We had danced around doing a Lego Club for awhile.  Last year's Games Club was a start with a variety of games played on alternating weeks - board games; Wii; Book Bingo; Giant Candyland and Lego building. Legos was clearly the most popular - and the least contentious.  So we decided to morph into a Lego Club this fall.

Although we asked for donations from our public, we got only one disgusting set (eeeee-yoooooo!). So we bit the bullet and purchased six 650-piece basic sets (blocks of various sizes and colors, no bells or whistles) and planned a four week after-school series for Gr 1-5 kids.

Hot doggies, has that been a hit or what?  We get anywhere from 20-30 boys and girls and many return each week. The kids love it, we love it and the check-outs before and after the program have been great. It's popular enough that more sets are on order!

We have a pretty simple set-up - three tables with a big piece of tagboard at each end. Kids empty the bricks on to the tagboard and are asked to keep the pieces on there (it helps us keep the sets basically together).  When they come in, we have an upbeat older kids CD playing to set a mellow mood. We announce a challenge theme (building; transportation; animal; monster; robot) and ask kids to create their first piece to the theme.  After that, it's free build! With only six sets kids gather together and build from the same brick pile - some on their own; sometimes creating complementary pieces together (horses and corrals; helicopter and landing strip) and sometimes working on one big mega-piece (deluxe dog house with build in food and water bowls and multiple entrances).

One staffer oversees the action armed with a digital camera and lots of words of encouragement and wonder.  A picture is taken of each creator and their Lego. Once the picture is taken, kids can break apart their creation and start again. When we are down to five minutes we ask kids to wrap it up and at three minutes to the end, we ask everyone to break apart and help clean up the bricks. Boom!  They all pitch in and before you know it the bricks are stowed and the kids literally skipping out.

What do I love about the program?  I love the cooperation. I love the joy of the kids. I love the creativity(One mom said her kids only build from sets and she is astounded to see them create wheels, windows, faces and more with only little rectangualr bricks). And I love just chatting with the kids as they let their imaginations take over and create and play.


The Balance Beam

I've been coordinating Youth Services at my new library for three years. When I arrived, programming attendance numbers beyond storytime were pretty anemic.  Many changes have been instituted over time to adjust to this reality. Not all of them have been easy for the staff. At our two branches, staffers were out of the planning loop that helped other Youth Dept. staffers adapt to the changes. In an effort to help them see the direction we are heading and the balance we are trying to achieve, I sent this memo right before summer:

"We have had dwindling numbers for much of our in-house school age programming at all three locations over the past 5-6 years. We are not alone in these programming number declines. Libraries throughout our state and around the country have also seen small to large programming number losses. While library usage and circ remains high, programs are not always the services that people come to the library for (no matter how much they say they will). We have tossed a lot of spaghetti against the wall in trying to attract school-agers into programs, with pretty mixed results. Much of the programming takes considerable preparation and when we see fewer than ten kids it is economically a pretty crushing result.

So we made the decision, at the beginning of the five months we were down a full time children's librarian at Main, to re-align our school age programs to concentrate in two main areas: no school days and outreach into schools. We are taking fewer programs out to the branches and doing fewer programs here at Main. Instead we are taking advantage of opportunities to take content directly out to school kids and to parents at parent nights, noons, breakfasts, kindergarten orientations, reading camps and other events that allow us to promote the library, literacy and reading directly to that age group and their parents. So while parents may wonder if they are seeing us less we are actually reaching out to ever larger groups of school-agers and parents where they are. We plan to continue to expand this programming in the future.

We have also over the past eighteen months shortened our storytimes into smaller sessions. There are a couple of reasons for this. When I came, I noticed staffers putting so much energy into year-round storytimes that little was left to come up with other services and initiatives (like Free-quent Reader; 1000 Books B4K; Rubber Ducky Club; revamping teen and elementary school SLP’s; Early Literacy Centers; developing dynamic field trips; creating the storytime coupon books, etc) that enhance our mission: to promote reading, library use and literacy for kids.

I also saw a staff so tied to storytimes that scheduling vacations, attendance at vital conferences and other CE opportunities was almost impossible. Programs exist to bring people into libraries, to entice them to try services and collections, to help them form a “library habit”. Creating an endless cycle of programs with no breaks tells me that we place little value on our collections and services and don’t trust that people will return again and again without the lure of programs. I have found that to be untrue as I watch circ figures and gate counts continue robustly while number of programs have declined.

Finally we are trying to balance all our outreach –preschool and school age – so that everyone gets a chance to have us come to their school and site. With the loss of Lucy’s outreach hours (half time outreach position eliminated in budget reductions), our preschool outreach will continue but much less frequently. We will try to balance the needs of all our patrons but it is definitely a paradigm shift. We all know that we are in -- and face --some challenging budgetary times and I am trying to position us in a way that we can continue to give good service with self-sustaining initiatives like 1000 Books; Early Literacy centers; Free-quent Reader that add valuable service for our users and complement our in-house programs (while not necessarily expanding them)."

After our summer program ended, I was able to share more results. Despite having a fairly flat registration and offering half the number of events, we increased overall participation by kids in the program and our circulation rose by 13%. There are more ways to increase usage and invite families in than just programs. I hope all this helps us keep our balance!


Hello, Senator

A few days ago, my new state senator stopped in to the library with one of her tots to check out some materials and give her little one a chance to play on the AWE computer while she browsed. It was fun to say hello and congratulate her in person and to share a bit of chat.

It's no secret that my beloved state of Wisconsin has been going through some tumultous times. As a public service worker, since January, when we had about five minutes to enjoy our Green Bay Packers Super Bowl victory before the sky fell, it has been one long series of ups and downs.  In order to balance the state budget, both unionized and non-unionized public seector workers have to pay higher percentages of retirement and health benefits. Beyond that, folks who struggle financially are looking at many difficult cuts in social services, medicaid and other services that keep them afloat.  We are living through - right here and right now - the decline of the middle class and increasing numbers in our community falling into poverty.

Most painful during this process has been the tone of much of the discussion when referring to my public service colleagues.  Teachers, librarians, union folks, nurses, and any government workers whose wages are paid through use of our shared taxes have been denigrated, derided and disrepected by people in office (and, in a trickle down effect, by many community members) in a way that has permeated the tone of discourse.  Never in my career have I heard that kind of disregard for our "community helpers".

It motivated me to write and call and advocate for libraries in the budget process. It motivated me to march at our capitol. It motivated me to join my colleagues and attend my first state Library Legislative Day. We spoke frankly with our then-Assembly rep (and now Senator - above) about our frustration; about the importance of libraries and public schools and a maintained infrastructure; about the hard work of our city, county and state colleagues; about the need to change the dialogue so we all can work together for the public good. And she heard us.

So even though we face a tough upcoming year with our library budget, hours and staff being cut, seeing my senator in the library gives me hope and makes me feel like someone is listening.  We just need to keep talking.


Hot Stuff!

The ALSC blog, as Abby the Librarian mentions, has been on fire lately.  The content has truly popped and the guest contributors have flooded the blog with great practical and philosophical ideas on youth librarianship.  It has become my go-to stop for ideas to sparkle up my creativity and jumpstart services.  I mean in one week they had posts on a giant Kid Experience program, special needs storytimes, serving teen parents, floor-etry and mirrors to occupy kids at Circ desks! Man, I can use them all.

It's great to have a professional association blog that doesn't just function as the voice of the office, informing us of news of note, event deadlines and minutiae within the association. We need that stuff but that isn't content to get us rocking. We've all subscribed to blogs like that out of duty but it doesn't really inform our work on the front lines.

Now they have a survey up asking about how they are doing and what kind of content you, the reader, want. Please head on over and let ALSC know. And if you haven't already, put them on your "must-read" blog list!