing.  I never leave these sessions without bumping into strangers and friends who have something new in youth services to chat about. I can't help thinking, "Wow!  I have to try that!"

Chatting with your community members, family and school and organizational colleagues is another amazing way to stay fresh and check for ideas. Even if you can't implement all the suggestions, it gives you direction on where you might want to go and can start the creative juices flowing. 

And if you don't have a mentor, reach out.  It doesn't always need to be an ancient crone paired with a sweet young thing relationship.  You can create a compadre relationship too. Find that idea generator; that enthusiast and that committed youth librarian and partner up to share ideas and creativity.  They can inspire you and you can inspire them.  I think all my best mentor/protege/compadre (yep, been all three) relationships have been give and take from both parties that enriched our work equally.

Ruts are out there to get stale in....but with enthusiastic delving into what's new and what works, each day can be a powerful one with smooth driving and even a challenging hill or two to keep things fun!


I Can't Lift This Book!

Jonathan Hunt in Heavy Medal blog discusses an issue I can really relate to.  He talks about the increasing page count in books that are ostensibly meant for middle graders that push them into the YA realm...when they really aren't. He isn't specifically discussing the Newbery committee's work in his post but rather questioning the publishing industry.

I think he has a point.  There are increasing numbers of bloated books over 300 pages coming out that have a great premise and are well-written  - but just try getting a fourth-sixth grade kid to take it from your hand.  They see the size and refuse it in favor of something shorter. I sometimes wonder if it is still the last left-over vestiges of the Harry Potter big book phenomena that saw kids wading - and sometimes wandering - through Rowling's massive texts.

I don't have anything against big books.  I'm just wondering if all the verbiage is necessary and whether tighter editing might result in books that middle graders can read and relate to.  Deep concepts don't always need a huge page count.  Besides books that Hunt cites in his post, I think of Marian Dane Bauer's On My Honor and Cynthia DeFelice's Weasel that are tautly written. I'm sure that you can think of even more.

There are, of course, many great, short early elementary titles that appeal to readers in second and third grade. We don't lack material there. But I do worry about those fourth through sixth graders and having well-written, tightly edited material that comes in at 200 pages or less.  We don't want to lose those fiction readers who aren't gifted or hyper -motivated.  Publishers, can you hear me now?


It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's a Field Trip Adventure!

In the past, our tours were ok but lacked punch and direction. Kids were led around from one collection to the next and given pretty much the same spiel no matter what the age. The highlight was a half hour of stories and songs at the end. Content often depended on which staffer hosted the tour and messages and emphasis varied widely. It didn't seem like we were getting any over-arching message across like, "Hey this is a really fun place and cool too!"

So a year ago, we decided to re-imagine the tours into field trips with a concentration on fun and giving kids a glimpse into how libraries really work. But before the fun we had to work on the mechanics. 

The first thing we did was make some decisions on dividing field trips into appropriate content depending on age/comprehension. Then we worked on some messages we felt all kids needed to hear: Books belong to everyone in the community and are shared. A library card allows access to great books and information.  We are like your school library but you have more time to browse for books and we are open when your school library is closed (evenings; weekends; summer). 

Preschool-Gr. 1
We use this scenario to explain how a library works:
Ask who the books belong to (librarian? Nooooo; Library? Nooooo. You?  YES!)?  The books belong to all the kids and people in La Crosse. They live here at the library but they love to visit you.  When you have a visitor, do they stay forever?  Noooo. That’s right, they go back home.  When a book “visits” you, it stays for 3 weeks then you bring it back here to the library- its house.  Then another child checks it out.  We all share. [This can be expanded and played with depending on your crowd.]

For their tour, we do a theme each school year based on a children's book. Last year it was based on Mo Willems' Knuffle Bunny. We placed stuffed book characters at the collection or room points we wanted to highlight. Then we searched for Knuffle Bunny and found all the other characters and told kids about those collections. Knuffle Bunny was found back in the storyroom where we shared another book or two. This year we are using Emma Dodd's Dog's Colorful Day. We'll have a white dog cut-out for each child and they will collect dots at each stop on the room tour.  More great books to use include Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Where's Spot by Eric Hill.

Gr. 2-4
We can "play" a bit more with this age group. Our new colleague Sara came up with a great way to engage these kids. You can read about it at Bryce Don't Play.

We also give the teachers options for an activity rather than just stories. So kids can be cataloged, barcoded and shelved; can do origami ; can create spine poetry; can play Book Bingo or get a booktalk. If teachers want a non-fiction concentration we let the kids know that the non-fiction is arranged alot like grocery stores. In stores, all the cereals are together; all the canned veggies are together -they aren't arranged alphabetically and that's how it is in non-fiction. I also like to ask kids if they know words in other languages.  Then I tell them my other language is Dewey Decimal and it helps me know exactly where the books are that they crave!

Finally, no matter what the age, we build in time for the kids to browse and ask questions while they go through the collection. These changes have really refreshed what we do and made our old tours into SUPER fun adventures for kids. What do you do to sparkle up these opportunities for kids at your library?

Image: 'Thor vs. Superman (49/365)'  http://www.flickr.com/photos/83346641@N00/4369073183


Playing That Mystery Game

An insanely simple but fun game we played with the kids this summer is actually a stealth book recommendation ploy. We offered it as one of the weekly activities kids could do in the SLP along with reading, writing and playing literacy games. We called it the "Mystery Game" and this is what we did.

We went through the collection and chose fun books that kids might not find on their own. You know the ones - picture books, easy readers, non-fiction and chapter books that you know are great and handsell when you can.  Once picked we slipped them into lunch bags (or donated plastic grocery bags) and wrote a grade on the front.  The grade level was a guesstimate and used as an aid for kids to narrow down their choices. 

We piled them on a table by grade level, put a sign up and watched the fun begin.  Kids were asked not to look inside - just pick a bag. At check-out they could take it out (and return the bag to us for refill) and take it home to test it for us.

Holy smokes!  Was that popular or what?  We probably had 20 books out for every grade level and we constantly re-filled or put out new bags. Kids came back again and again to pick a mystery book to try and told us how they felt about them.  We are pretty pleased that we could give some exposure to books that need a little love and attention. And the game aspect really tickled the kids.

Baghead by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Paw Prints 2008.


Pudding Proofs

Okie dokey - the final circulation stats are in for SLP.  Yesterday, the last day of August, with school starting today, was finally the quietest day since our summer reading program began June 6. Quiet enough to actually work on the wrap-up report!
So wassup? 
Even though we offered half the number of events during SLP, our circulation boomed with increases higher than we had ever experienced before in that time period.
Our new SLP was a big part of this success.  During July, our weekly bookmark format kept kids coming back again and again as they read and worked towards earning a book. That resulted in lots of book check-outs - we almost doubled our circ increases over the previous July.  It leads us to believe that designing the program to encourage July return visits is a keeper!

August was a whole other story. In previous years, usage and circ slowed down considerably.  This year, book prizes earned were available in the first two weeks of August. That brought lots of kids and families in during a traditionally very quiet time. A few well placed programs with big crowds kept the momentum going.

We are already thinking about how to keep the circulation momentum up next summer.  And we are happy to let our board and community know that kids in La Crosse read and check-out..alot!

Image: 'Food Photography - Bread & Butter Pudding' http://www.flickr.com/photos/74149825@N00/1725407679