How Did I Get So Lucky?

I ran across an extraordinary post....

How many times lately have I been tweeting or doing blog posts about some amazing thing I've read from Youth Services bloggers I follow? So much of what I read takes me to places of discovery that I have never been before. And it clearly inspires my blogging and TTFLF's content.

This post is completely happening because I was blown away by Amy Koester's Peer Sourcing post at Show Me Librarian. In the post she acknowledges the power of collaboration and learning from others to build the scaffolding to new programming and thinking paradigms in her work. As I've said before, everything comes from somewhere - whether hatched in our brain or sparked by something we read or hear or collaborate on.

When I started blogging five years ago, there were mostly kidlit blogs - lots of reviews of and thoughts about children and teen books. Only a handful of bloggers shared programs, initiatives and opinions on youth services. And that was what I was really after. 

As the years have gone on, more youth people have joined the conversation. From robust posts at ALSC, YALSA, and the Hub to individual bloggers inspired by Flannel Fridays or a desire to share their professional journeys in working with youth, I now have over 100 blogs that I follow. They  are ripe with opinions, storytime ideas; teen program mojo; cool initiatives and more. Who knew?

I agree with Amy that we learn from others in a way that informs and improves our work. This is really a shout-out to all the youth services bloggers for putting it out there and sharing. I learn every day and in every way from you all. You all make me a better librarian. And you inform what I write about here.

Really, I am so lucky!


Hey, You! We Want to Be Talking with You...

Ok, ok, so I feel a little guilty even bringing this up. As a blogger, I know I have a slightly bigger audience than I would without. But no guts, no glory. I join my colleagues in the blogosophere to invite you to read through the suggested Conversation Starters at ALA and vote for ones you'd love to be involved in.

I hope you consider two I am lucky enough to be involved in with my fabulous colleagues: Amy over at Show Me Librarian; Amy over at Catch the Possibilities and Mel over at Mel's Desk. After some chatting on twitter that moved over to a google doc (more than 144 characters...wow!), we decided to try the conversations even further out with more people jumping in and proposed two programs for ALA this summer. We are excited about the possibilities!

Thinking Outside the Storytime Box: Building Your Preschool Programming
STEM for preschoolers! Dance parties for toddlers! When we stretch beyond storytime, our youngest patrons benefit from richer learning experiences, their parents and caregivers engage with the library in fresh ways, and staff become motivated by new, creative challenges. Jump out of the storytime box and explore active and passive early-childhood programs that are easy to plan and repeat, maximize your staff resources, and enable you to reach more young families. Our panel will share program ideas, planning resources, and early literacy connections to help you leave prepared to build on the core storytime experience.
Presenters: Amy Commers, Amy Koester, Melissa Depper, Marge Loch-Wouters

Unprogramming: Recipes for School-Age Programming Success  
Do you find yourself spending tons of time planning school-age programs that are over in the blink of an eye? Are you ready to challenge yourself to be more efficient with your staff time and department's resources? Discover how to streamline planning and preparation while offering worthwhile literacy-centered programs--where kids help shape the direction of the program! Panelists will share tips for "unprogramming" at your library as well as ideas for helping staff adapt to this new style. Prepare to leave with a myriad of program ideas and resources for unprogramming on your own.
Presenters: Marge Loch-Wouters, Amy Koester

If these topics are ones you would love to chat on and you are an ALA member, please do vote for these...and a host of other good ones proposed by ALA members. Read them and leap!

Me - IRL!! Well, Kinda

Stop by our Wisconsin Library Association Youth Services Shout-out blog and get a little more info on me and a picture that is less than a week old!


What *Does* Make a Great Library Worker?

At Stephen's Lighthouse today, he links to Kitty Pope's list of what makes a great library worker. I couldn't agree with Kitty's point more:
  • Passion
  • Flexibility
  • Inquisitive life-long learner
  • Patience
  • Team Playing
  • Be positive
  • Believe people are good
  • Make a difference in the lives of patrons
  • Lead
  • Communicate
  • Innovate
  • Market
  • Understand and embrace change
I would add: honesty. What else?


Everything Old is New Again

I always think it's funny - and a little bit sad - when bug-eyed articles come out about some aspect of adult library programming being trendy and pushing the envelope. What stands out is it's usually something that, in some format, youth services librarians have been doing for decades in their programs.

When I first read the Wall Street Journal article on programs being held on hog butchering and blacksmithing, I thought ho-hum. We've been bringing in sheep, snakes, horses, cows, giant shopping cart go-carts and heavy equipment vehicles for kids to explore and discover since forever.  Programming that informs kids by sharing stories or information books and then hands-on experience with an IRL thing has long been a staple of most youth programs.

I feel the same way about gaming. While most adult services folks think of gaming as avant-garde and new, new, new, I would argue that again, gaming has had a respected place in libraries for a long time in youth areas. When I first came to our library, we had a robust tech gaming program - wii, lan; computer games; multi-player games. But our gaming assistants also developed the seeds of Lego Club, board game night, giant Candyland and Pokemon Club; card games - to the dismay of the manager who oversaw the gaming. He insisted that wasn't "real" gaming.  I always disagreed.

Libraries have been providing and playing games with kids from almost the beginning of their existence. Think of chess and checkers clubs; scavenger hunts; book bingo; game-based SLP reading programs; Lego and Pokemon Clubs; board games available in the room for kids to play with. They have engaged kids in skills-building - math; engineering; problem solving; planning; and cooperation to name a few. When our city council balked at funding the computers and video games, our director used that argument to win them over. Electronic gaming is just another face of what we've always been doing in youth services.

Makerspaces are the new glamor-boy. Uh-huh. This blog post was jump-started by Amy over at Show Me Librarian who shared some thoughtful comments on arts and crafts and the nature of maker spaces.  I'm with her. Youth librarians have been doing makerspaces, again, for decades. Programs that provide kids with hands on time to create paper airplanes or tissue box racecars; moebius strip making; knitting; crafting; building; Legos; science experiments...I could go on and on. Youth librarians have been working with kids to grow skills, to create opportunities for them to create and make since forever.

In many ways, it's all in the branding. Here at our library, we tend to embrace any new paradigm that comes along (Harlem Shake dance next?). I think of it in the same way as hopping on the PR train for children's book film premiers or debuts of popular children's books and creating a program to capitalize on the hype. So, for these new adult bandwagon efforts: DIY? Re-brand craft programs and scrapbooking. Gaming? Re-brand Pokemon club. Tech Creator Space? Re-brand cartooning; writing; creating book trailer programs. Makerspaces? Re-brand Legos clubs; science discovery programs and more.

But, in a deeper way, this "second-coming" hype also speaks to me about the disdain or dismissal or outright ignorance by others in our profession of efforts by youth folks. It's echoes what Julie was speaking about at Hi Miss Julie when she addressed the issue of power and youth librarianship (and the plethora of commentators who.so.missed.the.point). There may be some adult services librarians who realize that the programs and spaces they are now creating are based on efforts in programming that youth librarians (and others who work with kids in schools and youth serving organizations) have been doing since the beginning of children's spaces in libraries in the last century. People have come before. In the same way I admire, emulate and credit great efforts by colleagues serving all ages in all types of libraries, I hope to see that same reciprocity from all my colleagues serving other ages.

Will it happen?  You tell me.


Selling UP!!

Marketing is not always a favorite part of our jobs.  Whether we lack confidence in our ability to write copy for our programs or find the perfect graphic for a poster or design an effective handout, it can all be slightly fraught. But one thing that we all can do, no matter what our talents, is sell up or personally invite people to our programs.

Lisa of Libraryland has a great post on February 9 detailing her marketing approach to get the word out to people. In it, she talks about the "personal touch" - actually walking up and inviting people to be part of whatever effort you are hoping to engage people in.

It's always a surprise to me when staffers assume "everybody knows" about a youth program. Sure we have handouts; media PR; posters; sometimes flyers to the schools; Facebook and Twitter. But that still doesn't mean people are aware of what we offer. Even frequent library users, with busy lives and multi-tasking minds, miss out on our info stream.

I can't stress the "personal touch" or "personal approach" enough. The staff at service desks and walking the floors are our best sales force.  Sharing information about upcoming programs; inviting participation; talking about initiatives can all help alert families to the fun the library has in store. These conversations in which we invite our families and talk personally to them results in more participation. It's surprising what a difference this makes.

We saw this again and again over the past few months while we were delaying our winter storytime start until we had hired our new librarian colleague (Hi Brooke!). We made sure we had plenty of passive programs planned - the Smart Cookie Club in January and "Book Bundles - Storytimes in a Stack" (learned from Amy at Show Me Librarian blog) in February.
When staff would get questions about when storytime would start, some would reply, "In March".  While all too true, there was more information to be shared. Savvy staff would invite people to be part of our Smart Cookie Club or talk enthusiastically about the upcoming storytime in a stack contained in book bundles. They would chat about the hiring of our new colleague and our excitement. They would explain that we wanted to see them in the interim.

Lately, I've encouraged staffers to engage more with parents who are reading to their preschoolers in the library and ask them if they are part of our 1000 Books Before Kindergarten Club. We have been registering many more kids into the program because of this personal invite. The parents are pleasantly surprised and appreciate hearing about this DIY program.

A little up-selling never hurts and always helps. So let's get out there and start those conversations with our customers!

Image: 'Little secrethttp://www.flickr.com/photos/20722444@N00/224674200 Found on flickrcc.net


I Wanna Be on a Youth Book Award Committee

Many (most) of us have this aspiration. There are a number of avenues to make this dream come true - among them through the many excellent awards bestowed by state library associations; in the blogosphere with awards like the Cybils and through national associations like NCTE; USBBY; National Council on Teachers of English that have book awards. I would be kidding myself - and you - if I didn't say that most of the time, people really, really, really, really want to serve on one of the "big" ALA award committees (Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, Coretta Scott King, Geisel, like that).

But I tell you, you need to crawl before you can walk; walk before you can run; and run before you can race strategically. So what are the pathways to becoming a critical reader (an absolute MUST) and an awesome award committee candidate? Sarah at GreenBeanTeenQueen wrote a great blog post about the critical reading aspect so please start there. Her wise words and links to other wise words are outstanding

Let's assume you are already a member of one of the ALA youth divisions or sections that present youth awards (oh, you're not? I'm sorry you can't pass go if you are not a member - and, not to be mean but, rightly so). Don't just say, "Well, I review books on my blog or for print publication". That's like talking to yourself in the mirror. You need to learn how to give and take - not just express yourself but learn about what the book reveals to others as well. I.am.not.dissing.book.review.bloggers.or.reviewers. I blog; I have reviewed for a SLJ. For me, the experience of writing is "in my head", or like talking to myself. Although I assume you are out there, my friends, it is faith, comments -and kind tweeps - that make me believe I am not whispering, Midas-like, into a hole I've dug in my back yard. Don't get me wrong, it won't hurt you to review - but discussion chops are huge.

I would suggest getting involved in or starting a youth book discussion group - no, not a "this-is-what's-happening-in-my-life-right-now" book discussion group, but one that truly delves into a book or group of youth books and examines them carefully and thoughtfully. If you are near a children's literature center like the CCBC; Butler; or others you may find high level discussions scheduled that really help you learn how to do outstanding discussion work. Use the CCBC's outstanding guidelines; they help one become a far better critical thinker, listener and  reader. I cut my teeth on the CCBC discussions before I served on my first award committee and learned how to listen, share, think and react to each book's positives and negatives.

Apply to attend the ALSC Bill Morris Book Evaluation seminar at midwinter every two years - if all goes well, the next one will be at January 2014 in Philly. As Dan Rude wrote on the ALSC blog before the last seminar application process opened up in September 2011: " This invitational seminar supports and honors William C. Morris’ dedication to connecting librarians and children with excellent children’s books by bringing ALSC members with limited evaluation experience together with those who have served on ALSC’s media evaluation committees. Attendees are trained and mentored in the group process and in children’s media evaluation techniques, resulting in new and emerging leaders for future ALSC evaluation committees." I attended one as an observer and the training/mentoring is priceless.

If you are attending ALA, spend time at open Notable Book discussions and Best Book lists discussions . You can learn a ton from observation. Who is able to speak to the book rather than bringing in their experience sharing with their own child or grandchild ("Binky LOVED this book!")?  Who is able to articulate a point of view clearly without getting pushy or disrespectful in their zeal? How is the book talked about? What does it reveal about the book rather than the speaker? You quickly learn who has had experience in speaking in a thoughtful way about the plot, voice, characterizations, art, design, impact, troubling details, scope, or importance of the book they are discussing. Learn, grasshopper, learn.

If you want to be on a book award committee in ALSC, do a little heavy lifting and spend some time on one of their process committees. You meet great colleagues; become an awesome advocate for ALL children's librarians and help push the envelope of innovation at a national level. I have served non-stop on ALSC committees (sometimes more than one in a year) for over 30 years and served on Caldecott and Newbery once each. You can do the math on where I spend my professional association time.

As I've said before, the process committees are like meat and potatoes compared to the dessert-like high of award committees. Too much sugar gets you shaky and pound-heavy (and makes you hallucinate that you are far greater than you really are). The process committees keep you nimble, yet rooted in youth librarianship goodness  - and humble (publishers rarely fĂȘte you but the changes and advances you make with colleagues on process committee last for decades). And your hard work on these committees plus added skills learned in book discussions and reviewing just may earn you a coveted call to serve.

You also need to be aware that in a big division like ALSC with 3,000-4,000 members, there are quite a few people who want to serve. ALSC vice-presidents and nominating committees can attest to the plethora of volunteer forms asking for award committee consideration only. A few years back, the ALSC board made the decision that if one has served on an award committee or Notables, they need to wait five years before serving again. I applaud this decision. This has opened far more spots to new people and spread out the opportunity. That doesn't stop people from then working to get on YALSA or other youth award committees in those off years but at least it's a start.

Finally, if you've served on an award committee a time or two or three, make room for others and don't be a pig. Sorry to be harsh but you all know who you are out there. Everyone who is a member of the division deserves a chance to be part of an award committee and have that special shining year. The more the same people flit between YALSA and ALSC award committees, the smaller the pool of people who can weigh in as new voices to these committees. Stating that you deserve constant award book committees because you know books is silly - so do tons of your colleagues; we pride ourselves in youth librarianship on our literature chops. Stating that being appointed/elected to award committees is the only way to attend conferences may be true, but it's still selfish. Learn to advocate for your worth at your library and the worth to the library of your experience serving on a process committee. Don't be such a special snowflake; let others play in the sandbox; bring back your best kindergarten-sharing self; like that.

These are my top tips - what are yours (especially in terms of YALSA)?

Image: 'throwing a fit'  http://www.flickr.com/photos/88013032@N00/2965376213 Found on flickrcc.net