Gimme a Break - Creating Storytime Break Fun

Lots of library staffers fret when breaks between storytime programs are introduced into essentially year-round sessions of storytimes. What if people get upset? What if they never come back? We love to do storytime, what will we do?

At an idea exchange at Midwinter in Dallas this past year, a focus group of children's librarians and managers chatted about early literacy initiatives and programs.  The hesitation that some of the participants (from both large and small libraries) had about having breaks in storytime sessions was expressed. 

But those librarians who had weeks-long and sometimes months-long breaks between sessions were pretty sanguine.  Many shared long experiences with ways to have breaks for patrons, staff and kids that still resulted in healthy storytime attendance and more balanced and less stressed staff members. One of the librarians who oversaw all storytimes at two libraries in her career confided that she had done storytimes break-less and with breaks and found that patrons and staff actually loved the breaks and everyone was refreshed and ready.

There are lots of ways to structure storytimes to allow for breaks. Some libraries offer storytime on alternating months (September/November/January/March/May/July). Some libraries offer two sets of 5-6 weeks storytimes in the fall and two in the spring plus one session in the summer.  Some run a long 8-10 week session in the middle of fall and spring. All of these methods allow 2-4 weeks between sessions - and sometimes longer. 

These non-storytime weeks provide staff vacation time; staff time to attend conferences (both state, regional and national); time to serve other age groups (yes, during the school year, elementary-aged children are still our clientele); time to plan, weed, catch up on reviews and replacement buying and a chance to dream big about extending service to many populations besides the families that come to storytime.

And those families certainly aren't abandoned. Here we provide passive programs to entice them to visit us often, check out materials and visit beloved storytime hosts (here, here and here). We also schedule a few special "active" events like Toddler Drive in movie; Toddler Box Town; Toddler dance parties and Halloween and picture book character parties. Amy at The Show-Me Librarian supports the families by providing "Take Home Storytime" kits.

All these stealth (or passive) and active "special events" program methods let our patrons know that despite the lack of a treasured storytime session, we have them - and the literacy needs of their children- high on our priority list.

Image: 'Wish I was here' http://www.flickr.com/photos/90055788@N00/99912570 Found on flickrcc.net


Just Say It! - Poor Behaviors and You

One of the things that many youth folks struggle with is managing their space in a way that allows many users at the same time to experience the youth area in a fairly pleasant way.  The recent posts on pubyac on patron rules and posts at Bryce Don't Play (here and here) and my own experience at the libraries I've worked at has me thinking.

I think some of our problems in this area revolve around personality traits of whoever is working desk. Introverts find it painful to confront kids/adults displaying poor behaviors. The "if-I-just-shut-my-eyes/ears-it-will go away-soon" method is a strategy that is often employed here.  Staffers who refuse to take responsibility (they-don't pay-me-enough-to-deal-with-this) wait out the end of their desk shift as well. Folks who are gentle souls and unfailingly pleasant find it nearly impossible to deliver negative news or behavior guidelines that might impact the user negatively.

Nervous folks worry that any statement on the part of staff could result in a patron leaving the library in a huff, trashing them to the director and then never coming back to use the library. Bullying staff who love to order everyone around have no concern in this area and run the room in such a rigid style that patrons really DON'T want to use the room and find alternate libraries or hope someone else is working when they come in.

So. I can't say I have a magic formula for the solving these behavior problems. But here's the thoughts behind how I approach situations and what I hope the people I manage will do as well.

Part of my strategy is to always be aware of the mood or tenor of the area.  Kids having meltdowns - that's life; ignore it.  Adults having cellphone conversations quietly -ignore it. Tweens mock-fighting- intervene. Toddlers climbing on furniture or using the giant giraffe as a climbing wall- intervene. Kids running/shouting - intervene (Walk, please; Quiet voices please). Kids talking excitedly with each other or adults -ignore. Parents chatting loudly in front of the desk preventing staff from hearing patron requests on phone or in front of them - intervene.

I don't wait until my blood pressure is sky high, my temper frayed or the behavior so out of control it can't be reined in. By being clear on what behaviors and conduct are expected (yes, get those codes of conduct written up!) and responding in a timely manner, much drama and upset can be avoided (think of the Dog Whisperer here, counseling that small corrections consistently prevent dogs from getting into the "red zone").

When intervention is called for, I just say it calmly without getting upset. I usually briefly say to adults why I am asking for a change in behavior. I find that usually elicits the best results. For kids, I am the adult, and asking for the behavior I expect is done directly with them. It helps the parent understand what I am expecting and they often take the reins from there.  If that doesn't happen, I may spend a few seconds explaining to the parent why we don't let toddlers run wild on our reading boat or why the behavior their child is displaying needs to stop.

Not all interactions are successful. I certainly get resistance, some occasional  rude comments (I'm being nice here). Sometimes, if swearing or disrespect to the staff or other users is involved, the adult is escorted out of the library for the day (or longer if the abuse is egregious). I don't allow abusive behavior or ignoring reasonable requests to change behavior. I am the authority when I am on desk.
I am always confident in the fact that I can keep the room from descending into chaos.  I do have a responsibility to keep the needs of the many in mind in helping people use the room appropriately.

By saying what needs to be said and displaying calm power, appropriate behaviors are easier to guide. At least that's how it works for me! What about you?

Image: 'BldDwCghttp://www.flickr.com/photos/73344134@N00/4829944582 Found on flickrcc.net


Wading through the Weeds - Deselection and Me

Collections are big and ungainly things. No matter how hard you try, they grow like topsy. But like any weedy thing, too much growth sucks up space, oxygen and *things* start taking over. Soon the weedy things completely obscure the healthy things and before you know it, kids and families start wandering aimlessly through the growth praying to the gods and goddesses to get them out of there.

Ah, it is clearly August in libraryland. A time when the minds of youth librarians turn to tending those shelves and making some progress through the weeds. There I found myself today working with a colleague and talking about what, for me, is an absolute favorite library activity - deselection!

Maybe I like it because weeding as an activity is a microcosm of management - a hundred tiny decisions that need to be made with confidence. Some are quick; some are slower and some can't be made at just that moment and the book needs to be re-shelved to see how it fares for a little more time.  Perhaps a bit more face-out display time for this one or handselling to kids might jumpstart it. There is an element of careful consideration and finesse that I enjoy as well.

Today we were in chapter books discussing the kind of criteria that we need to think about to make good weeding decisions.  Condition is always easy (Eeeee-yooooo = toss!). Of course, if it's popular, then we need to re-order. 

How is the circulation on the item?  With a three week check-out period, an item could have 17 circs per year in a perfect world of everyone keeping books exactly three weeks and no overdues. But more realistically, we expect most chapter books to have an annual turnover average of 4-6 circs. Way over that number and we may buy an additional copy. Way under...oh-oh, not making the shelf-rent and we'll have to evict you.

What is this book really?  Has it stood the test of time and emerged as a keeper?  Has the story, the writing, the plot and the language endured and found a home with the readers in our community.  We have many books that are between 4-5 years old that have not crossed over that divide.  Reviewed well but never truly a fit; sadly un-checked out; written by authors once - or never- popular, these books need thought but often must leave the island as well.

Books that are pedestrain in content (think the equivalent of series nonfiction - churned out; undistinguished; full of bad cover art and clearly aimed at a school audience that needs to "keep to a reading level") are an easy fling.  Books once popular but fading in appreciation (oh Beverly Cleary, this is killing me), get to stay but only in a guilty way.  As a resource library, we can always make the argument that our collection needs to be deep after all.

And finally, how does the book fit into the overall collection. Is it just one of eleventy-zillion fantasies and a poor circ'er? Good-bye. Is it our only book written from the viewpoint of a camel (let me check the circ on that and get back to you) with fairly wretched original reviews?  Buy-bye. Do we only have the third book in the series and the rest are out of print? Sayonara.

Though the reader in me calls out to keep them all, the realist knows that we have reached a capacity that calls for one book weeded for every one cataloged. So it comforts me to think of these books going to our Friends who will sell them and give us the money to fund our programs and initiatives.

And don't our shelves look dandy and the beep of increased circs for the remaining books sound nice?

Image: 'La caverne aux livres' http://www.flickr.com/photos/24183489@N00/395079578


Star Wars - Instant Fun

We held a Star Wars party last week that went swell. We used lots of ideas from here , invited kids to come in costume (they did) and we were able, with the great good help of Abdo Publishing, to have a real live storm trooper and Abdo Rep (who both traveled 6 hours round trip to be at our library) and a life-size Darth Vader cardboard stand-up.
I was away on vacation but my colleague posted this photo on our library Facebook page asking for captions.  I listed a few of them.  Let me just say, I love our patrons!
    *Mr Vadar is busy, may I take a message?
    *These aren't the books we're looking for...

    *Hello mom

    *Hello? This is TK-421.
We look forward to Saturday October 6 for our Star Wars Read Day!


Toddler Drive-In Movie

Pinterest has often led us to a serendipitous program or idea.  One we tried last night to general delight and squealing "OMG, that is too cute!" is a Toddler Drive-in Movie.

We spotted the idea on Pinterest and our two early literacy librarians jumped right on it. Between them, they do all our storytimes for kids birth through 3 years old. During storytime breaks they usually cook-up an idea to bring the families back - whether it's a dance party or a stealth program introducing families to different parts of the collection.

This one is definitely a wowza!  With some leftover book boxes, paper plates for wheels and paper bowls for headlights, kids and parents worked on making little cars for the kids.  Once the cars were made there was time for a short 10  minute children's book movie and then kids took their cars home.

That's it. That simple.  And that darn delightful. A mom who came in the next day reported that her son watched Sesame St in his car that morning.  This is a program we will definitiely revisit!


Summer Wrap

Summer Reading Program. It's almost time to stick a fork in.

After nine weeks of "official" fun and a couple of days into our final two weeks of book reward pick-up, I am ready to say we have had a great summer. Yesterday we had a wrap-up meeting with staffers and we couldn't think of much that went wrong; that we had to improve or that our families didn't like. In fact, we had greater participation; better continuing returns; and more expressed enthusiasm by the kids and families.

Beyond that, the program set-up allowed staff to take vacation and conference time off throughout the eleven week duration. We had plenty of time to do reference and reader's advisory with the kids. The programs were fun and well-attended. For the first time EVER, we didn't book any performers. We saved a ton of money and the only sadness we heard was from a few day care providers (Hmmm, we must have been providing their entertainment in the past).

This year, for the first time, the teens joined the babies, tots and elementary-age kids in our book prize extravaganza. For two weeks in August, we invite all the kids who earned books as a prize to come in, browse and make their selection. We have the books on tables in program room roughly by age - but nothing is labeled. Kids have loved it. They can pick a book that appeals to them  - we have advanced readers copies for them to "test"; inexpensive books we picked up at Book Fair sales and pristine condition used books. Kids often come out and reserve titles they didn't pick but want to read.

I look at Abby(the) Librarian's wrap-up; the enthusiastic report of a new librarian in WI being "present" for the kids; The Show-Me Librarian's reflections and our own early happiness with the way SLP was shaping up. It tells me we are all going in a great direction - one that embraces summer and the kids without fear and without burn-out.  And isn't that what it's really all about?

Image: 'Catfish, Shrimp and Frieshttp://www.flickr.com/photos/33286810@N00/396888366