Peeking Behind the Scenes at the Library

We are going full-tilt with our Library Stars 2nd grade field trip adventures. By the end of the week we will have seen kids from five of the eleven schools who will eventually come before May. We are super happy that all the thought and planning has resulted in a great program and many return visits so far from our "Stars".

By dividing each group into three, all kids get to experience each piece of the tour as a small group which leads to alot of spontaneity and sparks interest. That brief 15 minutes per "station" provides a glimpse at the collections in Youth Services; some lively booktalks of high interest books, and a background look at the parts of the library that only staff gets to see. I want to expand on this last component because it has been such a fun part of the adventure.

We start at Circ and let the kids see how a book comes through the book drop into a comfy, lined bin.  They learn that over 3,000 books a day are checked out and returned and get to see the busy Circ workroom where books are staged to go back on the shelves or shipped to other libraries with faraway names like Black River Falls, Mindoro or Viroqua.  We open the door to the outside bookdrop and let them know that we empty those books every four hours to avoid puking bookdrops.

Then, on to the adult area where they walk past the Reference desk and into the back storage shelves for both Reference and Archives. That's where we have the slick movable shelving with hand cranks. We explain that this is where we keep lots of the history of our community but the shelves are scrunched together - only Harry Potter's Knight Bus could get between the shelves unless we crank them open. They love that demo.

We head over to Tech Services to see the boxes of new material ready to be opened (like Christmas every day!) and the carts of new books ready to get cataloged and "dressed" with labels, stamps and plastic jackets. We tell them that we choose all the books, CDs and DVDs to buy for the library and spend about $8,000 every month on new materials.  If we have time, we open the door to the busily humming server room, show them the old mini dumb waiter elevator used for book delivery and then whisk them back down to the Children's Room.

The kids are wide-eyed amazed to see what goes on in the library and staffers in those departments enjoy having a spotlight on their often unseen and under-appreciated work. It's fun to insert a few facts along the way as well.

Do you have favorite background tours? What stuff do you show?


  1. A tour idea that I have had but not tried yet. Start the tour at the back delivery door so that the kids can follow a book's trip into the library. So back door, through shipping and recieving where they can see boxes of new books being emptied and the delivery of books from the other libraries. This leads naturally through to tech services where they can meet the catalogers who get the books ready for the shelves and the order librairan who places the orders and my office where I select materials--I would have a number of magazines and catlaogs to show them how I choose things and then on into the children's room with a book truck of new books. From there it would be our usual tour of the room, story, cards and of course they would end their visit by checking out some books and out the front door! What has stopped me from doing this is mostly lack of staff a lot of our behind the scenes people have to be on desks as well so simply showing them an empty computer station because the cataloger is upstairs isn't as cool as seeing a book get cataloged and then taking it with us to read. The other big stumbling block is in the past couple of years visits have been coming 2 and occasionally 3 classes at a time because of bus costs and that is just too many people in a grouip to trail through the narrow back spaces and even if I had a couple of children's libraians to split up the group it isn't something you can start from two different spots. I still want to do it and may give it a test run with a selected class or two this spring to see how it goes.

    1. That sounds great! I wonder if you could recruit a couple of friends or volunteers to help? The staffer who planned our Library Stars actually wrote up scripts to guide us so we can pull folks in to help from other depts when these tours occur.

  2. Our library is too small for a really lengthy tour and there is only one person to do tours - me! But I set some basic rules - no more than two classes at a time and at least two adults (parent volunteers, etc.) have to come so we don't lose anybody. The inside of the outdoor bookdrop, which opens into a small room, is a never-ending source of fascination. Lately I have found my spiel getting old - the older kids have heard it all before (and tell me so) and so next year I'm going to try to convince teachers to let some of the classes check out books.