Evolving an Early Literacy Area - Part 1

It is great fun to launch an initiative - the planning, the grant-writing/funding piece, the gathering of material, the publicity, the roll-out and then the public's happy (we hope) reactions.  This was definitely the feeling when, three years ago, we debuted our Early Literacy Area - Play Learn Read (PLR).

Careful thought and preparation went into it. Despite that, we immediately began tinkering to make it better, solve problems and navigate unexpected challenges. Things we thought would work, didn't and things we were sure would fail, succeeded. Here's a glimpse into our process of change!

Challenge 1 - Tables
We had plenty of small tables in the area. Since this was the first area people saw when they walked into the library, the tables immediately became coat racks (you might glimpse a coat pile on the right of this photo). They also became homework tables - despite their small size. People would put the literacy activity on the floor and spread out their stuff.
Solution: we moved all the large tables out and purchased tot-sized tables that let kids sit on the floor. No more coats. Fewer non-tots using the area.

Challenge 2 - Chairs
We had a few comfy chairs that began to be heavily used by sleepy men. Again, since this was the first thing people saw when they came into the room, older caregivers sat and snoozed while the children they were with used the rest of the Children's area. It was not an inviting sight and discouraged use.
Solution: we kept just one comfy chair and moved it into the corner farthest from the door facing into the PLR area. We added stools for kids and parents to sit on. No more sleepers; fewer non-tot/parent pairs using the area.

Fewer tables and one chair
Challenge 3 - Magnetism!
Planners were delighted by the thought of using baking pans as magnetic boards for children to interact with and to contain the pieces of the story. Sadly, the pans purchased were far from magnetic and so the point of having them was...pointless.
Solution: In an "aha" moment, planners finally just purchased a magnetic white board, mounted it on the wall and voila, magnetism for all the story pieces.

Challenge 4 - Many Ages
Even though we changed out chairs and tables to preschool-friendly size, we still would get bigger kids taking over the area - and by their presence, discouraging preschool/parent use.  Much like in the Teen area that adults would camp-out in (and that we finally designated middle and high school kids only to stop that), we felt it was important to establish a space for the toddlers
Solution: For a year or so, until the area became clearly marked in people's minds as a toddler early literacy area, we added a sign that simple said "Parent Tot Spot". It did the trick.

Challenge 5 - Frequency of Activities Changing
While we started out with a bang, changing out activities became a real challenge. Some pieces stayed the same for months; some changed out monthly; some were fragile and needed replacing bi-weekly.
Solution: We made a commitment to change out activities monthly, varying the weeks. So new puppets went into the puppet theater in week 1; new magnetic board story in week 2; new pillar activity in week 3; new bathroom activity in week 4.

Challenge 5 - Fragility of Material
The story pieces - even when done of card stock and laminated - turned out to be too fragile for the use they were getting. The delicate cutting to get the cow's legs cut out was all for nothing when kids bit them off.
Solution: We began cutting the shapes with a big circle of white space - without arms, limbs, and slender shapes sticking out the pieces lasted far longer.

Being open to evolving and changing an area or service keeps it responsive to reactions from the public and staff. It's fun to solve those problems! Please stop by for Part 2 over on Brooke's blog Reading with Red where she tackles more solutions!

1 comment:

  1. Great post! We are in the process of building a new library and planning our YS department. Thank you for mentioning sleepy old men! We have the same problem in both the kids and teen areas. Good suggestions on how to discourage them. I will bring this up as we move forward in planning.