The Elephant in the Room


How many of us have been victimized by the "bright" idea of a director, architect or board president who thinks it would be a swell idea in the building project/remodel/re-do, to put a giant something in the middle of the Children's Area?  "It will be a centerpiece, a signature piece, a piece de resistance," they coo.  "It will bring people from miles around who will remember our library forever."

No matter what the children's staffers say and suggest (how about a wall mural; perhaps a small reading nook shaped like a boat or train; maybe a sculpture that climbs a pillar; could we have a stuffed bear chair), the project plods on and soon there is a ginormous elephant or boat or dragon or wooden climbing wall or structure that is just the perfect size for little children to climb, run, roll, leap, jump, scale, and cavort upon.  Goodbye sanity.

I speak from experience. We have a boat facade with deck, wheelhouse and aft house (or whatever) that spans over half the wall on the long side of our room.  I knew we were in trouble when I interviewed for the job three years ago and I saw that rather than the service desk facing the room, it faced the boat. Yep. When we serve our public our backs are to them because the boat and patrolling behavior is the most important part of our professional work. I took the job anyway.

Our desk facing the boat
Computers and collections behind us
More collections and computers behind us
The boat forced desk staffers to be negative constantly (stop/no/don't/can't) or simply ignore the scrum and be beat down by the nuttiness. For the first time in my long and non-storied career, I found myself hating who I was becoming. Rather than welcoming, we were curtailing or by ignoring and not taking control, we sent the message that  we weren't in charge.  Staff was stressed and hated working the desk. You couldn't hear people in front of you or on the phone asking reference questions and any work was almost impossible because of boat chaos a few steps away.

Through sheer force of will, we have curtailed the running, leaping, broken limbs and other gymboree behavior. We did it by simply making the decision to control the space by making it what it had originally (ha!) been intended for - a place for quiet reading. My colleague Sara helped us develop some child management mojo and we forcefully turned the boat to reading. Chairs are on it; books are everywhere (and changed frequently) and we ask kids to read on it - or leave. And for the most part it's working. During school age class visits we say, "When you were little, you may have run or jumped on the boat. But now it's a reading boat and you read on it. Cool, eh?"

Making lemonade
Comfy chairs and a fully loaded bookshelf
When I was hired, I was told that the boat would be taken away. Ok, fine with me. We desperately need the space for materials. I don't know if there is enough will to follow through. We have made the best lemonade that we can out of this beastly lemon.

But I am asking....

I am pleading....

No, I am begging....

...please, if you are a director or an architect, do not let your ego get in the way of a sane space for kids. Do not create a monument to stupidity by literally inviting kids to leap off 5 and 6 foot "features". Talk to your youth librarians and they will help you create something just as special that truly will be memorable without being hated. Really. Truly. I mean it.

(2014 update: We had an opportunity to change the paradigm when we re-carpeted. And here is the result)


Let 1000 Books Bloom!

There was question on the alsc-l and pubyac listservs recently about the originator of 1000 Books Before Kindergarten programs in libraries. Although I have been involved in these programs, blogged about them and promoted them, it wasn't me.

The good folks at Bremen Public Library in Indiana headed up by Sandra Krost were the developers of the concept. Inspired by Mem Fox's Reading Magic, Sandra designed the program with zoo animals as a theme. She willingly shared her expertise with us while I was at Menasha WI Public Library and project coordinator Ann Hardginski developed that program based on the Very Hungry Caterpillar. When I moved to La Crosse WI PL, we started a program here with a flower/seed theme. And when Ann moved on to become Head of Youth Services at Kimberly-Little Chute (WI) Library she started an "Old MacDonald" themed program.

Since the time that Bremen PL shared their cool effort on pubyac, programs like this have been popping up at libraries all over the country. It is an amazing stealth program that keeps parents heavily involved in nurturing their child's early literacy.  It also encourages frequent visits to the library that help promote the formation of the well-beloved "library habit". And 1000 Book programs are awesome at boosting circulation since parents need many books to keep their own and their child's interest up!

Want a glimpse at how-to's and other libraries' websites that run these programs?  Click on, my friends!
 La Crosse PL Sample page PDFs (scroll down and look under "Passive Programs")
Willmar (MN) PL
Rock Rapids (IA ) PL
Jay Co (IN) PL
Fond du Lac (WI) PL
Goshen (IN) PL
Wells Co (CO) PL
Great River (MN) Regional Library

Have you started a 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program at your library?  Share with me in comments for others to discover. And I'll be pinning it on my 1000 Books Pinterest board too!

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


Girl Power

Given the state of our country and the strong negative messages being given to women and girls by politicians and legislators, this website came to my attention at a perfect time.  It is full of great suggestions for books and movies that show strong female role models. I also stumbled on Wollstonecraft thanks to the Hedgehog and this children's ebook project looks particularly exciting for girls.

Last month I attended a national unconference on feminism in librarianship, Out of the Attic and Into the Stacks.  One of the discussion points was how to pursue feminism within your library work.  To my way of thinking, it's every day and every way.  I compliment girls on how strong or smart they are.  I encourage women on staff and in the profession to reach higher and look for ways to open leadership doors for them.  I make sure books with positive, strong images of girls get plenty of face-out display (and I am not talking about bitchy images or princessy-simpering). 

Sometimes small steps accumulate into a powerful march. And we can do it every day.


Idea Sparklers #10 - Fun Notes from the Field

Continuing my swing through Kansas, I found myself in the lovely area of Great Bend. I was able to steal away before and after the workshop to immerse myself in two nearby natural areas: Cheyenne Bottoms and the Quivira Wildlife Refuge. The migrating birds were just starting through and, along with the warm welcome from my Central Kansas Library System colleagues and host/consultant extraordinaire Marquita Boehnke and system staff, it made my workshop day special.

Book Relays - held before the library opens, the teams of kids are given lists of books and have to find them and then run back to the next person. A Scholastic Book Fair is also set up at the SLP Kick-off and volunteers make cookies.

SLP Incentives - a local (and generous) woodworker makes big cut-outs from the SLP theme. Each child gets one and decorates with stickers and can bring home at the end of the summer program.

Outside Fun
Outdoor Water Day - held on the front lawn, kids do a sponge relay; a water balloon toss and popsicles are served. As people drive by they are attracted to all the excitement and it is great PR.

Fill big buckets with water and paint and let kids paint outside

Cook hotdogs for kids and let them do sidewalk chalk art.

Popsicles in Gelatin - Get an ice chest and fill with unflaveored gelatin. Stick popsicles inside before it gels. Kids have to reach through to get to their popsicles.

4 H Ambassadors/Actor's Guild/Teen lifeguards - they volunteer to come in to plan games for the library and run them as well. A great way to partner with volunteers to extend fun.

Final Party - was so popular it had to be split into two different days. Found Little Caesers to be generous donor - they not only provided inexpensive pizza but staffed and served it!

SLP Sign-ups - libraries use google docs for sign-up since the doc can be open in multiple locations. Others use gmail form to pop into google docs. Google also has the plus of analytics, plug-ins and easy web-linking to enhance tracking.

Beat the Heat - after programs are over, a movie is run and kids invited to bring pillows. Popcorn is provided. It's a great way for kids to stay cool.

Read to a Dog - a great program for readers.

Book Parties - fun focusing on popular book characters subjects like Captain Underpants or SuperHero Party. Lots of stations and kids enjoy.

Find more in the Idea Sparklers series: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8  9 10 11

Image: 'Fireworks 04http://www.flickr.com/photos/53139634@N00/472327992


Happy Library Week - Slow Books; Burning Books

I love Library Week; always have, always will.  Since libraries seldom have a birthday, it's my way of celebrating libraries in every way that you can during a birthday party.  I, of course,  have an uber prejudice about my place of work and chosen career but still.

In celebration, I must link to two articles that made me think this week:

This one in the Atlantic that calls a "Slow Book Movement."  Similar in concept to the going-back- to-the-land and slow food movements  as well as re-learning long lost kitchen and building arts within our homes, the author calls for us to spend as much time reading the classics as we can to give our brains some good meat.  Paraphrasing Michael Pollan, she says: "Read books. As often as you can. Mostly classics." While I might quibble with classics, reading something mind-challenging on a regular basis is a suggestion most welcome!

The other one from Jessamyn West's blog librarian.net details a PR campaign in Troy MI that used the unusual strategy of calling for a book burning event to burn all the library books to wake up the community to the Tea Party's call and moneyed campaign to cut taxes vital to that community's library. Radical? Yes. Effective - without a doubt.  Perhaps we should be thinking more outside our geek box to show what libraries really mean to our communities.

Both of these articles showed me there are many conversations and ways that we can approach books, reading and our libraries. They both give me hope for our future. How about you?

Oh, and Happy Library Week!

Picture from my fabulous alma mater's (UW-Madison Libraries) Edible Book Festival in 2006.


Idea Sparklers 9 - Fun Notes from the Field

Continuing on my Kansas trip, I had the good fortune to present at the Southwest Kansas Library System in Dodge City.  It was a great afternoon of ideas for programs.  These are little teasers shared that day. I hope they spark your creativity and lead you to add to your program array!

DIY Storytime - because the only storytime presenter needed to be at the workshop, rather than cancelling the session, she asked for a parent volunteer to lead the storytime.  Materials were provided and all the previous great modeling of storytime presentation results in SLP workshop attendance!

T-Shirt Making Nirvana - rather than tie-dye, used simply spray and twisted and tied shirts, sprayed and hung out for 5 minutes and then sprayed next color. Youtube video provides instructions and the teens loved it. Colors still vibrant many washes later!

Teens Work - teens help create craft samples for storytimes. They love putting in the time and it saves staff!

Movie Mania - films shown weekly in 6 weeks series including oldies and previewing brand new DVDs. Popcorn and popularity!

Weekly Craft Days - had trouble getting kids to clean up so put up a chart with the names of kids on it. For every ten times that kids helped with clean-up, they got a surprise. Really motivated them.

Teen Book Trailer Picks - made powerpoints with book trailers of books from Best Books lists. Kids watch and then vote on favorites and the library makes sure to buy them!

Our Library Rocks - 4Her brings in geology collection and talks about it. The staff provides fun treats like River Rock candy; milk chocolate pebbles and Rocky Road ice cream and tells Stone Soup. Kids also get to pick one polished river rock from a little box for every certain number of books they read (nice idea for SLP 2013!)

Annual Summer Lock-in - 8:00 pm-7:00 am; held in the meeting room with two staffers and twenty kids.  Very popular.

TAB Lock-in - held in January just for the teen advisory board and they get the run of the library.

Elementary Age Sleepover - held once every three years for preschool-Grade 4; 7pm-7am. There are a couple of parents. Games are played outside until 9pm; potluck food; inside games; painting and crafts stations, watch mvies and sleep.

Bedtime Stories with Dad -  kids come in PJs with pillows and stuufed animals. Milk and cookies and stories are shared. Kids love bring dad!

Find more in the Idea Sparklers series: 1 2  3 4 5 6 7 8  10 11

Image: 'fireworkshttp://www.flickr.com/photos/85759026@N00/24679599


Programming Can Be a Snap

A recent post by Abby (the) Librarian really caught my eye.  She talks about a fun program she just did that was a perfect for spring break. It featured what I think are some of the most successful components to any great program:
  • easy and quick to plan
  • kids' creativity creates most of the fun and action
  • books relating to the program subject are all over the room and kids are invited to check them out
  • books are enthusiastically booktalked
  • music CDs are playing 
Often program planners spend oodles of time planning and preparing way more activities for the kids than time allows. Kids rush from one activity to another.  Food can become a focus and books are seldom referenced. Money is spent on supplies and fancy crafts when a bunch of toilet paper rolls and egg cartons or leftover craft supplies collected from staff could create the same fun.

Here at our library we have been working on streamlining what we offer over the past few years to create fun experiences that still focus on the book.  From Lego programs that let kids create while music is playing and books serve as ideas to challenge them on their first building creation; to Wimpy Kid and other book character parties; to DIY craft days (watch Bryce Don't Play's blog for details on that one!) to -Ology Programs  (detailed at Bryce Don't Play here here here and here) to books provided to support demonstrations of snakes and reptiles from our Herp Club folks.

Programming doesn't have to be long, hard or sweat-acious. You can play: play with books; play with giving kids more control of content; play with music; play with letting kids use their creativity and enthusiasm for characters they love and subjects they enjoy. Connect the kids to the wealth of your collections and highlight books and materials that kids will glom on to.  If you try that formula, you too will find that programming is a snap.

Image: 'New "Camera"!' http://www.flickr.com/photos/56502208@N00/3073414449


Mentor, Mentees, Mentotum*

ALSC recently sent out a survey from their Emerging Leader team on being mentored and being a mentor. This tells me that our division is deep in thought on setting up what I hope will be a truly valuable opportunity for all the members: to be a mentor or a protege.

I seldom meet youth librarians who haven't been profoundly affected in their careers by the advice, good counsel and wisdom of a mentor who has guided, suggested - and sometimes pushed - them in the direction of doing better work and opening doors to better opportunities.  We all know those people who give and share and help others reach a higher level of understanding and leadership because of their support.

Mentor/protege relationships don't always involve an oldster and a young thing. Peer-to-peer mentoring works well and is often most visible between cohorts on social media sites (Twitter, Friendfeed, ALA Think Tank on FB among others).  As someone in the twilight of my career, I can say that mentors still guide me and are often younger than I am.  I get inspired by their enthusiasm and learn much in the way of new tech tips and ways to re-look at work through new eyes.

Without mentorship and encouragement, I would never have stepped so far up in ALSC or been awarded the WI Librarian of the Year honor, or been given the opprtunities in my career that I have been given. The wise counsel of my peers, colleagues, veteran librarians (in all fields and disciplines) informed my work and gave it a richness that I could never have achieved on my own.

I have been fortunate in being asked to be a mentor for much of the last fifteen years.  I find that I learn as much as I share.  There is never an end to what can be discovered on any given day, at any given time, from any given person working with youth in libraries.  I find it humbling, energizing and exciting. I hope I have been encouraging to folks in the profession and helped them step up and out in leadership positions within their libraries, communities and the profession.

Informal mentoring/proteging has been the path I've mostly taken. But there are more formal relationships. My state association has a great mentoring program for new leaders, WeLead, that I have been a mentor for. ALAConnect has a mentoring platform, MentorConnect.  And now ALSC is going to step up with opportunities. I hope ALSC members keep an eye out and volunteer both as mentors and proteges.  The benefits are amazing!

Image: 'I wanna hold your hand'  http://www.flickr.com/photos/10488545@N05/1865482908

*Sorry about this title. It's the old Latin conjugator rearing its head and I am never able to resist joking around with this!